FRIENDS wasn’t perfect, but it wasn't a monster
The hullabaloo over FRIENDS seems never-ending; and Marta Kauffman herself admitted that if she could do things over, she would do things differently. But one major caveat endures: The show premiered in 1991 and closed its doors in 2004. It was a different time, and we were living in an entirely different world.
No one can deny that the creators and showrunners had all the potential in the world to start the conversation on representation earlier, but they did what they could. And if we’re being frank, FRIENDS does deserve some credit for the conversations it did start and take part in.
There were four different narratives on motherhood that FRIENDS showed us, and it wasn’t even for secondary characters. Carol and Susan were a same-sex couple, Phoebe acted as her brother’s surrogate, Rachel was (technically) a single mom, and Monica adopted her twins. They gave us the highs and lows of motherhood, unfiltered and not without seeing the humor in each situation.
#2 Love’s many forms
(I refuse to get my hands tangled in the Ross and Rachel BS, so I’m leaving them out. Fortunately, there are much healthier romances to talk about.)
Monica and Richard were the perfect of example of a May-December romance. Sure, it was weird at first, but they were incredibly functional and healthy for each other until the end of it. Monica made Richard feel alive, and no one loved her like Richard did. But, of course, that didn’t work out, and we were eventually introduced to the friends-turned-lovers trope with the slow-burn romance of Monica and Chandler. The two were made for each other, and proved that getting to know someone first has its benefits.
And then there are Joey and Phoebe, the strict definition of platonic friendship. These two loved each other way too much, encouraged and celebrated each other’s quirks and supported each other like no one else. Chandler may have lived with Joey the longest, but only Phoebe could and would try over and over to teach him French.
#3 A career is only what you make it
What I love about FRIENDS is how completely realistic the show was when it came to the characters’ careers. Monica had to work at a cheap and cheesy diner, Joey had very embarrassing roles before and after he played Dr. Drake Ramoray, Chandler hated his job and re-started as an advertising intern, Rachel was a waitress before she landed a menial (and then major) job in fashion, Phoebe was (almost) always the free-spirited freelancer, and we all know that Ross just couldn’t “get enough dinosaurs.”
The point is, they had their ups and their downs, each unique and real and relatable. They even explained how Monica and Rachel could afford such a big New York apartment. (FYI, it was rent control that was in effect even after Monica’s grandmother passed away.)
#4 Toxic masculinity
Before you fight me, I will say it again: FRIENDS did have a lot of awful moments, especially when it came to toxic masculinity—but they also had some pretty great ones.
Picture: Ross having a problem with Ben’s Barbie doll or Ross not wanting to hire a male nanny, and everyone crapping on him in both instances. Basically, what I’m saying is that Ross is the problem.
In today’s world where there is debate on how the younger generations just “aren’t getting married” and “not having kids,” FRIENDS is a reminder that the good fight against marrying for marriage’s sake is an old and unfortunately enduring one.
Rachel walked out of her wedding, Monica and Chandler didn’t rush into things, Phoebe married “late,” and Joey never even came close. Let’s just forget that horror of a punchline when Ross and Rachel got married in Vegas—and they didn't even get engaged in the end when all things were “right” with them!
When it all comes down to it, I completely agree that FRIENDS would not have flown had it premiered recently—but the fact remains that it's been more than three decades since the show started. For all its faults from a modern standpoint, it was still ahead of itself.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver