On May 27, Friends: The Reunion was released on HBO Max, with Friends superfans basking in the pure nostalgia. Courtney Cox, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry gathered for the first time in 16 years in the show’s infamous apartment set and reminisced about their favorite memories from being on the show.
While the long-anticipated reunion exceeded the expectations of some fans, others were disappointed and underwhelmed. One user tweeted, “So the Friends Reunion was like… really.. awkward..? The amount of secondhand embarrassment I felt was- 😳.” Another tweeted, “I swear, I feel like the hype for Friends reunion is very performative at times.”
Melanie McFarland, a Salon television critic, remarked in an honest review of the reunion, “So little about the special feels significant or necessary for anybody save for the show’s diehards.”
Surely comedy has evolved past “We were on a break” by now.
While some Friends fans admitted the shortcomings of the reunion, including the awkward vibe among the six cast members and the cringey host (sorry, James Corden), they also noted the comforting nostalgia of the reunion. A user tweeted, “The Friends Reunion is tonally quite weird and awkward but it’s a show that was part of my identity forming era as a young adult AND got me through the worst heartbreaks.”
Okay, I get it. Friends is nostalgic and iconic. It defined the era of ’90s sitcoms and paved the way for future sitcoms and television shows like How I Met Your Mother and New Girl. I understand that, and I like the show, I really do. But can’t people find a new show to care about? Although Friends has some relatable characters, storylines, and themes, the fact of the matter is that the show was first released in 1994 and ran until 2004 — meaning that the show is almost 20 years old at this point. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure a lot has changed within the past couple of decades — and frankly, a lot of the old jokes have gotten stale. Aren’t you tired of hearing the same bits over and over again? Because I know I am — and surely comedy has evolved past “We were on a break” by now.
That’s not even to mention some of the problematic cultural touchstones that the show brought about and continues to perpetuate even today. I understand that no one wants their childhood nostalgia ruined by cancel culture and that we’re talking about a show created in a different time, but if we’re letting this show continue to be popular in 2021, we can’t not talk about it. Some of these problems have been swept under the rug in the past, but I’m hoping its massive cult following stops blindly bowing down to all of its cringier and straight-up hurtful moments.
I understand that no one wants their childhood nostalgia ruined by cancel culture, but if we’re letting this show continue to be popular in 2021, we can’t not talk about its issues.
Honestly, I don’t even know where to start, but one of the biggest problems with Friends is that it had some very homophobic themes throughout its time on air. Out magazine reports that “nearly anytime LGBTQ+ people are brought up through the show, it’s played for laughs — whether it’s the running joke that people think Chandler is gay or an episode where Joey (Matt Leblanc) convinces an acting student who he is competing for a role on All My Children to play the character ‘homosexually.’” This includes the transphobia toward Chandler’s dad and how she was primarily referred to as a drag queen and looked down upon by the other characters. Frankly, many Gen X and millennials who grew up watching Friends are probably also largely misinformed about this because of the show’s perpetuated stereotypes and incorrect grouping of these two very different identities. Or what about Ross’ ex-wife? An episode in season two called “The One With the Lesbian Wedding” features a panicked Ross struggling with the fact that his ex is marrying a woman through his plethora of inappropriate lesbian jokes. I understand that the episode aired in the ’90s, but it’s still no excuse for homophobia. Friends had the opportunity to educate themselves and their viewers about LGBTQIA+ allyship and acceptance, but they completely missed the mark.
We also have to talk about the all-white cast since reviews have made clear that neither the 10 seasons of the show nor the reunion seemed interested in changing this. Schwimmer commented on the cast’s lack of diversity in 1995, telling Rolling Stone, “Listen, the fact is that we could be more diverse. But it doesn’t necessarily bother me. You can’t do everything to please everybody, and I know that in casting, they did look at all sorts of different people. This just happens to be the group they ended up with.” Okay, so everyone on Friends was aware of the issue but consciously chose to do nothing about it? Schwimmer said this back between season one and season two — and the show went on for eight more seasons without even a bare minimum attempt. How can we call this a “comfort show” or a feel-good representation of being a twentysomething when we have to reckon with carelessness like this?
Whether I want it to be or not, Friends continues to remain influential, meaning that it has long-lasting and wide-ranging negative cultural impacts on American society. I know that it may seem trivial to be talking about this in the context of television, but look at Friends’ huge fanbase that likely won’t be going away anytime soon.
Why should Gen Z continue to care? Friends is supposed to represent twentysomethings, and it did in some ways back in the ’90s — but does it really now?
And look, I will say this: I can somewhat understand the nostalgia and comfort of rewatching episodes of Friends for Gen X and millennials — really, I do — but why should Gen Z continue to care about Friends? Friends is supposed to represent twentysomethings, and it did in some ways back in the ’90s — but does it really now? Being a 21-year-old college woman, I have watched several seasons of Friends myself, and although the show is funny, it is only relatable to a certain extent. Personally, I would rather watch other television shows that are more culturally up-to-date and that actually resonate with me — but maybe that’s just me.
Even for the diehard fans that can stomach the problematic parts of Friends (which, hello, why would you?), what exactly are you even nostalgic about? The overdone jokes? The unlikable characters (yes, Ross, I’m looking at you)? Liking Friends is not a personality trait — so please find a new show to care about. I’m begging you.