Why Rewatching Friends Makes Me Cringe

I’ve watched Friends way too many times to count. I would even say that at one point, it was my favorite TV show. Once you’ve seen it all, it’s so easy to turn it on whenever you want to multitask or have a show on for the sake of having something on.

I decided to rewatch some episodes the other week because I hadn’t seen the show in ages. Although I expected to feel nostalgic for relatable characters and fantastical plot lines, instead I found myself astounded at how cringe-worthy Friends really is.

First of all, Friends did not age well. Jokes that went over my head when I was younger and more naive just made me feel extremely uncomfortable now that I understand how offensive they really are. Entire plotlines were dedicated to fat-shaming teenage Monica, and there are countless homophobic and sexist jokes made throughout the show.

In "The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel," Ross is beside himself because his son Ben likes playing with a Barbie doll. He spends much of the episode trying to get Ben to play with more “manly” toys, which is only one of many instances of toxic masculinity displayed by the main characters. Rewatching scenes like this made me squirm, and definitely not with laughter.

Even each character’s traits that I used to find so endearing now seem ridiculous and unrealistic. Ross used to seem eccentric but lovable when in reality he’s extremely immature. Joey objectifies women and Chandler has a long list of homophobic moments, while Monica and Rachel are often extremely selfish. Even Phoebe, who used to seem like the least problematic character to me, actually treated people terribly on multiple occasions, like when she was mad at Ross for the entirety of "The One with Joey’s Big Break," despite the fact that she couldn't remember why, and it turned out that he had done nothing to make her angry. Recognizing these problematic scenes in a show that I used to love so much was unsettling, to say the least. Although the lack of diversity is a more obvious shortcoming of Friends, it doesn’t seem that the many small but crude jokes are criticized often, because the show seemed so progressive in its time.

Whether this changes how you view Friends, or if you view it at all, it’s important to recognize the problematic aspects of any TV show. This way, we can hold current media to a higher standard and support diverse, inclusive shows.


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