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Friends is a Great Show, but it’s Problematic Today

We all remember Friends for one reason or another, whether that be the lovable outfits that inspire today’s fashion (I still need Rachel’s strapless yellow dress from season 5—you know the one), the memorable plot lines and dialogue, and overall, the ten seasons that serve as a comfort show to millions, arguably being one of the most successful programs in television history. I too am guilty of watching the re-runs as they pop up after a long day of studying, and it appeals to young people in particular, as it paints the ideal life that thousands picture in their dreams: live in the city with a successful job, have a close group of friends, be happy, and the days fly by as a fantasy. 

As I sometimes find myself daydreaming about living a colorful life like Monica or Phoebe in Manhattan, I think it’s important to address why the show, as picturesque as it seems, is a little outdated in today’s times, and instead has some problematic moments. Here are some of the ways that the iconic Friends lifestyle needs to be taken with a grain of sugar at Central Perk, rather than be viewed as a blueprint for how to live your 20’s. 


1. There’s a bit of an unrealistic living standard—both in the 1990s and 2021. 

Even those who have never watched a second of the show know that a good chunk of its episodes centers around a group of six friends talking out their issues in a coffeehouse. But, let’s be honest, from all six of them having supposedly demanding careers, like Ross being a paleontologist and Chandler being a… “transponster,” do these 20-something year-olds really have unlimited hours to share these laughs in the middle of the day? Where does all their money for rent and Knicks tickets come from?

Additionally, as much as I’d love to have this carefree attitude, paired with each friends’ rare sightings at work, some of them are in occupations that are tight on the money, making their seemingly-affluent lifestyle in New York not only an unrealistic picture for young adults 30 years ago, but difficult to follow today as well. It’s important to note here that yes, their lives seem glamorous, but the aspiration to live to New York and automatically be guaranteed the lifestyle of Rachel Green isn’t practical in today’s times; it takes actual work to get from a waitress to an executive at Ralph Lauren, and that can’t be done with just a life of cappuccinos and muffins. 

2. The show, at times, can be a little sexist. 

I have to acknowledge first that Friends indeed has parts in the gang’s storyline that promote positive messages for women; for one, the writing and production staff wanted to give all three of the women unconventional methods of having a child, to support the notion that motherhood can happen in many different ways. Not to mention, Carol and Susan’s wedding in season 2 was just the second same-sex wedding to be shown on television.

However, the show has a tendency to promote some gender stereotypes, perpetuated as jokes, that are questionable in today’s society. Remember in season 9, where Ross was uncomfortable with the male nanny taking care of Emma and therefore asks him to leave, or when Chandler pushes Joey to regain control of the apartment when he gets a female roommate, saying he needs to be a “man” in season 6? While the audience applauded these side stories during the time, these can be a little off-putting today, since there really shouldn’t be anything wrong with a man having feminine qualities, or rather, there shouldn’t be a problem with men, or women, liking things that are traditionally seen as female-dominated. In 2021, we’re working towards breaking down the stereotype that specific objects or activities can only be confined to one gender, instead of both, and America’s favorite sitcom isn’t caught up with that.

Joey How You Doin

3. Both the friendships and romantic relationships can be a little toxic.  

As I said, many in this world long for both a concrete friend group and supportive significant other like in the show, but it’s important to acknowledge that both of these relationship types are scripted purely to be enjoyable, and shouldn’t serve as realistic molds of what adult connections really look like. On the friendship side, you often see two of the characters at odds with each other at the beginning of one episode (like Chandler being locked in a box for Joey), and by the end, even the biggest arguments are resolved rather quickly. In my opinion, while the support between each character is a great model for friendship, the show would be a healthier image if they didn’t ridicule each other so much, ultimately to resolve it in just 20 minutes. And, I’ll be honest, some of the things the six of them say to each other wouldn’t fly with me after a while in reality. 

Also, all six of the main characters, at one point or another, get into a serious relationship with a significant other that ends up failing. So then, with a few exceptions like Ross and Rachel, why are all six of them written to totally forget about this long-term partner in the next episode, as if they didn’t even exist? Aren’t people expected to be a bit upset and contemplative when a breakup happens in reality? Through this, there’s an unrealistic expectation of what love and breakups are supposed to look like, too. News flash to all Friends viewers: you’re allowed to have feelings about your romantic relationships. Especially if you were “on a break.”

Hailey Hummel

Washington '23

Hailey is a current sophomore at the University of Washington, majoring in Public Health—Global Health and minoring in Law, Societies, and Justice. She loves hiking, traveling around the state of Washington and the world, making art, playing piano, taking pictures, and spending time with her friends.
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