Most people my age have seen all 236 episodes of Friends countless times and with each viewing it’s never failed to make us laugh. It’s a balm for worries, a stress buster after a horrible day and an exceedingly satisfying show to binge-watch when hungover with your own friends. The premise it is still relevant to all 20-somethings; a group of friends living in an aspirational city, trying to help each other through the trials and tribulations of struggling careers, complicated relationships and financial woes. So, when all 10 seasons were uploaded on Netflix at the beginning of this year, most people were delighted to know that hours of effortless binging were just a click away.
However, with the very first recitation of Joey’s infamous line, ’How you doin’?’, and with Ross’ first storyline centring around his lesbian wife, I predicted that millennial outcries of offence and political incorrectness would begin encroaching on the iconic TV show. Head to Twitter and you’ll see I was right, in the form of countless tweets of outrage labelling the show as transphobic, homophobic and sexist and questioning how it could have ever been allowed to air, never mind how it could be so successful. Here’s the thing - taking offence to a show which was written, produced and first aired in the 90s, (almost 30 years ago), because you feel it does not uphold the standards of political correctness and social awareness expected in 2018, is ludicrous. Assuming a series almost three decades old will or should be as socially aware as a show made today, is an incredibly shortsighted and bubble wrapped way of viewing the world.
That’s not to say the programme doesn’t have its flaws. Being set in a city as multicultural as New York, the primary casting has been rightly criticised for its lack of diversity, which is still a prevalent issue in the television and film industry today. However, flip your perspective a little and contextualise the story lines and it’s arguable that Friends was actually considerably progressive for its time. For example, a lesbian couple getting married and raising a child. ‘The One With The Lesbian Wedding’ was aired in 1996 - the same year which President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage and defining marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” Another arguably progressive storyline is Chandler having a transgender parent. Yes, the character makes repeated jokes about his father’s gender issues and in some ways ridicules them, but identifying as transgender simply wasn’t as accepted or spoken about back then.
I, for one, had never heard of men dressing up as women for any other reason than fancy dress or playing a pantomime dame when ‘The One With Chandler’s Dad’ first aired in 2001. In addition, is it really so unbelievable that a young man may deal with his father identifying as a woman in this way? Of course the script uses humour around these story lines and character relationships - it’s a sitcom. If it were an in-depth exploration of issues surrounding gender and sexuality, it would be an entirely different show.
Had Friends been created in 2018 and received by today’s millennial generation, it would probably never have aired or been successful. In the context of today’s climate then, yes - it is somewhat culturally inappropriate and maybe the jokes and gags in there wouldn’t be so funny to fresh eyes and ears. However, as a 90s sitcom, it cannot be criticised for its failings to match the cultural appropriation of 2018. Failing to recognise that it is only in past five years we have become so acutely socially aware, and that anyone could predict what would and what would not be socially acceptable in two to three decades time is, quite frankly, delusional. If you’re so deeply offended by a TV show that wasn’t 30 years ahead of it’s time, then simply don’t watch it.