Friends was airing between 1994 and 2004, reaching 236 episodes across 10 seasons. The sitcom follows a story of six friends living in New York: Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross. At the time, the idea to create a TV show around a group of friends rather than one individual character was fairly new to American sitcoms. What’s more, the friendship group in Friends includes men and women, while most TV shows only presented the same gender groups. It was also one of the first TV shows to air a lesbian wedding. I’m far from calling Friends progressive or inclusive, though. All of the six main characters are white, heterosexual and (fairly) wealthy – for which the sitcom is widely criticised. Similarly, Friends has a very stereotypical and harmful representation of a transgender person (Chandler's dad). Even the show co-creator Marta Kauffman admitted that while creating Friends, she wasn’t aware of the appropriate terms in which transgender people should be depicted.
And it is the awareness of the socio-cultural context in which Friends was produced that allows me to still enjoy the show despite the harmful and stereotypical portrayals of minorities. I still cringe at fatphobic scenes from Monica’s past or Ross telling off his son for playing with Barbie, but no other show made me laugh as much as Friends. To be honest, it was Friends who helped me during difficult times of the pandemic and lockdowns. Every day my parents and I watched 3 episodes, forgetting about the tragedy happening in the world. And I think that's Friends' superpower – it’s so engaging that it makes you stop worrying about your problems. When I’m stressed and see a short clip from Friends on Instagram, I instantly smile. I love these characters, and I’ve never cried so much on a tv show as I cried on the last episode of Friends. It felt like saying goodbye to my real friends. And I don’t think I was the only person feeling this way.
I completely understand why for some people harmful representations may completely ruin the show. However, I will criticise problematic scenes while still laughing at Ross trying to move the sofa, Joey’s flirting style and Phoebe’s technique of running. And I will ask Santa Claus for a Friends Lego set.