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Is Friends actually a good television show?

Illustration: Carter Klassen · The Sentry

It has problematic characters

Opinion by Amanda Blackman

Friends just isn’t as good as everyone says it is. Saying that it is relatable content for young adults is taking things a bit too far. Some say the struggles shared on the show are frequently mirrored in real life, but if that’s the truth, that means the world must be diving headfirst into a realm lacking comedy and any sort of emotional depth.

Each character in the show functions only as a picture-perfect stereotype. Phoebe: the ditzy head-in-the-clouds blonde. Rachel: a rich daddy’s girl. Monica: the once fat teen turned the girl who is “beautiful but doesn’t even know it.” Joey: the misogynistic New York man. Ross: the intellectual with no social skills. Chandler: the one who covers up a lack of confidence with immaturity. Hardly anyone is fully one sort of person. To have a generation branding themselves as just a Rachel or just a Phoebe is toxic.

With hollow characters, the jokes are bound to fall short. Each episode is bursting at the seams with the classic 90’s style sitcom laugh track, filling the uncomfortable negative space, begging for a chuckle. Go to YouTube and watch a clip of Friends without the laugh track. It’ll be a Christmas miracle if a genuine laugh happens even once.

Comedy is possible on non-premium networks. Entertainment doesn’t need to be raunchy to be funny. Shows also have no need to be influenced by one another, so saying that Friends serves as the cornerstone of modern sitcoms is an argument that holds no water. Look at shows like Parks and Recreation or Brooklyn Nine-Nine. No laugh tracks, all of the restrictions, and commonly regarded as some of the best sitcoms ever written.

Beyond whether or not Friends is funny, it is also not realistic. If the show is supposed to address the common struggles of a 20-something, then why do they rarely talk about money? Ross and Rachel exist in two different tax brackets, and somehow that’s ok to never talk about. To be largely living in luxurious New York apartments with dream jobs requires more than being best friends. 

The characters in Friends have their hardships, but the way that they’re addressed raises red flags.

It shows the use of a support group

Opinion by Samantha Register

Friends will always hold an important place in the history of television as one of the first sitcoms to capture relatable professional and romantic challenges of 20-somethings. Friends premiered in 1994, when the now-hated laugh track was used in comedies to make audiences feel like they were part of the action in a studio audience. It also aired on network television, meaning it was restricted by censors in ways that, for example, HBO comedies never were. However, just because the show is a product of 90’s network television and couldn’t push the envelope in terms of raunchy comedy, doesn’t mean Friends wasn’t groundbreaking.

Lisa Kudrow, who played Phoebe, said network executives were concerned about the pilot because it indicated that the character Monica had sex after only one date with a new guy. Apparently, executives feared that audiences wouldn’t like Monica if she were “slutty.” Instead, Monica and her dating struggles were perceived as very relatable to audiences, especially in an era when young people were increasingly delaying the age of marriage.

Friends portrayed all six main characters struggling to find meaningful careers in various fields, making them very relatable to the show’s young adult audience. Rachel, who, after calling off her wedding to a wealthy man, is forced to stop being self-centered and provide for herself for the first time in her life, is doing something at least a few college graduates can relate to. Monica, though her OCD was exaggerated for comedy, dreamed of being a chef but was forced take on often-soul crushing temporary positions in catering and serving for many years. Similarly, Joey wanted to be an actor but, like many creative artists, struggled through auditions. These characters’ portrayals are arguably even more relevant to 20-somethings now in an increasingly contingent workforce.

Friends showed the importance of having a reliable support network, especially for those in their 20s. The influence of Friends is evident in nearly every subsequent sitcom about single young adults, from Sex and the City to How I Met Your Mother. Its popularity demonstrates how relatable the stories and characters were in reflecting common young adult experiences.

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