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Film and TV

Lisa Kudrow insists Friends was ‘progressive’ for the time despite problematic handling of LGBT+ stories

Lily Wakefield May 18, 2020
Friends cast

Matt LeBlanc, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and David Schwimmer of the TV show Friend's attend the 21st Annual People's Choice Awards on March 5, 1995. (Ron Davis/Getty)

Lisa Kudrow, who played Phoebe Buffay in Friends, has defended the 90s sitcom’s problematic depictions of gender and sexuality, insisting that it was “progressive” at the time.

While the sitcom is a cult classic, 26 years after its debut some of the storylines in Friends have not aged well.

But Kudrow, who starred in every one of the show’s 236 episodes, said that for the time, the sitcom was “progressive”.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, she said: “This show thought it was very progressive. There was a guy whose wife discovered she was gay and pregnant, and they raised the child together?

“We had surrogacy too. It was, at the time, progressive.”

If the show was created now, Kudrow admitted, it would be “completely different”.

She said: “It would not be an all-white cast, for sure. I’m not sure what else, but, to me, it should be looked at as a time capsule, not for what they did wrong.”

On the show’s enduring popularity, she added: “Young people have this unconscious nostalgia for personal connection.”

Friends has a problematic history with LGBT+ representation.

Series creator Marta Kauffman confirmed last year that Chandler Bing’s parent, Helena Handbasket played by Kathleen Turner, was a trans woman, despite the show repeatedly referring to her as “Chandler’s dad”.

She admitted: “I think we didn’t have the knowledge about transgender people back then, so I’m not sure if we used the appropriate terms.”

Turner also said that if she were offered her three-episode role now, she would turn it down. She said: “Of course I wouldn’t do it now because there would be real people able to do it.”

Fragile masculinity is rampant in the show, and any time a male character takes part in stereotypically feminine activities – for example when Joey takes up flower arranging after listening to a hypnosis tape – they are accused of being a “woman” or being “gay”.

When Rachel hires a male nanny, Ross comments that he must be gay and eventually fires him. Ross’s obsession with traditional male stereotypes even extends to him being upset when his son, Ben, wants to play with a Barbie.

Although lesbian wedding on TV in 1996 was groundbreaking, Carol and Susan’s relationship was often played for laughs, with the phrase “lesbian life partner” often the punchline.

Jessica Hecht, who played Susan, previously said that she was cast as Carol’s partner because she “didn’t look like a lesbian”.

More: chandler bing, friends, lesbian wedding, Lisa Kudrow, Phoebe Buffay, problematic, Ross Geller, surrogacy

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