Film and TV

7 times Friends was a problematic mess

Josh Milton May 27, 2021
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The cast of Friends walking down a street

The cast of Friends. David Schwimmer as Ross Geller, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, Courteney Cox as Monica Geller, Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay, Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani. (Warner Bros. Television)

With the cast of Friends making a long-fabled comeback to television screens, binging all 236 episodes seems like the obvious things to do.

You’re reunited with all the familiar faces – Ross (David Schwimmer), Rachel (Jennifer Anniston), Monica (Courtney Cox), Chandler (Matthew Perry), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc).

You then look past the 15-year-old janky haircuts and aggressively high-waisted denim. You suspend your disbelief about them being able to afford an apartment larger than a small island.

But then you begin to notice it all. The fat-shaming. The anti-gay jabs. Ross Gellar’s, well, aggressive approach to romance.

Friends has undoubtedly created a legacy that will outlive the generation of fans that watched as it aired on boxy TV sets in the late 1990s.

Yet both new and returning fans alike have realised over the years how problematic so many of the jokes, plot points and characters – or lack thereof – are.

Here are seven of the most laughably unfunny moments and storylines on Friends.

The one with all the fat-shaming

It’s the joke that got stale pretty fast. Yes, Monica was overweight as a teen. We get it.

In the two-part season six episode, “The One That Could Have Been”, the show offered viewers a glimpse into the life of Monica if she didn’t lose weight when she was younger.

Compounding the many, many cringe-worthy jabs about “Fat Monica”, the episode portrayed Monica as being a 30-year-old virgin – clearly, sleeping with an overweight woman is incomprehensible.

The one with the transphobia and all the homophobia

Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) with Helena (Kathleen Turner)
(Netflix)

From the sitcom’s seventh season, a constant joke was the long-running spat between Chandler and his trans mother, portrayed by Kathleen Turner.

Turner played Helena Handbasket. While never directly addressed it at the time, co-creator Marta Kauffman did later confirm that Handbasket was a trans woman.

Again, all for cheap canned laughs, Chandler constantly deadnamed Handbasket and refused to recognise her gender identity. He even pretends to become physically sick when they go to watch her perform on stage.

Chandler himself is almost paranoid about being perceived as gay. People assuming he is played for laughs while suggesting it’s something to be ashamed of.

The one where Ross wouldn’t let his son play with dolls

(Netflix)

Upon seeing his son playing with a Barbie doll, Ross goes straight into toxic masculinity mode.

“Why is my boy playing with a Barbie?” he barks at his ex-wife, Carol, and her partner. Utterly convinced the lesbian couple conspired to convince his son to play with dolls.

Oh, the horror of letting your child be themselves.

The one where Ross assumes his male nanny is gay

After Rachel hires a nanny for her and Ross’ baby, Ross’ mind is sufficiently blown when he’s met with the jaw-dropping revelation that, yes, nannies can be male.

The episode-long plot point of Sandy very much captures the Friends‘ “product of its time” factor, with Ross asking invasive, barbed questions about Sandy’s sexuality as well as assuming he can’t do his job on account of not being “man” enough.

The one where Ross considers being lesbian a joke

…seeing a pattern here?

Whenever Ross’ ex-wife Carol, played by Jane Sibbett, is mentioned, it’s met with malicious mockery from Ross, and even some of the rest of the gang.

Even when a character simply said “lesbian life partner” or just “lesbian”, it was enough to prompt a laugh track.

The one where Joey owning a unisex bag is somehow a joke

Throwing the shoulder bag on his, well, shoulder, Joey beamed as he rattled off the reasons why he loves his new bag. His friends, however, weren’t as supportive.

Everyone takes turns pointing out it’s a “woman’s purse” despite it literally being a shoulder bag. “Yeah, pulling flowers out of it makes the bag look a lot more masculine,” Chandler chides.

The one with the severe lack of people of colour

(NBC)

Despite airing for nearly 10 years, Friends only saw just two prominent characters who were people of colour – a quick reminder that the show was set in New York City, one of the most racially diverse cities in the US.

Both characters, Julie (Lauren Tom) and Charlie Wheeler (Aisha Nilaja Tyler), dated Ross. The rest of the Friends‘ cast and guest stars were overwhelmingly white.

Related topics: friends, Homophobia, transphobia

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