Backlash as TV’s most popular show turns 25

Best friends forever: Jennifer Aniston joined Instagram this week, posting a selfie with Friends. © Instagram

Is it wrong to watch Friends? It has been called the “greatest comedy ever broadcast on TV”. But, 25 years after the show first aired, a growing number say it is sexist, offensive and outdated.

Friends is one of the best-loved sitcoms of all time. Now, 25 years after the show first aired, a new generation has fallen in love with it.

However, not everyone is a fan of the show — in fact, some have labelled it as simply offensive.

Launched in 1994, the series follows Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe and Joey, as they navigate early adulthood in New York City. They are all straight, white and well-off. And this has fuelled claims of a lack of diversity.

Then, there are the jokes. In the very first episode, Ross’s marriage breaks down because his wife is a lesbian — a recurring source of humour. For journalist Rebecca Reid, this amounts to “staggering” homophobia.

Furthermore, jokes about Chandler’s transgender father, Charles (or Helena), have led to accusations of transphobia. And Monica is repeatedly teased for being overweight — one Twitter user claimed that this was fat-shaming.

But some think this criticism has gone too far. Journalist Hugo Rifkind has called the outcry “desperation to see a flaw in anything”.

Controversy like this has a long history. William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice has been called “profoundly anti-Semitic” due to its portrayal of Shylock, a Jewish moneylender.

Is it wrong to watch Friends?

Friends no more

Of course not, some say. It is a product of its time and a great way to judge how society has changed. Furthermore, the squeamish homophobia of Ross’s or Joey’s juvenile sexism makes the characters themselves look foolish, helping to undermine similar prejudices that still persist in society.

Switch it off, others respond. Life tends to imitate art. And a show that gleefully makes fun of gay, transgender and overweight people is hardly sending out positive messages.

You Decide

  1. Is it harmful to watch Friends?

Activities

  1. What is your favourite book, film, or TV programme? Now, imagine it being read or watched 50 years in the future. Is there anything about it that might offend that audience?

Some People Say...

“If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be doing sitcoms.”

Roger Rees (1944-2015), Welsh actor

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Friends ran for 10 seasons between 1994-2004, with 236 episodes. During this time, it was nominated for 62 Primetime Emmy Awards.
What do we not know?
There has long been speculation that the cast would reunite for further episodes, or perhaps a film. However, various statements from cast members suggest that this is unlikely.

Word Watch

Navigate
To find a way to get from one place or stage, to another.
Transphobia
Dislike or prejudice against transgender people. Judge for yourself if Friends is guilty of this by watching the first video under Become An Expert.
Fat-shaming
Mocking or humiliating somebody because of their weight.
Flaw
Weakness.
Profoundly anti-Semitic
According to writer Harold Bloom, the play is deeply racist towards Jewish people.
Shylock
During the play, he is called “the devil in the likeness of a Jew”, a “damned, execrable dog” and an “inhuman wretch”.
Gleefully
Happily.

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