Eventually he had to admit it too Jennifer Anistonthe mythical Rachel by Friends. Although she has now shown that she can free herself from that role that she gave her fame, also recently starring in the acclaimed series Apple The Morning Show and in the imminent Murder Mystery 2 (from March 31 on Netflix alongside Adam Sandler), the actress is constantly reminded of the comedy series that was a real cult of the nineties. Recently, however, alongside a renewed interest in the show after its landing on the various streaming platforms, there are also those who have expressed several perplexity compared to a television product that is now out of date. Aniston herself said it in a recent interview: “There’s a whole generation of kids that look back on a few episodes of Friends and find them offensive”.
“There were things that weren’t intentional and some that…well, we should have thought of that better. But I don’t think there was the sensitivity that there is now”, admitted the actress, who also adds that “lin comedy he made aevolution” in these years. It is not the first time that one of the protagonists of the series intervenes in retrospectimagining how things could have gone differently: in 2020 Lisa Kudrowthe interpreter of the extravagant Phoebe, had declared that if you ever wanted to make a reboot of Friends the first thing to do would be not to have “an all-white cast”.
Indeed that of Friends it is a decidedly interesting parable: already a record-breaking hit in the original ten seasons between 1994 and 2004had then fallen somewhat into oblivion overtaken by more modern comedies such as Will & Grace, How I Met Your Mother And Big Bang Theory; the advent of streaming platforms like Netflix, with their voracious need for titles to feed their immense catalogues, brought the sitcom back to life which has once again leapt into the rankings of the most watched series, often far surpassing the most recent and expensive contemporary productions. In the meantime, however, there are also those who viewed this renewed success with suspicion, seeing in Friends a type of old-fashioned comedy, outdated by the times if not downright problematic.
The sore buttons
But what are the main problems of Friends? The majority of criticisms, as also underlined by Kudrow, start from lack of diversity in the cast: in fact the series starts from the description of a group of six friends (Rachel, Phoebe, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Ross), all white and more or less privileged. Throughout the entire series they really are very few black characters who make an appearance, and exclusively in minor roles (the African-American Aisha Tyler, Joey and Ross’ girlfriend for a time, appears in only nine episodes). However, Kudrow herself explains that, since the series is written starting from the experience of the two creators, David Crane and Martha Kauffman, the two were based on their own experience of white people and their own friends. Today, such a thing would still be considered unacceptable.
In general, however, there are other “problems” that dot the various episodes of Friends. For example, an extensive rewatch can only bring out one kind of widespread sexism that dwells in various storylines: Ross is deeply shocked when he discovers that his son Ben is playing with a doll and later will have big problems accepting a male “nanny”.; when Joey decides to wear a shoulder bag that he thinks is very trendy, he is scolded by his friends for wearing a “women’s bag” and so on. There are also those who see the toxicity in some of the love stories told – albeit with irony – in the series, and in particular that between Ross and Rachel (Ross, so control freak and possessive, doesn’t actually emerge very well from this elusive and nostalgic binge watching).
The mirror of the times
But the aspects that make today’s sensitivity prick up the antennas don’t end there: for example everything Monica’s pastridiculed for her having been obese (in flashbacks, actress Courteney Cox even wears a flashy fat suit), would dwarf the recent controversies surrounding the film The Whale. Then there is the big issue of LGBTQ+ representation: Ross’s wife, Carol, turns out to be a lesbian and, apart from her absolutely marginal presence, is told with a thousand stereotypes and elbow shots; jokes are not counted cringe on the father, indeed the mother transgender by Chandler, played by biological woman actress Kathleen Turner; Chandler himself in one episode is terrified that people would think he was gay.
On closer inspection, there are thousands of these problematic implications in any series or film of the past; the fact that they are more noticeable in Friends it is due to the magnitude of his success, which still reverberates today like it came out the day before yesterday. But that’s exactly the point: Friends is not a sitcom from 2023, but from thirty years ago. In perspective, to expect that all of its narrative articulation corresponds to the sensitivity today, in which great strides have rightly been made in the representation of independent women, fat people and the LGBTQ+ community, is perhaps aexaggerated utopia.
Indeed, historicizing a show like this, placing it in its past dimension helps to understand how much these things must not happen again today and how a series as brilliant and generational as that could have its flaws. TV products of 2023 are also likely to suffer the same fate of criticism and suspicion in 2053. The nice thing nowadays is that the specter of our choice is much broader: on Netflix there are hundreds of more inclusive series to watch, after all there will always be those who will continue to watch Friends out of a sense of nostalgia, but also to understand how much we have grown and how far we’ve come compared to those six 30-year-old New Yorkers.