Under/Over Rated - Friends

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

E. Keogh makes the case for why Friends is Overrated

Friends (1994-2004) is probably one of the most unfunny sitcoms I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. Apparently loved by many, the show relies on offensive jokes made at the expense of mocking the LGBTQ community, women, and BIPOC. To put it plain and simple, the show has aged like milk in the summer sun. To make the jokes even near digestible, the show uses the generic and mind-numbing laugh track to trick the audience to believe the jokes are funny, akin to how The Big Bang Theory operates. 

The group hangs out in the Central Perk cafe, and live in one of the most multicultural places in the world, yet the cast is almost exclusively white, and with the exception of a short arch involving Ross’s love interest, Charlie Wheeler, and Rachel’s love interest, Paulo. There aren’t any recurring BIPOC characters that aren’t merely used as background props. Even at that, they had brief appearances, while the main cast and almost all of the reoccurring side characters are white. 

The show did little for non-cis roles. The character of Chandler's Dad, Helena, revealed to be a transgender woman played by a cis-woman, was subject to many transphobic jokes. The actor who portrayed Helena has stated that she wouldn’t be comfortable portraying the role again, seeing as it should’ve been a trans woman who portrayed her all along and that there are many capable trans actors. 

The show also loves to body shame characters. Jokes directed at Monica seemed to exclusively in some episodes refer to her body weight as a child, and now that she has lost the weight, has a group of friends and is worthy of love. It's not exactly the message you’d want to be sending to the viewer base in the ’90s, but now that it's achieved its status as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, today's young people are being subjected to its unfunny, harmful jokes also. 

The show’s fans have always been quick to defend it, saying it was inclusive to gay men and lesbians, but jokes were aimed at Ross for marrying a lesbian, and many jokes were made at the expense of gay men, for example, all the times the group singled out Chandler and the nanny that Ross’s ex-wife hires. 

The counterpoint made is that it’s a product of the time it was made and that PC culture is going too far. Yet shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Fraser, Star Trek, and Golden Girls, although not perfect, did more to promote acceptance of sexuality and gender than Friends. Again, they’re not perfect, but they did a hell of a lot more for minorities without introducing characters merely for the main characters to progress. The shows are guilty of some of the sins Friends have committed over its run, as are some shows that air today, but ideas only get better as society becomes more accepting, but much more work needs to be done.