Revisiting Friends: From sexist undertones to body-shaming, in hindsight it looks like a problematic show

It’s been almost 27 years since the first episode of the widely-celebrated sitcom Friends aired on TV. Actors Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer became household names with their acting stint on the show. Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, Friends, which ended in 2004 after 10 seasons, revolved around the lives of six friends and how they tackled their problems with a dash of comedy. From the theme track, I’ll be there for you, to the inseparable bond between the characters, Friends is remembered by people for several reasons. However, the show had many flaws that went unnoticed decades ago. As the reunion episode is all set to premiere on HBO MAX on May 27, the Cinema Journal decided to have a quick look at those ‘problematic’ moments from Friends.

Body-shaming

Fat-shaming was massively glorified in the show. Remember ‘fat Monica’? Every time the old, ‘heavier’ version of Monica [Courteney Cox] appeared on the screen, many jokes were thrown at the character. The makers portrayed her as a loner and loser, indicating success only comes to skinny people. Not just this, the makers also tried to make us believe that overweight people can’t have sex. On the show, Monica was valued only after she lost weight.

Disrespect to LGBTQ community

There are many instances, which prove that Friends was a homophobic show. Remember that moment when Ross [David Schwimmer] was not convinced of having a male nanny. According to him, it’s not a man’s job to look after the babies. He was seen making ‘are you a gay’ comment towards the male nanny, revealing his sexist nature.

And, how can we forget Chandler’s [Matthew Perry] attitude towards his father, who was portrayed as a drag artiste? The character of Chandler’s father was mainly used as an element of mockery. It showed how Chandler was uncomfortable to speak about his father’s profession among his friends. He was often teased for having a ‘gay’ father, as his dad didn’t behave in a stereotypical masculine way. Friends frequently took cheap shots at marginalised people in the name of humour and the audience, unfortunately, lapped it up at that time.

Such stereotypical masculine traits remind me of Ross [David Schimmer]. Ross and his ex-wife Carol, who turned out to be a lesbian, had a son named Ben. One day when Ross goes to pick Ben up from Carol’s apartment, he is surprised to find Ben playing with a doll. Ross then tries his best to make his son play with action figures or toys, which represent masculine qualities.

Lack of diversity

Despite being popular, the iconic show faced backlash for lack of diversity. The show had an all-white cast. Even its actors and creators have accepted that. Makers had even apologised for the same in the past. Unfortunately, black characters barely appeared for more than three episodes in Friends. Recalling hard but can’t think of the other black characters than Ross’ two girlfriends in the show. Actress Aisha Tyler, who starred as Ross’ girlfriend Charlie, was the first recurring black character in Friends. Ross also dated African American, Gabrielle Union, in the show.

Objectification of women

Women were often objectified in Friends. Remember how Joey Tribbiani [Matt Le Blanc] compared women to different flavours of ice creams. In one scene Joey says, “What are you talking about? One woman? That’s like saying there’s only one flavour of ice cream for you. Lemme tell you something, Ross. There’s lots of flavours out there. There’s Rocky Road, and Cookie Dough, and Bing! Cherry, Vanilla. You could get them with Jimmies, or nuts, or whipped cream!”

Isn’t this conversation between Joey and Ross in bad taste? There are many such instances where women were objectified in the show.

Hardly a week is left for the premiere of Friends: The Reunion episode, and it would be interesting to see actors speaking about the problematic moments as well rather than just reviving the good old chilling days at the Central Park’s orange couch.

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