F.R.I.E.N.D.S and its complimentary contradictions

The reunion of the cast of F.R.I.E.N.D.S has taken the world by storm. My heart swelled with excitement and anticipation as I settled in to watch the special. Needless to say, it was an emotional rollercoaster. Old clips of the cast made me smile, but my body racked with sobs as I saw them take a final bow before the credits rolled in. A more sombre question, however, troubled me as I continued to reflect on the reunion. The special failed to address all the issues that F.R.I.E.N.D.S has been criticized for.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S was a product of its time. But in many ways, it shunned orthodoxy. Such contradictions shaped the legacy of the show for many, including me. F.R.I.E.N.D.S has been praised for its depiction of sexually liberated women who are not afraid to express desire. The show has also explored different forms of motherhood— ranging from adoption and surrogacy to single parenting.

However, F.R.I.E.N.D.S was not bereft of flaws. The most evident criticism often relates to race. The show featured an all-white cast. A majority of the show’s supporting cast and love interests were also white. The city of New York itself has been subjected to considerable ‘whitewashing’ over the years. In fact, David Schwimmer, who played the titular character of Ross Geller, has objected to the lack of racial diversity on the show.

Two reoccurring characters — Carol and Susan — were in a homosexual relationship and even got married on-screen. However, homophobic themes were pervasive, and the lesbian couple represented untrue stereotypes. Chandler Bing, too, was often the victim of jokes about being gay. Themes of homophobia tied into the show’s depiction of masculinity. Chandler, because of certain effeminate characteristics, was incorrectly labelled as ‘gay’. The show also implied that if a man is sensitive, he must be gay. This is evident from Ross’s interactions with Sandy, a potential male nanny.

All three male leads embodied aspects of toxic masculinity. Chandler often berated his trans-gender father; Joey was loyal to his friends but refused to value other women beyond sex; Ross represented fragile masculinity, which was usually threatened by innocent incidents like his son playing with a doll.

Media shapes popular perceptions. Shows like F.R.I.E.N.D.S have given us many heart-warming moments— from Ross and Rachel’s first kiss to Monica and Chandler’s wedding. Audiences of this show, however, cannot continue to watch it without criticism. We need to recognize and acknowledge the issues and faults this show has normalized to ensure that different forms of media in the future can accurately portray the lives and struggles of people belonging to all social groups.

(Photo via HBO Max)

(Photo via NBCU Photo Bank)

Authored By: Tarini Agarwal

Edited By: Akanksha Mallick