The One With the Problematic Show: How Friends is Difficult to Watch.

A couple days ago, I had a Friends episode on in the background while I was cleaning and started to think about the ways the much loved show is actually really problematic. This whole thing really started after a sub plot in the episode I was watching  made a reference or comment back to how Monica used to be fat growing up.

The first time Friends aired starting in 1994, my only access to the show was through my older cousin (who was obsessed at the time!) because I was a little young for the targeted audience. But I did catch many of the syndicated reruns years later while in high school. So when all ten seasons ended up on Netflix at the beginning of 2015, I was actually pretty excited!

ee1191bc00f377a85180e4d5f7ec0761But rewatching it over the past few months, I’ve realized all the problematic stuff I missed before. Like all the fat hating that kept happening with Monica. Megan Kirby wrote about this issue, particularly how fat Monica stuck with her all these years, and I can see so much of my own experiences with the show and the fat jokes mirrored in what she said. All the fat jokes are just a reminder that fatness is a joke, that fat people are completely undesirable until they lose that weight.

And there’s so many more problems with the show – like I’ve mentioned briefly before in another post about diversity in Hollywood: despite being in a large city that’s numerically mostly people of color, the show’s six lead actors are white and in the ten years, there are almost no main characters of color. (Aisha Tyler comes in for a few episodes but that’s in the last season of the show!)

I also realized that in rewatching the show, I don’t love some of the characters or the show as much as I did growing up. Ross for example? He is literally the definition of a “Nice Guy”, one where we’re supposed to feel sorry for after being “friend zoned” by Rachel and the one it seems like we should root for.

But the thing about Ross now? He’s such an arrogant ass in my opinion – he’s extremely jealous of pretty much every man in Rachel’s life (even when they’re not together!) and he doesn’t trust the different women he dates throughout the series. His entire character seems to be based on the nice but nerdy guy we should be rooting for but ultimately, he seems really to feel really entitled to Rachel because he’s been in love with her for so long.

The thing is – Ross is just barely worse to watch than Chandler Bing (for me at least). Ruth Graham wrote about how hard it is to watch Chandler, talking about the rampant homophobia in the show (including how some of that comes back to Chandler’s relationship with his father) and how he’s endlessly paranoid about femininity.

FRIENDS: logo WB Domestic Television Distribution © 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

There’s still a part of me that’s nostalgic about this show because it was something I watched growing up. But it is difficult to watch for so many reasons – the fat jokes about Monica’s past, the nice guy tropes, the homophobia, and lack of diversity.

3 thoughts on “The One With the Problematic Show: How Friends is Difficult to Watch.

  1. You’ve written well about the show and certainly you’ve made some valid points. Certainly the overweight Monica episodes are troubling because in addition to making fun of her weight, they alter her personality quite a bit. Realistically, perhaps the writers felt that she would feel inadequate, and therefore tried that route–but I don’t know if I buy it.

    • Thank you so much for not only reading but for the comment as well!!!

      And I agree – Monica seems like a totally different person when she’s fat versus her current self on the show. I feel like they could have done a really great bit throughout the series about body image and fat shaming, like talk more about how she was bullied as a kid and frame it all in a different way to have a serious (in a sitcom way) conversation about body shaming. But instead they made it something to laugh at.

      • You’re right. They could have done something like that, but they didn’t. I think they have done a better job at Big Bang Theory on this score–especially with Amy–though, there is still room for improvement.

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