TV's Morgana Chess reviews the Netflix documentary that is better than its name suggests, as Rotten delves into the darkest secrets of the food industryWritten by Morgana Chess on 16th March 2018
Is Friends Offensive?
Since the arrival of the popular 90s/early 2000s sitcom to a new audience via Netflix UK, TV's Niamh Brennan asks if Friends is as innocent as it seems?
With Friends being released onto Netflix once more, a new wave of viewers have begun to question the social politics of the plotlines and character-arcs throughout the ten-season span of the show.
The problematic nature of Friends can be seen most obviously in the clear lack of racial diversity throughout the show. The inclusion of only one significant black character, Ross’ girlfriend Charlie, does not reflect well on the importance of including a variety of people from different racial backgrounds for the creators at the time. Not only does the show restrict racial representation, but also the representation of gender, sexuality and relationships in New York, one of the most diverse cities in America, is far from diverse. This attitude can be summed up most aptly in the characterisation of Ross.
Whilst he was a fan favourite for many, much of Ross’ central plot lines revolve around his undoubtedly sexist and regressive gender attitudes. He has an emotional crisis when his son Ben wants to play with a doll instead of a ‘manly’ GI Joe, and rejects his male nanny, as he doesn’t believe it is an appropriate ‘masculine’ career. In addition, his rejection of his ex-wife Carol’s lesbian relationship from the very offset of the series connotes an almost homophobic attitude. Carol and Susan’s relationship is an unnecessary punch line for many of the ‘friends’, but Ross specifically degrades the couple on the basis of their lesbian relationship. It is unsettling to say the least, and evidently Ross should have been examining his own controlling and manipulative presence in relationships instead of the personal relationship of his ex-wife.
“The depiction of Chandler’s father as a transgender woman was clearly only introduced to be another way to mock Chandler
“At the surface level Phoebe is the only character that is not overtly problematic
“Friends is a product of its time
Undoubtedly if Friends was made in 2018, it would handle issues of sexism, sexuality and race in a way that reflects society now, if not, we would not see it on our screens. Just looking at more recent sitcoms such as Brooklyn 99 shows just how far societal awareness in comedy TV has changed in fourteen years. Yes, these issues were just as important in 1994, but they weren’t part of a critical conversation that was widely occurring. Perhaps now is OK for us to simply watch Friends from a more educated point of view and reflect on where it misses the mark. Instead of debating over whether Friends is offensive or not, or boycotting the show altogether, we can take the show at its face entertainment value, identify where the problems lie and be glad our values have come so far since then.