Friends: 10 times the classic sitcom was problematic

Friends (Netflix)
Friends (Netflix)

If you’re a millennial, you probably binge-watched Friends growing up (or later on via Netflix). Perhaps it was a sign of the times or a lack of self-awareness on the part of the writers, but many of the storylines, situations and characters on Friends were problematic.

While the six besties Ross and Monica Geller, Rachel Green, Chandler Bing, Joey Tribbiani and Phoebe Buffay seemed like people you wanted to hang out with back in the ‘90s, you might change your mind in 2018. Storylines laced with homophobia, sexism, borderline emotional abuse and sexual harassment are portrayed as punchlines. The lack of diversity within its 10 seasons is inexcusable and embarrassing. Truth be told, several of the jokes written in the show that began 27 years ago probably would be thrown out before they even got into the writer’s room.

Recently, Friends was added to Netflix in the UK, and millennials were astounded by the problematic elements that persisted for 10 seasons. Below are highlights of the troublesome themes, moments and jokes that happened during the show’s decade-long run.

When Ross voices his disapproval of Ben playing with a doll

Ross’ ex-wife comes out as a lesbian and they always seemed to play up on that in the show in some way. In one of the ways it happens, Ross sees his son Ben playing with a Barbie doll. He exclaims, “Why is my boy playing with a Barbie?” Ross somehow manages to convince himself his lesbian ex-wife and her partner forced Ben to play with Barbies.

Lesson learnt: Don’t be homophobic, and let your kid be themselves!

When Rachel hires Tag because he’s attractive

In a plot that would be textbook sexual harassment, Rachel hired hot and simple 24-year-old Tag for an assistant job he wasn’t qualified for purely because she wanted to date him. This was instead of hiring Hilda who met all of the requirements to be her assistant. Of course, Rachel and Tag end up dating until she breaks it off because he’s too immature.

Lesson learnt: Don’t hire someone because you think you’ll want to date them!

When Joey is perceived as "feminine"

Joey seems to be the butt of everyone’s jokes especially when he likes more “feminine” things. There’s a whole episode dedicated to his love of his shoulder bag that is mocked as well as how he explains how he likes wearing makeup. Everyone makes a point of saying it’s a “woman’s purse,” but it’s just a shoulder bag. Chandler of course chides him saying, “Yeah, pulling flowers out of it makes the bag look a lot more masculine.”

Lesson learnt: Let people like what they like - don’t be sexist!

When Ross couldn’t handle having a male nanny

The male nanny plot line was played out distastefully later in the series. Rachel finds an extremely qualified male nanny, and they hire him. Ross takes every opportunity he can to mock the nanny, played by Freddie Prinze Jr, who is portrayed as extremely sensitive. The way the nanny was presented was extremely stereotypical and Ross’ reaction to having a male nanny was sexist.

Lesson learnt: Avoid stereotypes and sexism!

When Monica was fat shamed

One of the most consistent themes running through all 10 seasons of Friends was fat shaming Monica. We get it: Monica was overweight in high school. But Monica’s weight is a relentless punchline that is offensive. Joey memorably yells, “Some girl ate Monica” in a video of Monica in her prom dress eating a sandwich while prepping for the event. Monica’s friends never let her forget about her time as “Fat Monica,” as if it’s shameful.

Lesson learnt: Don’t body shame others!

When Ross became an obsessive and controlling boyfriend

In retrospect, Ross and Rachel’s relationship is 50 shades of toxic, but that’s mostly because of Ross. His behaviour is borderline emotionally abusive when you look back on it. He essentially stalks Rachel while she’s getting lunch with her friend Mark because he doesn’t trust that they’re just friends. It becomes a through line for an overarching story for the season and even comes back for a minute in season 10. While his behaviour was seemingly all laughs back then, it was uncomfortable to watch.

Lesson learnt: Trust your partner!

When Chandler interacted with his transgender dad

It’s no secret there was an underlying homophobic and transphobic tone to Friends, but particularly with the character of Chandler. Chandler’s mom – played by Kathleen Turner – is a transgender Vegas drag queen, something he’s constantly embarrassed by throughout the series. She is a punchline who never gets referred to with the right pronouns – Chandler also loves to mock the fact that she wore dresses. The gang doesn’t hold back about questioning the genitalia Chandler’s dad has either - something that is super invasive.

Lesson learnt: Be inclusive and respectful to everyone - don’t be transphobic!

When there were only two people of colour in the show

It’s hard to think about diversity when it comes to Friends because there really wasn’t any. The closest the cast got to diversity was when Ross dated Julie who was Asian and later in the series when he dated Dr. Charlie Wheeler, who was black. The Friends cast and guest stars were all extremely white.

Lesson learnt: Promote diversity in casting!

When Chandler was paranoid of people thinking he’s gay

Throughout the series, Chandler is always hypersensitive to people thinking he’s too feminine or of being perceived as gay. People mistaken Chandler for being gay and it’s lauded as something to be ashamed of in the show. In the episode when Monica and Ross’ nana dies twice, Chandler finds out people assume he’s gay, which doesn’t sit with him well. This combined with his mom makes him an extremely insecure, homophobic character who always feels the need to defend his sexuality.

Lesson learnt: I repeat: don’t be homophobic!

When Ross dated one of his students

In his Paleontology class, Ross gets an anonymous letter in a survey from one of his students that showed she had a crush on him. Ross somehow thinks that dating said student (Elizabeth) is only “frowned upon” and is then shocked to find out it could actually get him fired. But that apparently doesn’t matter because they’re so into each other that they hide their relationship from the faculty.

Lesson learnt: Sneaking around is a sign you shouldn’t be doing something - don’t date your students!

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