The popular 90s sitcom, Friends has been widely loved and celebrated since it aired first in 1994 and to this date, it goes without saying that the show is the most iconic sitcom and TV show ever. However, there are many instances in Friends, where one can clearly tell the characters or the scenes were homophobic and when the show became the epitome of toxic masculinity.
After 17 years since the show stopped airing, the cast of Friends is coming together to celebrate the show and the special reunion episode is going to air worldwide on Thursday, May 27. As we wait for the iconic show’s reunion, let’s go back and revisit why and where Friends, the most-talked sitcom to this date, faced criticism.
Susan and Carol’s relationship and the stereotyping
Throughout the show, the central characters of Friends have joked about Ross’s ex-wife, Carol being lesbian, and her relationship with her partner, Susan. Time and again, David Schwimmer’s character Ross seems to have trouble digesting the relationship of his ex-wife and her partner. However, Ross’s behaviour and discomfort around Susan and Carol’s relationship visibly comes from the deception he received from Carol, while they were still married.
Meanwhile, the show has also set some benchmarks for LGBT+ representation, as Friends is the first sitcom ever to show a lesbian wedding on television, and the episode was also banned from airing in some US states and counties.
Chandler’s relationship with his father
There are also many taboos around Chandler’s father being gay. Chandler, played by Matthew Perry, refuses to have a relationship with his father, who plays the role of a trans woman in the show but is perceived as a gay drag queen. Chandler even denies inviting his father to his wedding and only does so after Monica forces him to.
However, Chandler has a strained relationship with both his parents in the show, a discomfort that comes from his childhood when he suffered through their divorce at a young age.
Meanwhile, not only Chandler, there are many other instances where other characters of the show object to Chandler’s father's sexuality. In one scene, Chandler’s mom, jokingly tells his father, "Don’t you have a little too much penis to be wearing a dress like that?” But it should be noted that while Chandler suffered through his parents’ divorce, Chandler’s mom's marriage went down the drain due to his father.
When Chandler will not relax because bubble bath is “girly”
In one of the episodes, Monica draws a bubble bath for Chandler, after he had an exhausting day at work, but Chandler objects to it, saying it's too “girly”. The scene clearly depicts how men should not indulge in self-care because it is girly. However, the toxic masculinity worked the other way around in the show also. In one episode, Chandler, Joey, and Ross indulge in skin-care, when they apply a facemask on the T-zone of their faces, but Monica calls them out and says, she will “leave the girls alone.”
When Ross will not let Ben play with Barbie
Ross begins to lose his mind when his son, Ben plays with Barbie and forces him to play with G.I. Joe's toy. The behaviour of Ross comes from his fear of the impact of his ex-wife and her partner’s relationship on Ben and that it might affect his son’s sexuality. The scene depicts both homophobia and toxic masculinity.
Lack of diversity in the show
Over the span of 10 years, Friends had only two characters who were of color, including one Black character. While Aisha Tyler, who played Ross’s girlfriend Charlie for a brief time, is the only black person in the show, Cosimo Fusco starred as Rachel’s (played by Jennifer Aniston) boyfriend Paolo.
In an interview, Aisha Tyler said that even during the show, at that time, “people were constantly pointing out that Friends wasn’t as diverse as the Manhattan of the real world.”
She told Guardian, ‘It (Friends) was an unrealistic representation of what the real world looked like.’
However, even with all its flaws, Friends has remained a crowd favourite because of the way it connects with the viewers. At the heart of it, it's a simple show about six friends holding on to each other in their journey and supporting each other through all the ups and downs.