Going back in time, the pilot episode of the American television series ‘Friends’-- which was released 26 years ago-- made it clear that the show was here to challenge traditional family values. The intent was to come up with a new type of reality and make it conventional.
Barely three minutes into the first episode and we know we are in for a treat. Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) enters the Central Perk coffee shop running in a wedding dress, leaving behind her fiance Barry. She finds her high-school friend Monica Gellar (Courteney Cox) and asks for help.
Rachel gets introduced to her other soon-to-be best friends- Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) and Monica’s older brother Ross Gellar (David Schwimmer).
Later in the episode, everyone is chilling at Monica’s apartment while Rachel is talking to his angry father on a phone call. She then decides not to go back home and stay with her childhood pal to figure out life. At the kitchen table, everyone encourages Rachel to cut all her credit cards. “Welcome to the real world… It sucks. You’re going to love it,” Monica tells her, symbolic of Rachel’s new path of survival.
‘Friends’ was not a groundbreaking commentary on family ties. However, its fresh relatable storylines and character arcs have had a significant impact on the kind of messages sounded by prime-time television. Before ‘Friends’, TV was all about families, families and families.
The show ran for 10 seasons and for a whole decade, it had a weekly audience of up to 28 million viewers, excluding the re-runners.
With each episode of ‘Friends’, the audience got to know exactly what burden every character was carrying and had an idea about how it should play out. But what they didn’t know was how these six slightly clueless and broke twenty-somethings would muddle their way through relationships, jobs, and life.
The six friends always relied on each other. There were hookups, weddings, cheating, divorces, babies, parental fallouts and bad careers along the way, but nobody gave up on each other, even when Ross and Rachel were on a break (Were they?).
One of the fantastic elements of ‘Friends’ was how all of them saw underemployment at some point in their lives. They were too old to live with their parents and too young to have a family of their own. The choice that was left was to support friends like a family and move on to the next phase.
Over the course of 10 years, the show covered America’s high divorce rates, same-sex marriages, sexuality, infertility, surrogacy and single parenthood. Of course, some of the plots were highly problematic and criticised, but at least they existed and the show tried to tackle them.
Yet, however much ‘Friends’ pushed boundaries of what family could look like, at last, domestic norms ultimately won.
After struggling for two seasons, Chandler and Monica finally had twins and moved to a place far from noise to raise their children in the best way possible. Rachel sacrificed a well-paid job to return to Ross and take care of their daughter Emma. Phoebe married Mike to have a normal family that she never had. And Joey, well, got a spin-off.