Friends is one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, but behind the canned laughter, there might be something a little more sinister at play. Whilst 90s audiences reveled in the antics of the six singletons, these days, what once seemed like innocent one-liners leave somewhat of a bad taste in the mouth…
Here are 20 reasons why Friends has aged rather badly.
20. Joey’s attitude towards women
Joey’s casual sexism is a recurring theme on the show, but his lovable nature allows him to sweet talk his way out of any situation. Take for example Joey’s roommate screening process, the advert for which reads “Wanted: Female roommate, nonsmoker, non-ugly”. Whilst Joey’s rather specific roommate preference is just a lighthearted gag, it speaks to the underlying patriarchal current in society, which serves to tell women they need to be attractive in order to be accepted.
Joey seems to completely objectify women, even at one point comparing them to ice cream and telling Ross to “grab a spoon”. Joey may be portrayed as a harmless sleaze with a big heart, but no one stops to consider the way he makes the women he objectifies feel. Many of the secondary female characters exist solely as romantic conquests – and the core cast aren’t much better!
19. There are numerous homophobic slurs in the show
Casual homophobia is rife among the Friends, perhaps stemming from Ross’ ex-wife leaving him for another woman. Whilst “the lesbians” might be viewed as somewhat of a novelty, they are rarely the butt of the joke, and instead tend to serve a storyline which depicts Ross’ battle with divorce and impending fatherhood. However, slightly more problematic is the fact that Chandler is constantly mocked because people assume he’s gay.
In fact, every time one of the male Friends does something remotely effeminate, they are mocked for not being straight enough. Ross and Joey can’t even share a hug without feeling the urge to announce that neither of them are homosexual.
18. There’s a lack of ethnic diversity
As you may have noticed, all of the Friends are white and relatively middle class (with the exception of Phoebe, who has a slightly more dubious past). Whilst this in itself is not problematic, there are very few ethnically diverse members of the Friends ensemble cast. Charlie is the most prominent ethnically diverse character in Friends, and even she doesn’t appear until the ninth season.
Now, perhaps this wouldn’t be such an issue had the show been set in a small town. But come on, people, this is New York, aka one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world.
17. There’s abundant fat-shaming
Anyone who’s seen Friends will know that Monica used to be overweight (it’s hard to miss it when there’s a joke every other episode). But instead of being proud of their friend for improving her health and changing her lifestyle, the other Friends mock Monica’s “sordid” past. Of course, being fat is nothing to ashamed of. But Monica is constantly belittled and seen as “better” now she’s shed her excess weight. Take for example Chandler, who was quite literally repulsed by Monica before she got thinner, after which time she finally became worthy of his attention.
Chandler even admits to dumping his high school girlfriend due to her weight, although he does later attempt to hunt her down and apologise which, whilst incredibly creepy, does somewhat work in his favour.
16. Ross is incredibly prejudiced towards the male nanny
These days, most people wouldn’t blink twice at the idea of a male nanny. Back in the 90s, however society wasn’t quite so progressive or open to the concept of a family ‘manny’. Ross’ horror at the realisation that ‘Sandy’ is in fact a man sums up the gender stereotyping that was rife throughout the 20th century.
For one, Ross immediately assumes Sandy is gay, purely due to his choice of career. Not only is it incredibly rude to immediately start questioning a stranger’s sexuality, but Ross does so in a way that is confrontational and belittling.
15. Monica is in a relationship with her dad’s best friend
When you think of your dad’s (or any older relative’s, for that matter) best friend, romance probably isn’t the first thing that pops into your head. However, Monica jumps straight in, with little thought to the sense of betrayal her dad could potentially feel. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with age gap love, but it has to be said, there is something slightly sordid about a man pursuing a woman who he’s seen grow up from a child.
But Monica doesn’t stop there. Oh no, it seems she just can’t get enough of the Burke bloodline. Not long after Monica and Richard break up, she decides to pursue his son, Dr Tim, even inviting Burke Junior to Thanksgiving dinner. In Monica’s defence, she is aware of how weird the situation is. Still, this does not stop her kissing him.
14. The toxicity of Ross and Rachel’s relationship is completely ignored
Ross and Rachel’s on/off relationship is a constant throughout the show, with viewers consistently made to root for the pair. However, theirs is a relationship rife with jealousy and insecurity, exemplified by Ross’ intense reaction to Rachel’s job offer from Mark early in the show. Ross completely ignores the fact that Mark may have offered Rachel the job based on her competency, instead jumping to the conclusion that Mark only approached Rachel because he is attracted to her.
Regardless of whether this is true or not, he should trust Rachel to behave accordingly. Their up-and-down relationship is romanticised, with toxic behaviours (such as Rachael travelling to London to sabotage Ross’ wedding) becoming completely normalised.
13. It plays into stereotypes
Most sitcoms perpetuate stereotypes as a way to create humorous moments, but Friends takes this to the extreme. Whilst Rachel may end up a self-made successful female businesswoman, she is not allowed to forget her ditzy “daddy’s girl” stereotype. Another example is Rachel’s boyfriend Paolo, who plays into every stereotype of the sleazy Italian. After he gets tired of Rachel, he decides to make a pass at Phoebe, one of Rachel’s best friends.
Perhaps more problematic is that Phoebe feels guilty over the fact that she was practically sexually assaulted, and Rachel’s reaction to finding out is heartbreak over Paolo, rather than concern for her friend. Even the actor who played Paolo was uncomfortable with the scene, with Cosimo Fusco later saying: “I had a problem with how it portrayed me, as if guys from Italy are like that. What they wanted me to do was quite disrespectful.”
12. Ross’ inappropriate relationship with his student
Although Ross’ student Elizabeth is of legal age, she is also his student, thus making their relationship incredibly inappropriate. Ross is fully aware of this, even attempting to hide their budding romance from other members of the university staff. The pair become acquainted after Ross receives an anonymous love letter from one of his students.
Rather than disregarding the note as immature teenage antics like any normal, responsible adult, Ross makes it his mission to track down the elusive letter writer. Once it begins, Ross and Elizabeth’s relationship has an uncomfortable power balance, which Ross seems to be subconsciously aware of, yet completely disregards.
11. Ross has a disturbing preoccupation with gender stereotypes
One example of Ross’ strange preoccupation with gender stereotypes is the episode where Ross’ son Ben becomes attached to a Barbie doll. Ross is bizarrely disturbed by this, weirdly viewing his son’s preference for the toy as some kind of attack on his own fragile masculinity. Ross goes so far as to try and convince his son he needs a “boy toy”, which luckily for Ross, Ben agrees to.
Perhaps Ross’ obsession with gender roles is down to the fact that Ben essentially has “two moms” who could potentially infiltrate young Ben’s mind with their awfully progressive feminism. Rather than embrace his son’s exposure to different family types and sexuality, Ross attempts to ensure Ben remains as small-minded as his father is.
10. Ross is an absent father
His preoccupation with gender stereotypes aside, Ross actually comes across as being a pretty good dad. That is until he seemingly drops his firstborn child, Ben, in favour of Emma, his daughter with Rachel. At first, Ross is a present father figure in Ben’s life, even refusing to move to London with Emily on the grounds that he simply can not leave his child. However, just a few years later, Ben seems to vanish into thin air.
Perhaps in the 90s, child abandonment was more socially acceptable that it is today. Or perhaps, one fan theory suggests, Ross was just a bad father who ultimately ended up losing custody of his son due to his sheer ineptitude.
9. Lesbian women are seen as more acceptable than gay men
Male homosexuality is seen as undesirable among the Friends, who take every opportunity to mock anything they consider “gay”. Chandler frequently breaks out into a state of panic upon hearing the term, and even Monica jokingly questions his sexuality when she discovers he owns not one, but two copies of Annie. We are constantly reminded that the Friends are reassuringly straight, because the alternative is clearly too horrific to even consider.
However, it seems homosexuality is considered far more acceptable when it comes to women, with the male Friends frequently encouraging the female Friends to kiss. When the same suggestion is put to Joey and Chandler, the idea is met with reactions of horror and disgust.
8. It pigeonholes the idea of a successful life
Throughout the series, the Friends’ lives pretty much revolve around finding a partner, having children and pursuing a successful career. Any deviations from this – think Ross frequently getting divorces – are met with mockery. The whole “married with two point five kids” lifestyle is incredibly idealised in Friends, despite the fact that Monica and Chandler were the only couple to successfully realise this dream (albeit via a rather unorthodox method).
By the show’s finale, Phoebe is married to Mike and Ross and Rachel finally end up getting together (again). The only one left on the sidelines is Joey, but that’s okay because Joey is a bachelor who can surely use his irresistible charms to get any woman he wants.
7. Chandler refuses to do any housework
Nowadays, we would expect both members of any cohabiting couple to have somewhat of an equal involvement in the household chores. But back in the 90s, it seems domestic tasks were a little less evenly distributed. Monica and Chandler both have full-time jobs, yet it is Monica who picks up the slack, cleaning the house by herself and slaving away in the kitchen for every meal.
Yes, being a chef, we can assume she enjoys cooking. But does anyone really look forward to an evening spent preparing dinner after a hard day’s work? Chandler comes across as incredibly lazy, even going so far as to pretend he’s watching a football game in order to evade that pesky housework. Ever heard of the term “partnership”, Chandler?
6. Their attitudes towards breast milk are concerning
When Ross takes care of his infant son, Carol leaves some breast milk for him to bottle feed Ben with. Because, you know… babies tend to drink milk. However, Joey and Chandler struggle to get their minds around the idea, and are clearly repulsed by the bottle’s contents.
The Friends are completely aghast when Phoebe tastes the milk to check its temperature, despite the fact that they regularly drink milk from a cow, arguably a far more unnatural concept. It seems the workings of the female human body are also a mystery to Joey, who displays his sheer ignorance with the line “if he blows into one, does the other get bigger?” Sure, Joey is no rocket scientist, but surely he’s bedded enough women to have a basic grasp of their anatomy?
5. It’s rife with trans-phobic comments
Throughout the show, Chandler consistently expresses his feelings of discomfort surrounding his “gay father”. There’s just one small problem: Chandler’s father isn’t actually gay at all. Despite repeatedly being referred to as a “drag queen”, Charles Bing/Helena Handbasket consistently presents as female, leading us to the conclusion that she is most probably transgender.
Helena Handbasket, as we will refer to her from now on, is repeatedly mocked and belittled by Chandler and his friends, with Helena’s ex-wife (Chandler’s mother) scathingly asking “don’t you have a little too much penis to be wearing a dress like that?” Chandler avoids Helena’s every effort at reconciliation, preferring to remain fatherless rather than accept Helena as a parental figure.
4. The men’s feminine traits are repeatedly mocked
We’ve already looked at how any hints of homosexuality in the male Friends are immediately mocked, but it doesn’t stop there. It seems that any sense of femininity among the men is also highly stigmatised, as demonstrated in the episode The One With Chandler’s Dad. In that episode, Joey discovers a new penchant for wearing women’s underwear. After sharing his secret habit with Phoebe, he is urged to take them off.
It also emerges that, as a child, Ross had a female alter ego, Bea. He is, rather predictably, mocked for this confession. This is despite the fact that the events occurred over 20 years ago and Ross now has a child of his own.
3. There are several instances of harassment
So we’ve already ascertained that the male Friends’ attitudes towards women are somewhat troubling. The men are frequently predatory in their behaviour, hitting on women and often refusing to take no for an answer. Ross takes this one step further in the episode where Ross helps Rachel get ready for a formal event after she hurts her ribs, leaving her unable to dress herself. Rachel asks Ross to turn around whilst she is naked, but he refuses because he’s “already seen her naked”.
When Ross explains that that was different because they were a couple at the time, Ross smugly boasts that he can see her naked anytime he wants – he just has to close his eyes. He then proceeds to “imagine Rachel naked” multiple times, despite her protests and obvious discomfort.
2. Ross has no concept of consent
Sensing a theme here? It seems Ross just can’t help himself from crossing women’s boundaries. Take for example the time he recalls sexually assaulting his own sister at a party. Sure, Ross was under the impression that the woman passed out under the pile of coats was Rachel, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he kissed a woman who was quite literally unconscious and therefore unable to give her consent.
His reaction to finding out about Monica and Chandler’s relationship is also mildly concerning; he is outraged that Chandler is “sleeping with his sister”. It’s almost as if he doesn’t realise that Monica also has a say in the matter, and is presumably a willing participant.
1. The show makes a joke of familial sexual relations
Friends may be just another lighthearted sitcom, but one of its most disturbing moments comes when Ross quite literally tries to kiss his own cousin. This is no case of mistaken identity, either. Oh no, Ross is keenly aware of the fact that the woman he is trying to seduce is in fact related to him by blood. Luckily, Cassie, played by Denise Richards, is not quite so open-minded and promptly rebuffs his advances.
Perhaps we should give Ross the benefit of the doubt considering incest was actually legal in 19 US states at the time, and his cousin is also super attractive. Nonetheless, surely even Friends in its unreserved “kookiness” cannot condone actual sexual relations between family members.