The 1994 sitcom we all know and love, Friends, may not be as light-hearted as some remember. The humor in this show may have worked for its target audience then. Yet, as it is rewatched by younger generations, there is some frustration with the meaning behind the punchlines. Frustrations such as scenes with homophobia, sexism, body negativity, lack of diversity, etc.
The iconic show is about six friends who happen to all live in the same apartment building in New York City. The group experiences all sorts of life events with each other, such as romances, jobs, friendships, etc. All of the friendships are interconnected with one another, creating hilarious and relatable material. Which is no surprise why Friends was one of the most popular television shows of all time.
All is good and well until the content is analyzed beyond the surface level. For instance, the six friends are a predominately white group. Immediately this is a red flag because New York City itself does not lack diversity at all. The show very obviously only creates and casts white characters. It became even more controversial when an African American woman wasn’t given a main role in the show until season 9. This type of white washing can unintentionally create or maintain racist notions. Forming a normative of white television instead of diversified.
Homophobia is also a frequent punchline throughout the show. As seen in the youtube video above, there is resentment at the accusation of being gay. Along with resistance to being associated with the culture. It is not just specific to one actor either. For instance, Joey was being harassed by the friend group for buying a satchels. Which was rejected due to the femininity of it. Ross’ character had multiple homophobic scenes, such as being very upset that the his nanny was a man. Ross also strongly disliked when his son, Ben wanted to play with dolls. Not to mention, there is an episode with Brad Pitt and Ross. They made an “I hate Rachel club” where they started a rumor that Rachel was intersex. Phoebe and Monica make jokes about being gay when someone does something odd, on numerous episodes. Unfortunately, the examples go on and on.
As younger generations rewatch this sitcom, they find it more offensive than they do humorous. This difference in generations is evident when comparing a show like Friends from the 90s to shows today. There are a variety of LGBTQ shows and movies out now. The shift in television hegemony has created an inclusive norm, which is far different than the standard hegemony that we see in Friends.
Unfortunately homophobia and white washing aren’t the only controversial aspects that have been picked up throughout the show. There is plenty of evidence of Friends being controversial and politically incorrect. Now of course these risky jokes are placed very strategically in the script, so that the show does not come off as out-of-line. Although, if you are rewatching these episodes some of the jokes may lean towards a little less funny and a little more offensive. Along with the normalization of toxic masculinity.