Why We Still Watch Friends Today
Friends is 26 years old this year and I can’t think of another show that has aged as well. Perhaps Seinfeld is a contender, but no others come close.
For 10 years, a total of 237 episodes, Insomnia Café (the original title) entertained millions of TV viewers not just in America, but pretty much all over the world. It changed the way people spoke, dressed and how they had their hair done.
An astonishing 11 million girls copied Rachel’s haircut and it became known as ‘The Rachel’. Jennifer Aniston confessed that it was the ugliest haircut she’d ever seen and that her stylist was actually ‘stoned out of his mind’ when he gave her potentially the most iconic haircut of all time.
Besides ‘The Rachel’, there are of course many other reasons why we still watch Friends today. For me, it’s usually the antics of Joey and Chandler which I still get a kick out of. The bottle episode, The One Where No One’s Ready comes to mind.
Feel free to comment below with your thoughts on this show.
A Summer Camp In Ohio
When I was 19, I embarked on my first solo, overseas trip. I had been accepted into the Camp America program and was destined to be the pool lifeguard and toilet cleaner (conveniently not mentioned in the brochure) at Camp Wanake, Beach City, Ohio. This was back in 1996 at a time when South Africa only featured a whopping 4 TV channels. This meant that although Friends was about to kick off its 3rd season, I hadn’t even heard of it.
Fortunately, I was brought up to speed very rapidly because the camp possessed the first two seasons on VHS and my fellow counselors and I would spend many an evening chuckling at Joey’s silly antiques and Chandler’s mordant wit.
The episode that stands out most for me, the one that when I watch now takes me back to those carefree, Summer nights, would have to be The One With The Prom Video. This was when Ross and Rachel finally got together in a way that blended great comedy with the show’s soft, gooey center.
The One With The Prom Video. Camp Wanake. The feelings of adventure and youthful independence.
Nostalgia value, 7/10.
Pioneering A New Sitcom Culture
The sitcoms that came before like The Cosby Show, Who’s The Boss and Growing Pains, revolved around a wholesome family nucleus. Friend’s was one of the first shows to portray young people living on their own, doing their own thing with very little input from their parents. Instead, they would rely on each other for moral support and guidance.
The story lines were typically quite trivial, focusing on the minutiae of everyday life which ultimately, conveyed the idea that it’s okay to live carefree when you’re young, attractive and cool because nothing bad is going to happen.
Friends popularized what would become known as the ‘hangout comedy’ where friends would just chill and interact with each other in their favourite coffee shop, like Central Perk, or at a friend’s apartment, like at Monica’s. The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family had similar ‘hangout’ locations where the characters would josh and chatter with each other. The group dynamic formed the core of the show.
The Cosby Show, Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond each had a comedian at the center with all supporting cast revolving around them. Most shows of that time and before focused on a lead whether a comedian or not. Friends, instead, had an ensemble cast where each character had more or less the same screen time. This allowed for greater complexity as well as more abundant and imaginative story lines.
The show was also less concerned with ‘educating’ the audience with some kind of moral lesson like many of the 80’s shows had done. Friends was more realistic to how life really is although it didn’t push it quite as far as Seinfeld did. The characters still learn the odd life lesson and there is lots of hugging.
People of all walks of life can relate to the quirky characters. Regardless of whether you’re Mexican, Chinese or Russian, we’ve all met a ditsy, in her own world, Phoebe, a neurotic neat nut, Monica, a lovable-loser, Chandler, a dorky yet sweet, Ross, a materialistic yet irresistible, Rachel and a smooth-talking rather dumb, Joey.
I spent 15 years in Taipei and Beijing and it never ceased to amaze me how popular Friend’s had become, not just as entertainment for fluent English speakers, but for those using it as an English tool so they could become fluent. My Chinese friends wanted to master that standard American accent as well as ‘enrich’ their English with American slang.
When I was studying Chinese, I bemoaned the fact that there was no Friends equivalent in Chinese which would ease the strain of learning such a hard language. Friends was able to teach English and entertain at the same time. A rare and valuable combination.
Sitcom Creator Wannabe
It was in Beijing that I really got into Friends. I fancied myself as a sitcom writer and my friend and I decided to create our own show. It was called Wok In Progress and detailed the life of two foreigners living in a Beijing apartment and rubbing up against their Chinese landlord and his daughter.
As I was researching the show, I watched and rewatched my three favourite sitcoms, Friends, Frasier and Seinfeld, in an attempt to understand the structure, setting and character mix that made them all so successful .
My own show didn’t fair quite as well. We shot the pilot, but the rest of the season, 9 more episodes, is still on the back burner. (If Marta Kauffman or David Crane is reading this, my contact details are below)
What are your thoughts on Friends? Let me know in the comments below.
Friends Gift Ideas
As you can imagine, there is a lot of Friends memorabilia out there, especially on Amazon, Etsy and Ebay. Amazon is usually cheaper with more selection and so I’ve chosen them. And if you’re not super satisfied with what you’ve bought, their returns policy is really good.
With so much to choose from, where do you start? My focus has been on cool, fun and quirky items, all garnering decent ratings from well-priced sellers.
Please note that I am an Amazon Affiliate and receive a small compensation if you use my links, but it will not increase your purchase price. If you use my links, I truly appreciate it 😉
Central Perk Lego Kit
This is taking my favourite thing as a kid and my third favourite thing as an adult and putting them together. I look forward to having a kid when I can play with Lego again without getting weird looks from people.
Check it out on Amazon.
Central Perk Soup Mug
If you like Friends and quizzy board games, then this is the mother-load. Perhaps play Friends in the background while eating Rachel’s Traditional English Trifle to make the trifecta.
Check it out on Amazon.