Why We Still Watch Friends Today

Still of Friends cast at the beach, the main image in the Why We Still Watch Friends blog

'The Rachel'

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.

Ross and Rachel in the Friends episode, The One With The Prom Video, in the Why We Still Watch Friends blog
The One With The Prom Video (Season 2)

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.

Screenshot of Friends characters in Central Perk, in the blog post Why We Still Watch Friends Today
Friends had Central Perk
Screenshot of Seinfeld characters in Monk's Cafe
Seinfeld had Monk's Cafe

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.

Screengrab of Friends in Chinese poster in the blog post, Why We Still Watch Friends Today
Friends - the fun way to learn English

Global Impact

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 .

Still of the characters in Wok In Progress in the Why We Still Watch Friends blog
The cast of Wok In Progress, the show that never was

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.

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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

Friends Central Perk Soup Mug

Central Perk Soup Mug

This Silver Buffalo ceramic soup mug will help jump start your day. Comes in multiple colours and sizes.

Check it out on Amazon.

Monopoly

The most popular board game married to the most popular sitcom. A perfect union. 

Check it out on Amazon

Trivial Pursuit

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.

22 thoughts on “Why We Still Watch Friends Today”

  1. I think Seinfeld is a much better show. It broke the mold of sitcoms much more than Friends. I think I’ve watched it at least 5 times all the way through. Kramer is a legend and it’s sad is career nose dived.

    1. I agree with you Ronald, Seinfeld was truly groundbreaking, I think more so than Friends. It would be fantastic if Kramer could find a show vehicle to resurrect his career.

  2. Hi Murray,

    It is common for people to reviewa single movie or sequels of a movie but quite a novel thing to take an entire sitcom with so many episodes and do a decent analysis of what made the series special or not so special.

    I came to watching Friends quite late as I grew up in a small town in Nigeria where access to cable TV was rare. It wasn’t until I moved to the West that I got the opportunity to see the series. And even then I didn’t come to appreciate the humour as I was more into action entertainment as opposed to drama but overtime as I grew older I came to appreciate it but I found I was most drawn to Frasier than Friends.

    All the same, a superb analysis that has kindled a new interest for me in the sitcom.

    Thank you.
    Femi

    1. Hi Femi, thanks for your comment. I’m glad my post has encouraged a new take and interest in the show. I love Frasier as well, but my all time favourite is still probably Seinfeld. Perhaps I should write a post about that too.

      Have a great day.

  3. Your article brought back my old memory as I enjoyed watching Friends many years ago.
    I never thought that it pioneered a new sitcom culture, but I am convinced after reading your analysis.
    I also realized that this show was less concerned with educating the viewers while focusing on reality.

    So, what is the status of “Work in Progress”?
    Wow. I want to show you my respect for trying to create your own show.
    I hope it works well.
    Thank you for bringing back my old memory.

    1. Hi Jason, cheers for your interest in my post. Wok in Progress is a work in progress 😉 We actually decided to take the concept and make a movie about it instead. Script is ready to go and we are busy sourcing investment.

      1. Sounds great.
        I heard that making a movie is quite sophisticated, and it requires a lot of money and hard work.
        Hope you can source investment.
        Wish you all the best.

        1. It’s a monumental undertaking and requires every ounce of effort. But once you put it out there, it’s there to stay and hopefully it’ll talk to people in a positive way which makes it all worthwhile.

  4. Hi Murray,

    Excellent article which I totally get. I have definitely met similar characters in my life to the friends characters and I live in the UK. They are all over the world. That’s got to be the reason why we watch these kinds of sitcoms and soap operas all the time.

    Thanks for sharing this article, and keep up the amazing work on your site. Your topics are really interesting.

    All the best,

    Tom

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for your comment. Sitcoms work best when the character mix is relatable to our own circle of friends. It’s art imitating life or vice versa.

  5. Only 7 out of 10???? Definitely a 10 for me. Friends is absolutely timeless, and the jokes are funny every time you hear them, no matter how many times you’ve seen the episode. Love how some of the gifts are specific to one episode (the lobster & seven!) Makes me feel like a die-hard fan for picking up on the joke 😛 and HOW COOL IS THAT LEGO SET!? Sending a link to my boyfriend right now. Birthday gift sorted. Hint hint, nudge nudge

    1. I saw Friends for the first time when I was 19. If I had been younger then the nostalgic impact would have been greater yielding a higher nostalgia score. I’m glad you appreciate the episode specific gifts. You really are a true fan like myself. And if you’re buying that Friends Lego set for your boyfriend, it’s bound to take your relationship to the next level. Thanks for visiting 😉

  6. Hi Murray,
    Wow… What an amazing website! Find yesterday… I think it is unique even in its domain. I totally agree that Friends is one of the best series and even if you watch it many times, you won’t feel boring if you watch it again and again. I think everything in the past is connected to our memories. I know people who are in the twenties or younger and they love to watch Friends.
    You reminded me to watch it tonight
    All the best
    Rania

    1. That is the great appeal of Friends – it’s timeless. Enjoy your Friends binge watching session.

  7. This is such a fun post! I’ve always loved friends and your review of the show here is spot on. I like how you compared it to other iconic shows which all have similar features e.g. the hang out spots and the different group dynamics.

    You should definitely start Wok in Progress up again as ASAP, sounds like it would be a sure fire hit!

    1. Pretty much all the great shows have similar things in common that just resonate with audiences because they tap into the human condition so well. Yes, I need to resurrect Wok in Progress, it has been too long.

  8. Thank you for this review

    I have actually watched a bit of friends last year and I did know it was nearly as old as me ha ha. I love the fact that the move has been so ingrained in you to the point that you can’t get enough of it.

    I am also amazed at how such shows were able to influence so many people to change the world culture of hairstyles and dressing.

    1. The power of soft culture is immense. It can cause a person to change their haircut or coerce an entire generation to overlook the misdeeds of a nation.

  9. This is a very interesting review. I didn’t know Friends ha been around for so long. Joey was always my favorite. But only as Joey in Friends, not in the show, Joey which didn’t really work. I would definitely love the onesie as a gift idea.

    1. I agree, Joey missed the mark. But he was also my favourite character. Dumb womanizer with a big heart.

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