“Friends” is the most streamed series on Netflix in the United Kingdom and the second most streamed in the United States. Back in 2004, the series finale gained over 50 million views alone. Released in 1994, the show still attracts 16 million viewers in the U.S. each week. Clearly, “Friends” is popular, and it’s no longer available on Netflix as of the new year. While the enduring legacy of the show deserves to be celebrated, “Friends” also problematically perpetuates “dominant ideologies of friendship, gender, race and class” from the 1990s, such as whiteness, heterosexuality, unrealistic standards of female beauty and toxic masculinity. Here is a run-down of the best and worst moments of each character.
1. The Wonderfully Weird Phoebe
Phoebe is by far the quirkiest of the group, as the hippie vegetarian who sings about fat cats (though my personal favorite is her ode to the little black curly hair) and believes in superstition. Her alternative beliefs and creativity often provide for some of the funniest moments on the show. When she attempted to help her brother come up with a business idea to earn enough money to raise his triplets, Phoebe and Rachel excitedly walk into their apartment to tell their friends about their brilliant innovation: massages in taxis. What followed was a hilarious and classic Phoebe screaming at Rachel out of nowhere for stealing “her favorite part,” which was the “Relaxi Taxi” name.
Every character except Phoebe comes from a fairly normal familial structure. Meanwhile, her mother committed suicide, her father abandoned her and her stepdad went to prison. Not to mention that she used to live on the street, mugged people (including Ross) for a living, survived being stabbed by a cop and contracted hepatitis from a pimp. While it’s not a particular moment, by far the worst storyline of Phoebe’s is her unaddressed childhood trauma. It would be out of character for the show to address her mental health, but her troubled upbringing being used for comedic effect leaves conflicting feelings.
2. Ross, Occupation: Dinosaurs
All the “Friends” characters are weird in their own way, but Ross definitely gets the brunt of it as the “nerd” of the group. Instead of supporting his passion, his career in paleontology is an unfortunate running joke throughout the show for the friends. Ross’ “talent” for music is another source of humor. Along with his interesting (to say the least) skills on keyboard, Ross decides to play bagpipes for Monica and Chandler’s wedding as a gift. Unfortunately, his surprise is ruined as the engaged couple hears him practicing from his apartment across the street. Ross asks them for one chance to perform in front of them before they decide, and hilariously, Phoebe starts singing, or screeching, along. To no one’s surprise, Monica and Chandler say no. (Shout out to Chandler for his “Why is your family Ross” comeback).
While Ross should be admired for not being afraid to be himself, his fragile masculinity — especially when it comes to issues related to his ex-wife, her female partner and their son —remains a problem. Ross immaturely refuses to drink breast milk because “it’s gross,” but when he hears that Susan, Carol’s female partner, has tasted it before, he squirts some on his arm to show that he is just as tough before rubbing it off and running away. He also refuses to accept that Ben, his son, wants to play with a “girly” Barbie doll instead of something like a G.I. Joe doll. Ross also can’t fathom the idea that a man can be a nanny without being gay. There are countless examples throughout the show.
3. Monica Is Kooky
The chef, the organizer and the rule-stickler of the group, Monica takes control of every aspect of life that she can to make up for the lack of validation from her mother. Her methodical wedding dress takedown is seriously impressive. However, Monica shows her wild side when she tries new things with the woman who stole her credit card. While she returns to her normal self, the end of the episode shows a scene where Monica goes back to tap dance class and steps outside of her comfort zone. Monica’s change in the series is gradual, but this moment is beautifully representative of it.
While Monica finds other outlets for self-validation as an adult, she coped with food when she was younger. “Friends” constantly made fun of “fat Monica” just about every chance they got. The body shaming did not age well with the times and is not the only example: Ross is dramatically injured after dancing with a larger child. Lisa Kudrow, the actress who played Phoebe, recently opened up about body positivity issues while filming “Friends.” While the show perpetuated toxic norms about female beauty especially, the audience will always have the iconic scenes of fat Monica dancing.
4. Chandler, the Transponster
Chandler cracks the most jokes, yet somehow is also the most forgotten of the friends between the group. Nobody knows his job (as revealed by the hilarious quiz episode), and nobody notices what is different when he gets glasses. His self-deprecating is relatable when it comes to relationships and he hates Thanksgiving because his parents revealed their impending divorce during the holiday. Therefore, the one where Chandler plans to surprise Monica by proposing is all the more meaningful as it represents his character growth by overcoming his commitment issues. After an episode where everything possible seems to go wrong, the proposal scene between Monica and Chandler is incredibly touching, a close second being Chandler begging Erica to allow him and Monica to adopt her baby.
However, his history with women wasn’t always so favorable. Chandler had an entire episode dedicated to his rejection of women over “the most superficial insignificant things.” Despite making an effort to change, Chandler continues to judge women for their physical appearance at the end of the episode. He finds parallels between his life path and the strange reclusive neighbor downstairs, Mr. Heckles. In his desperation to not end up alone like Mr. Heckles (why is there something wrong with being alone in the first place?), he calls his “safety net,” Janice, only to find out that she is married and pregnant. No woman, even the supposedly annoying Janice, deserves to be objectified as Chandler did with women throughout the series.
5. Former Waitress and Current Fashion Executive, Rachel
Rachel begins her “Friends” journey by choosing love over money. Having come from a privileged lifestyle, her storyline reflects her adjustment to the “real world.” The scene where Rachel finds out she is pregnant at Monica’s wedding is a beautiful demonstration of the growth in responsibility that her character can now take on, Jennifer Aniston’s wonderful acting and the girls’ friendship.
However, Rachel is far from a perfect character, and it is incredibly annoying that she only realizes that she wants Ross when he is unavailable. When Ross was happy with Julie, Rachel left a drunk voicemail that unfairly forced Ross to choose between the two. When Ross was about to marry Emily, Rachel goes to the wedding with the full intention of crashing it when she can’t use Joshua to pretend that she is “even” with Ross. When Ross was with Bonnie, Rachel convinces her to shave all her hair off so Ross would break up with her, a horrifyingly petty action on top of gross beauty standards.
6. Joey, Who Definitely Doesn’t Share Food
We have Mr. Heckles to thank for allowing the lovably oblivious Joey to move in with Chandler. Joey is the sweetest character on the show, putting his friends above anything else in his life, except for the meatball sub. There are too many good Joey and food moments to pick just one. Remember the flashback to Joey getting his head stuck in a turkey? Or when he thought Rachel’s English meat trifle was delicious? And of course, who could forget Joey and his Thanksgiving pants?
In the later seasons, Joey’s dim-wittedness is taken too far. Despite the fact that he is an actor who can memorize frontal temporal zygomatic craniotomy, Joey fails spectacularly when trying to learn French from Phoebe. All Joey has to do is repeat the syllables that he is hearing from Phoebe’s mouth. He also is unable to identify simple household items and makes wildly random guesses when he is a guest star on a game show: Paper, snow, a ghost! It’s admittedly amusing, but it could be funnier if it was more realistic.
While “Friends” may be over on Netflix, the show will remain a cultural phenomenon for years to come. Viewers who can’t wait can catch episode re-runs on TBS or the TBS app but the show’s new home, HBO Max, won’t drop until May.