The Lasting Impact of “Friends”
Some shows are just as iconic today as they were decades ago. “Friends” is no exception. The sitcom has established itself well in the entertainment industry, with over 50 million people watching the bittersweet season finale on May 6th, 2004; however, beneath Chandler’s sarcastic jokes and Phoebe’s eccentric stories, the show used its platform to highlight important topics that were ahead of its time.
Carol and Susan
The storyline of Carol, Ross’s ex-wife, and Susan was introduced in the series premiere and played a significant role in the first few seasons. At the time, in the mid 1990s, same sex marriage and/or relationships weren’t highlighted as they are today. Carol’s lesbian storyline exemplified how people should live the life they want with whoever they want while Susan’s aloof relationship with Ross brought laughter to many viewers. This storyline also introduced an important aspect to many people’s lives: co-parenting. Nonetheless, the three put aside their baggage to raise Ben, their son.
Ben and Barbie
In season 3, episode 4, Ross had trouble coming to terms with Ben’s interest in barbies instead of a more “masculine” toy. Today, more and more families are straying away from gender-typed toys and embracing all toys for what they are: entertainment for kids. The idea of boys playing with dolls or girls playing with cars is no longer a radical idea, rather something society has begun to normalize.
Parenthood manifested in different ways
Three different forms of parenthood were featured on the hit show. Surrogacy, embodied by Phoebe who carried her brother’ babies, is prevalent today as celebrities such as Tyra Banks, Ellen Pompeo, and Kim Kardashian have all welcomed their children in this fashion. Pregnancy, portrayed by Rachel as she carried her and Ross’s child, has been seen as the traditional way of carrying children with celebrities such as Amy Schumer, Kerry Washington, and America Ferrera undergoing this experience. The final season of “Friends” revolved around Monica and Chandler’s adoption journey. This form of parenthood has become more common with Hollywood stars such as Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, and Viola Davis welcoming their children through this route.
Women standing up for themselves in the workplace
In the mid season, Rachel was called in for an interview by prestigious company Ralph Lauren. With people in this much power, it can be intimidating to proclaim the reasons why you deserve such a respectable job. After sending off the wrong signals, Rachel insists to the company that she is worthy of this job, not for her physical attributes but for her talent instead. This foreshadows the Me Too movement, originally initiated in 2006 but heightened in 2017, when women demand a fair work environment.
Phoebe’s backstory leaves many people in awe of her resilience. What’s even more admirable is her ability to use her experience to help others as shown in season 7. Phoebe came across a dilemma when she first signed up to be a telemarketer to earn some extra cash; however, she found herself talking to a suicidal person instead. Their discussion prevented Earl from committing suicide.
Again, Ross is put in a situation where he reinforces toxic masculinity. At first, he was in shock when he discovered that Sandy, the nanny he and Rachel had hired, was a male. Ross was even more surprised to find out that Sandy was heterosexual, as if a straight man couldn’t properly take care of his baby. At the end of the episode, Ross realizes that Sandy is just as capable as any other nanny.
Throughout the show, there have been many instances in which characters become seriously involved with someone much younger or much older than them. For instance, Richard—who used to be Monica’s childhood doctor—and Monica became romantically involved; however, they parted ways after their discrepancy with wanting children. On the other hand, Phoebe’s brother marries his former teacher and they have three children together. Just like all other topics listed above, huge age gaps in relationships have been normalized and accepted in society.
Airing for a decade, “Friends” was a segway to what comedy ought to be: a place where people laugh and learn.