There’s been a lot of conversation about Friends lately. With its release to Netflix UK at the start of 2018, it has subsequently topped the most-streamed charts. In addition to its endless TV reruns and irresistible meme-ability, it’s unavoidable*. The conversations I’ve heard through culture podcasts like The High Low and seen in numerous articles focus on its cultural appropriateness in 2018. Just how out of date is it? Should we tolerate flawed characters who put each other down more than they lift each other up? Should we give air time to a show which has outdated attitudes to homosexuality, gender roles, race and work place dynamics? Despite these conversations, it thrives on just as it did in the nineties and noughties. Of course, it’s flawed. It’s over twenty years old and we’re living in an epoch of immense discussion where social and cultural change is rapid. TV shows aired within this decade are often as out of date as those aired pre-millennium. So why exactly is it that Friends still holds a significant place in the hearts of viewers, from Generation X through to Generation Z? Friends was one of the first mainstream TV shows to show men and women as just that, friends. It showed career hungry, sexually liberated, independent men and women in the big city, striving, thriving and often failing. It was apt then, but perhaps is even more apt now as we not only contend with trying to have-it-all, but with the social media representations of having it all. In 2018, when twenty-somethings contend not only with balancing friendships, careers, romances, families (both being part of, and having one) just as the Friends characters did, we now also have the added expectation on us to share it in a status, a snap, or 140 characters. Friends may be outdated in many ways – and it’s being pre-social media age inevitably being one – but perhaps it’s this that makes it so deliciously appealing.
I don’t want to get all AA here but: I’m Kath, and I’m a 23-year-old arts graduate, unemployed for 2 months now and desperate to climb on to that first rung of the career ladder. It’s hard. It’s a rollercoaster of excitement, investment, hope and highs, followed by fear, anxiety, hopelessness and lows. I have a rough plan, and I’m fine with having a non-plan-plan, a ‘take any opportunity and see where it leads’ plan, but when even the rough plan isn’t shaping up, it can be draining. So, I take it day-to-day, keep waiting for something that’s going to break the cycle, and in the meantime search for a little bit of guidance, reassurance and, at the very least, distraction from it all. I read books, watch shows, volunteer, research for blog posts, consult The Poetry Pharmacy**, and of course, the best therapy of all, talk to friends. Now Friends has been criticised for the characters making cruel jokes at the expense of others, but my friends have mocked my unemployment countless times. ‘You need to get a job’ follows my lame stories more often than not. Part of me winces and recoils at the truth of that accusation, another feels sad that it’s not for want of trying, but the biggest part is amused, tickled, even comforted that I have friendships rooted in truth, not a sugar-coating of reality in fear of offending someone. It reminds me of what Ross, Chandler, Joey, Rachel, Phoebe and Monica have: not maliciousness or cruelty, but honesty.
So often in this day and age, we turn to social media for advice, distraction, help or inspiration, but so often get the opposite. We search for a very specific something and the likelihood of us finding it amidst the highlight reel is small. Social media, and here I think of Instagram specifically, presents the best of. As a non-jealous person, even I’ve felt pangs of envy lately seeing others do what looks like incredible jobs. That envy is very swiftly replaced with a sinking feeling of guilt for being anything but delighted for others and their utterly deserved achievements. I know full well that many, if not most of those friends, acquaintances and strangers will be struggling behind the stories too. They’ll look at my Instagram story, see the dance party, newly decorated living room, beaming selfie and think all is rosy when in fact it’s a rare high amidst a lot of lows. We’re all scrambling through, clutching on to whatever it is that makes us hopeful and taking it day-by-day. We’re all searching for the quote, the image, the memory, the advice that will take our mind to that comfortable, relaxed state of ‘it’ll all be okay’, so we can all take a deep breath and be calm again, at least for a little while. As time passes, I realise more than the only guarantee of that feeling (that isn’t from real people in my life) is Friends. How? How does Friends so frequently hit the nail on the head of how I’m feeling? How does it so often summarise the anxieties I haven’t been able to pin point in one line? Well, because it has it all. Not they have it all. Not that daunting, pressure-filled expectation that we can have all and everything and have it at once and should have it now. But rather, it covers it all. In Friends, there is always a friend to fall out with, a family member to stress about, a job to hate, unemployment to contend with, a relationship falling apart, a flat to find, a life to get together. Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and Joey may be seeking it all, but it’s at rare moments when they all, at the same time, have it all. And that’s reassuring.
I’ve been watching Friends on series loop and in order since 2013. That’s five years of watching it maybe three times a year. That means I’ve probably watched every episode from ‘The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate’ to ‘The Last One’ about 15 times (kind of proud). What I’ve discovered from watching Friends this past year though, is that it has more of a purpose in my life right now, in this fifth year of viewing. Life has transitioned from student-adult, with the cushion of a loan, flexible social-working time, an ‘excuse’ to lounge around in PJs all day guilt free, to adult-adult, without the fall back, when unemployment is scarily real, your purpose is to sell yourself to strangers time and time over until it exhausts and drains you and you’re crying over your eggs at the kitchen table (No? Just me? Don’t believe you.). The theme tune says it all: ‘your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s D.O.A.’. Friends is all about people in their twenties struggling, thriving, failing, surviving, coping, attempting to navigate the most uncertain decade there can be (I’m assured). The beauty of the show is it can be enjoyed simply for its slapstick comedy, its quotable lines, its moving plot points, but now more than ever I get it and feel those seemingly flippant but cleverly crafted outbursts more than ever. There is a plethora of lines, scenes and jokes that hit the mark right now of what I think and feel (a few of which I’ve shared at the end of this post).
At the bare minimum, it’s good comedy. At the most, it’s therapeutic. It’s a sort of therapy. When you can’t face another conversation about how the job search is going, when you don’t want to burden your equally busy, stressed friends, when you just want to curl up in a ball and ignore it all for a while, it’s an effortless therapy. Whatever you’re stumbling through, Friends is a guarantee. It’s there to get you, to reflect you, to understand you, without the effort of thinking, talking or processing over and over. It’s a passive therapy, the perfect combination of tuning in and switching off. It just makes sense, and helps things makes sense.
Friends is a cathartic experience, on numerous levels for any graduate, anyone in their twenties, or just anyone at a crossroads (or more like spaghetti junction) of their life. When everything is unsettled, it reassures and guides in the way a chat on the sofa with a real friend does. It’s a ready-made, pre-approved classic. When I’m in need of that familiar, comforting humour, Friends gets put on. It sits in the background of every get together at every friends’ house, on the kitchen work surface as my flatmate and I cook, or at the dinner table as we eat together-but-not. It’s a fixture of every hangover, slumber party, girls weekend. It’s the bonus study buddy or forgiving distraction. It’s the punchline of many a conversation, the companion on a lonely day, the shoulder to cry on. It’s the guidance counsellor for the single, unemployed twenty-something year old graduate.
Now I must go, Chandler’s about to confront Janice for kissing the Mattress King.
Words by Katherine Warren.
The One with the Relevant Friends Quotes
I asked for contributions to this list on Instagram. Some of the highlights? Finding out condoms aren’t 100% effective, forever relating to ‘Fat Monica’, the secret messy cupboard, Phoebe trying to save face after her break up with Mike, and Ross’s numerous meltdowns: ‘Because really…I’M FINE.’ Thanks for all the suggestions!
M: Phoebe, do you have a plan?
P: I don’t even have a PL- (Series 1, Episode 4)
M: There are no jobs! There are no jobs for me! (Series 2, Episode 8)
R: Listen, you’re gonna go on like a thousand interviews before you get a job… (Series 3, Episode 10)
C: I have nowhere to go this morning. I’m unemployed. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with my life.
M: Well, I just lost my erection.
C: No – I mean what am I supposed to do with myself.
M: You’re supposed to find your passion! You can be whatever you wanna be! (Series 9, Episode 11)
R: Look, you know, I know my life’s going pretty well but I look around and I just see so many people who have accomplished so many of their goals by the time they’re 30. (Series 7, Episode 14 – thank you Grace for this one!)
**After Friends, William Sieghart’s The Poetry Pharmacy is definitely the best at-home therapy you can get. He offers a poem and perspective for every mood, feeling, scenario. It’s wonderful. Take a look here.