Why Friends is Still So Relevant & Beloved

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Why Friends is Still So Relevant & Beloved

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
Even years later, "Friends" is still relevant and beloved. Our video includes the characters, the one-liners, the cliffhangers, and more!
Transcript
Script written by Nick Spake

Why Friends Is Still So Relevant and Beloved


Welcome to MsMojo, and this is the one where we discuss why “Friends” is still relevant and beloved.

We’re in a golden age of television overflowing with high-concept shows that continually break new ground. There’s so much quality content that people just don’t have enough time to watch it all. Yet, we somehow make the time to rewatch “Friends” again, and again, and again. Even seventeen years after the series ended, “Friends” continues to draw in huge viewership through syndication and especially streaming. We’ve seen all 236 episodes, know all the plot twists, and can quote certain scenes by heart. So, why does “Friends” keep us coming back when there are other shows we could be catching up on?

Co-creator Marta Kauffman has described “Friends” as “a comfort-food show.” Indeed, “Friends” has seen us through some difficult times. When Season 8 premiered on September 27, 2001, ratings rose 17%. Part of that can be attributed to the previous season’s cliffhanger, but audiences also needed comfort food during such a challenging period. “Friends” landed on Netflix in January 2015, just as an especially stressful U.S. presidential election race was about to start heating up. Then when the COVID-19 pandemic sent the whole world into despair, “Friends” was on HBO Max to make quarantine a little more tolerable.

Of course, it’s not like there’s a shortage of lighthearted content for us to choose from. What makes “Friends” the go-to comfort food show? For starters, there’s the lovable cast of characters. With other sitcoms, there’s usually a scene-stealer who eclipses all others. With “Friends,” there isn’t a clear MVP. Every fan has a ‘Friend’ they find the funniest or identify with the most. We could try ranking all six, but how do you choose between Rachel’s spunk, Monica’s competitive spirit, Phoebe’s quirkiness, Joey’s dense nature, Chandler’s sarcasm, and Ross’... Rossness? The ensemble perfectly balances one another out and you can’t have one ‘Friend’ without the other five. The “Joey” spinoff proved this.

The performances were matched by the sharp writing. “Friends” gave us an encyclopedia’s worth of iconic catchphrases, such as “How you doin’,” “I know,” and the always popular, “We were on a break!” Other lines took on lives of their own, including “Moo Point,” “Transponster,” and how could we not mention “PIVOT!” Those are just the ones that the internet has latched onto, but every fan has a line they frequently quote out of context. By now, we can sing every lyric of “Smelly Cat” and master a game of Bamboozled.

For all the laughs, it’s the emotional stakes that make the series so addicting. “Friends” was mostly episodic, allowing new viewers to dive in whenever. Loyal fans, however, were rewarded with ongoing story arcs concerning Ross and Rachel’s on-again, off-again relationship, Monica and Chandler’s romance, Phoebe’s search for family, and Joey’s acting career. Each season ended with a major cliffhanger, revelation, or twist, guaranteeing we’d be back. It got to the point where every season finale felt like a cultural event, from Monica and Chandler’s wedding, to Emma’s birth, to the very last episode, which attracted almost 52.5 million viewers in the U.S.

Unlike some other shows that either overstayed their welcome or ended on a sour note, “Friends” never jumped the shark throughout its ten-year run. Rachel dating Joey was frowned upon, but that thankfully didn’t last too long. Plus, it amounted to some compelling drama, strong character moments, and hilarious bits, especially Ross being “fine” with the relationship. That entire subplot was arguably worth it just to hear Ross shriek, “My fajitas!”

Although every season of “Friends” has something to offer, the show isn’t without some dated elements. The one that’s been discussed the most as of late is the depiction of Chandler’s dad, played by Kathleen Turner. Yeah, this really wouldn’t fly today. To be fair, though, virtually every show from yesteryear is bound to have at least one storyline or joke that wouldn’t be accepted now. That doesn’t excuse the problem, but it is important to view older content with the mindset that things were different back then, showing how we can improve going forward. Thankfully, the jokes in “Friends” that haven’t aged well are largely outweighed by the ones that still hold up.

Rewatching “Friends,” we’re often surprised to find just how timeless the series is. Sure, there are some hallmarks of the ‘90s and 2000s, such as the Sony PlayStation, early laptop computers, and Ross getting a monkey. “Friends” even gave birth to ‘90s staples like the Rachel haircut. For the most part, however, much of the show could’ve been made today. We still want most of the outfits Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe wore. We can still find humor in many of the dilemmas. Most of all, we still relate to the show’s themes about personal growth and well, friendship.

At its core, “Friends” is about navigating through your 20s and 30s, dealing with work, relationships, and becoming a parent. This period is full of uncertainties, but if you have close friends to confide in, the road to maturity becomes less daunting. In many respects, viewers came to see Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross as a support group who were always there for them. TV characters can’t substitute real-life friends, but this show certainly gave us friendship goals. It also showed us that whether you’re between jobs, going through a breakup, or worried about the future, you aren’t alone.

“Friends” is a generational show, which is why it continues to attract younger viewers, some of whom were born well after the series finale. Even older audiences who initially wrote the show off are finally seeing what the fuss is all about. We all knew somebody back in the day who never watched “Friends,” assuming it was just a corny sitcom about people who sit around drinking coffee. The at-times cheesy advertising didn’t help convince them otherwise. Watching the series for the first time, though, more people are coming to realize how funny, heartfelt, and even smart “Friends” could be. It also had a darker edge than the corny sitcoms it sometimes gets wrongfully grouped in with. We can’t think of a “Full House” episode where somebody lost a toe.

Numerous shows have tried to replicate the success of “Friends.” Some have been worthy successors like “How I Met Your Mother” and “New Girl.” Others were cheap retreads like “Roommates” and “Friends with Better Lives”, which both failed to make it past one season. Granted, “Friends” didn’t pioneer the idea of the “hanging-out” sitcom. Upon premiering in 1994, various critics compared it to “Seinfeld,” and long before “Seinfeld,” there was “Cheers.” Even if “Friends” didn’t invent this type of sitcom, it found the ideal balance. “Friends” had the humor of “Seinfeld,” the heart of “Cheers,” and characters that made it 100% unique. Shows come and go, but there’s only one “Friends.” We’ll always be there to rewatch it because it’s always been there for us.
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