So no one told you it was gonna be this way? That an iconic show that is still widely watched and globally celebrated could have ‘moments’ so awkward, they would warrant feverish debates? Were they on a break or were they not? Rachel and Joey or Rachel and Ross? Monica with Richard or Chandler? And Oh-My-God, the omnipresence of Janice!
American television situational-comedy (or sitcom) F.R.I.E.N.D.S recently celebrated its 25th birthday amid much nostalgia. It goes without saying the show had a cult following that continues till date. A group of six friends, with their relatable lives and good-spirited humour, struck one too many chords and left an indelible mark on the history of television. In many ways, the sitcom tried to destigmatise issues — breastfeeding, surrogacy, adoption, homosexuality and single parenting.
It also, however, managed to include some cringe-worthy moments, vis-à-vis character arcs that could have been done without. Here’s a list of some of them.
The One with the List (Season 2)
What could have been a satisfactory coming together of two of the most important characters, was marred by a list — the list that should never have been. After Rachel and Ross finally kiss, Ross goes through a conflict as he is still with Julie. On Chandler’s advice, he makes a list of ‘pros and cons’ and compares the women in his life. Somewhere in the process, he says things like, “Rachel’s just a waitress”.
Although he draws a definitive conclusion and decides it is Rachel whom he wants to be with, the list thing — which upsets Rachel when she finds out (and rightfully so) — was petty and shouldn’t have been. Later in the episode, Rachel tells Ross that he included all the things she is aware of and insecure about. Let’s just say, R+R didn’t happen that episode.
The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel (Season 3)
This episode has Ross freaking out about his son Ben’s proclivity for playing with a Barbie doll. When Carol and Susan drop Ben off, the first thing Ross asks is why they would have him play with a doll. He doesn’t give up, even after learning that Ben picked up the doll himself. For the rest of the episode, Ross tries to cajole him into giving it up for more ‘boyish’ toys like a monster trucks and G.I. Joes, despite Rachel and Monica asking him to not stress so much about it.
Here’s the thing — Ben’s just a kid who chose a doll over other toys. And exposing him to gender conformity and stereotype was bad parenting on Ross’ part.
The One where Ross and Rachel take a break (Season 3)
How did they go from being each other’s ‘lobsters’ to hating each other’s guts? This single episode triggered a raging debate that — till date — has not had a closure.
In this one, Rachel has an office emergency which makes her cancel plans with Ross on their anniversary. Ross then proceeds to ‘surprise’ her by showing up at her place of work, and accidentally starting a small fire while preparing a picnic dinner. Not only does he not help, his presence only adds to the existing crisis. While some may argue Ross’ intentions were benign, one could tell he never did take Rachel’s job seriously.
He whines even after Rachel’s home and asks her if this situation has anything to do with her work buddy Mark. Ross is clearly jealous, insecure and juvenile about the entire thing. So, when Rachel is at her wits’ end and suggests they take a ‘break’ to assess the situation, Ross assumes it is a ‘break-up’. A truce phone call leads to more misunderstandings, and Ross goes on to spend the night with Chloe whom he meets at a party.
It was wrong on his part to assume that Rachel was having an affair, given that he had been at her place of work, and knew about the situation. Moreover, the whole narrative about his momentary lapse of judgment — that led to one of the biggest debates of all time, about whether or not they were ‘on a break’ — takes away from the fact that he had been difficult with Rachel, and had no interest whatsoever, in her career.
The One with All the Thankgivings (Season 5)
Monica’s insecurities stem from the fact that at one point she was heavier. This phase of her life is highlighted in some of the episodes, mostly for the other friends to have a little laugh at her expense. Her older version is often referred to as ‘Fat Monica’. During an episode in season 2, the friends sit down to watch an old prom video featuring Ross, Rachel and Monica. When she appears on screen, Joey and Chandler make a snarky comment about her weight.
Much later, in season 5, we once again get to see the older version of Monica in a flashback thanksgiving episode. This time, Chandler — who Ross brings home for the first time — brutally fat-shames her. When an under-confident Monica introduces herself as “Ross’ little sister”, he scoffs. Later, he tells Ross he doesn’t want to get stuck with his “fat sister”. This hurts Monica immensely.
Chandler eventually falls in love with her, long after she has shed all the childhood weight. He even apologises to her. But the brutal body shaming scenes make for a difficult watch.
The One with the Male Nanny (Season 9)
Okay, what is wrong with Ross? And Chandler and Joey? Why would they take offence to a man working as a nanny? This episode was difficult to watch, because it had far too many sexist jibes directed at Sandy, a man who comes to work with Rachel and Ross, to take care of their daughter Emma. Ross’ assumption that ‘Sandy’ would be a woman, plus him openly asking him if he’s gay or at least bisexual, was wrong on so many levels. To make matters worse, Joey echoes Ross’ thoughts too.
You could say the show is of a different era, but the fact that the episode ends with Ross firing Sandy because he is not ‘comfortable’, goes on to challenge the sensibilities of today’s world.