Why every millennial needs Friends

Dated and offensive storylines aside, the American sitcom remains essential millennial viewing

by Max Meres

On the eighth day of Christmas, Netflix bestowed UK binge watchers (and those who recall the glory days of E4+1) with the ultimate gift. It teed them up for The One With the Box Set Marathon. The One When They Order Two For Tuesday And Stayed Up Well Into Wednesday. In short, everyone was ready for The One TV Show Whose Finale Reeled In A Staggering 52.5 Million Viewers.

The Warner Bros-Netflix conglomerate seemed all set to push the streaming giant’s profit margins into the stratosphere with minimal fuss. Millions of screen-weary millennials would batten down the hatches once more for a few months (or weeks, depending on your watching habits) of Unagi, phalanges, “How you doin’…”s and debating whether Ross and Rachel were on a break or not (in this writer’s opinion, they were).

Come mid-January, though, a backlash of righteous millennials (and older viewers) had taken to the web to call out the show’s flaws. Sexism, homophobia and transphobia all popped up as reoccurring themes.

Social networks aside, attitudes like that would be condemned instantly today — and that’s something we should be proud of.

Whether through Chandler’s insecurities over his sexuality, or Ross failing to get to grips with the concept of a male nanny (and his son playing with a doll), the sad truth of the matter is that Friends, like it or loathe it, probably wouldn’t stay afloat in an age where social media trials lead to supposedly untouchable celebrities being hung, drawn and quartered within a matter of minutes (digitally, of course). Social networks aside, attitudes like that would be condemned instantly today — and that’s something we should be proud of.

These condemnations are completely justifiable. Chandler’s continual embarrassment about his transgender father (not to mention crude homophobic puns) and the whole gang’s ubiquitous body shaming of teenage “Fat” Monica only serves to highlight many archaic values of the time.

Today, a central protagonist openly cringing at a transgender relative would be met with pulled advertising and a virtual embargo set to plunge show ratings to catastrophic levels. But Friends has never been more poignant — especially for millennial viewers.

Home ownership for 25-to-34-year-olds has plummeted over the past two decades. Financial insecurity is rife, and with Brexit looking likely to send hundreds upon thousands of jobs to mainland Europe, this looks set to continue.

Watching a group of twenty-to-thirtysomething (largely) professionals struggle to make their way in the world is a keen reminder of the trials and tribulations faced by most of us at some point.

Dire is putting it lightly. But in the face of such adversity, keeping a positive outlook is essential. Remember — until the sitcom’s closing episodes, none of the central characters bought property. If the breezy comedy (excluding the issues outlined above) of a 90s American sitcom is all that puts a smile on your face, so be it.

Dig a little deeper, though, and the show has a cluster of relatable, ever-present issues. Viewers see Joey as he stumbles from one tumultuous freelance gig to another (zero-hour contracts, anyone?), Chandler as he stares down both unemployment and dead-end, monotonous job prospects, and Rachel as she botches coffee orders in Central Perk to make ends meet.

Ross has three divorces before the age of 30 — who knows how many failed marriages Tinder could have helped him notch up? And the rest of the gang (bar notable exceptions) stumble between three-date relationships, nearly all of which are punctuated by excruciatingly embarrassing attempts at flirting.

Image by Peter Pham, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Whether struggling to find footing on the property ladder, scouring job sites for new roles or picking up the pieces after yet another broken down relationship, millennials can always turn to the show — and its theme tune — to find solace and comfort.

For many, The Rembrandts hit the nail on the head with lyrics like, “It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear, when it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month or even your year”. Your job might not be a joke and your love life not dead on arrival, but the opening theme’s ode to everyday troubles still rings true amongst both young and old.

Could some core Friends jokes and attitudes do with a rethink? Yes. But does this make it obsolete? Far from it — watching a group of twenty-to-thirtysomething (largely) professionals struggle to make their way in the world is a keen reminder of the trials and tribulations faced by most of us at some point. Brexit, unemployment and personal circumstances aside, there’s always set to be light at the end of the tunnel.

Agree? Please give the writer some (non-canned) 👏 in recognition.


Max writes for Caliber, the Smart Organic Marketing agency. Find out more about the work we do — and how we confront problems of the digital age — on our website.