What I Think about Friends

Friends…you know, the show that tells the story of group of six friends who live in the same building in New York. You probably even know their names and can recognize them on sight. Some of them, like Jennifer Aniston, have gone on to be among the among the most famous screen personalities in the world.

For many years, I resisted the urge to watch the show. But finally the demands of teaching EFL forced me to give in. You see, the show fits perfectly into my one-hour-classes. If you have a test and then a half hour or even a full hour left, that isn’t enough for a movie, so Friends works out great. Besides, the level of English in the show is about perfect for my students and with the subtitles running, almost everyone in the class can understand an entire episode. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing about the show, considering it was filmed with an American audience in mind, but it is a true fact.

So I have watched many episodes of the series. I’m not sure I know everything that’s gone on, but I know a lot, and I have to say, it is a very disturbing show.

First, it is not at all a comedy. In fact, it is really quite a tragic story. Rachel is the disowned daughter of a wealthy family and has struggled for a long time adapting to a more moderate but independent lifestyle. Her romantic life has been extremely sad and she seems unable to feel loved by either her partners or her family. Her friend Phoebe Buffay‘s mother killed herself when Pheobe was a teen, leaving her and her twin sister to support themselves through crime.

This is not to say that Friends is not a funny show. It is very funny and despite the disgusting nature of most of the episodes, I often laugh. But this is not because it’s a comedy. It’s as tragic as McBeth or Hamlet. It’s awful. If you’re not a clinical psychopath, you’d want to cry. But in fact, the show is hilarious because it’s so full of jokes. One after the other, they just roll out. I’m not sure that it should be funny that Ross’ wife ran away with her lesbian lover after she convinced Ross to have a ménage à trois, but it sure is. And it’s the market that decides if the show stays on the air.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the economic division between the male and female characters on the show. The three women on the show are portrayed as only marginally employed. Pheobe drives a cab, Rachel works at a neighborhood coffee shop and Monica is employed as a semi-skilled worker in high-class restaurant kitchens. Contrast this with the three men of the series. Joey is an actor whose career swings between ups and downs. While he has trouble making it, in the end, he appears to have established himself as a significant TV personality. Ross, who is also Monica’s brother, holds a PhD and teaches at the Ivy league, New York University. His friend Chandler is by far the most successful of the six. I remember that at some point he goes on the medical school, but a brief read of his Wikipedia profile failed to mention this.

While the three women seem to be lacking in education and career talent, they are extremely beautiful. They are also very sexual and many episodes of the show focus on different aspects of their sex lives and how promiscuous they are. The physical beauty of the women in the show is quite striking; in fact, it is a central aspect of the series. For example, at the chronological beginning of the series, Monica is overweight. She looses a lot of weight becoming extremely beautiful and in doing so, ends up with the high-income Chandler.

It’s hard to say what the show deals with anything other than a lot of jokes about some people with very sad lives. Watching the show is an offensive experience. I wish I had never done this. It truly must distort the already twisted impressions my students have of Americans as narcisistic sex fiends. But I’ll probably keep on showing it, if only because the timing is perfect.


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