There are literally millions of people for whom the, now classic, sitcom Friends will forever be one of the standards of what television comedy can do. And, they don't just remember it fondly, they watch it every time they come across a repeat in the wee hours of the morning, were really having meltdowns when they couldn't binge it on Netflix anymore and continue to hold out hope that one day might bring a reunion special or revival with the original cast. But, many viewers who found the series more recently are complaining that it doesn't hold up well, and star David Schwimmer has some choice words for those folks.
Now, to be clear, when these new sorta-fans say that Friends doesn't hold up now, they aren't saying that the show isn't funny, that Rachel never would have fallen for Ross or that Gunther deserved to be a fully fleshed out character. Nope. They mean that the way Friends handled some social issues simply doesn't pass muster compared to how those same things are more likely to be represented on TV shows today. And, you know what? David Schwimmer, Ross himself, has no time for those folks.
When Schwimmer was asked recently how he feels about new audiences knocking Friends, here's what he had to say:
I don’t care. The truth is also that show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships. The pilot of the show was my character’s wife left him for a woman and there was a gay wedding, of my ex and her wife, that I attended. I feel that a lot of the problem today in so many areas is that so little is taken in context. You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time. I’m the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time. I was already really attuned to social issues and issues of equality.
Oooh, Ross! Giving a little attitude there, and I like it! Honestly, I can see where both sides are coming from on this issue. While I loved Friends while it was on and still enjoy it when I stumble across an episode, I'm not one of those people who has ever fallen back on watching episodes to pass the time or committed to a full re-watch or anything. But, just thinking back I understand that there would be some issues with the comedy, especially when viewed through a modern lens.
There was a very minor story thread that lasted for several seasons, where Chandler was constantly worried that someone would think he was gay, and all of the male characters worried about seeming gay at many points during the run. Friends loved to trot younger Monica out in that ridiculous fat suit / fat face makeup, and Chandler's dad was a gay drag queen played by actress Kathleen Turner. These are just some of the potential stories on Friends that might cause people to pause at how they're portrayed when watching now.
But, David Schwimmer clearly thinks that that modern lens mentioned earlier is the root of the problem. According to him, the issue isn't that the way these and other storylines were handled might not be up to 2020 standards, but that some people expect them to be. Every show is a show of its time, and the idea of having Ross' ex-wife be a lesbian who married her girlfriend and then the couple helped raise the son she had with Ross was pretty progressive for the time. And, that intent to do the best that the show could when it did show us some new things on TV is what matters most to Schwimmer.
As a Black person watching the show, even back then, I would wonder how these six people, in New York City, could not know one Black / Asian / Indian / Native American / Mexican or someone who wasn't white well enough for that person to also be in the friend group, which is another complaint that many have about Friends, which actually went way back to its original broadcast days. But, David Schwimmer told The Guardian that he was fully aware of that issue and did try to make sure the show worked on it:
Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends. But I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color. One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian American woman, and later I dated African American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.
You'll have to decide for yourself whether or not Friends meant well enough back in the day to be given a pass for how some of its stories look now, which you can do when it hits the new streaming service HBO Max in May. In the meantime, check out our 2020 winter / spring premiere guide and Netflix schedule to see what you can catch on the small screen right now!