The issue of Friends’ lack of diversity has reared its head again of late. 17 years after the iconic series aired its last episode on NBC, fans are still celebrating the infinitely quotable sitcom, but it’s hard even for its most loyal followers to overlook what is likely its harshest criticism. The cast and creators have responded in different ways over the years, including David Schwimmer’s defense of the series, and now Lisa Kudrow has weighed in with her own point of view.
Lisa Kudrow played the kooky Phoebe Buffay for Friends’ 10 seasons, alongside her five also-white co-stars. When discussing the issue of the New York City-set sitcom lacking characters from other races and nationalities, and stories from more diverse perspectives, the actress told The Daily Beast that Marta Kauffman and David Crane had no place in telling POC stories, and she points out her own biggest issue with the discussion. In Kudrow’s words:
It’s a good point to make that the Friends creators were merely writing what they knew from their own experiences, and there would have been no way for them to authentically write POC stories. So in that way, the issue isn't so much about the writing that exists, but with the lack of diversity in the writers room. Not having anyone on staff who could contribute in that way is a big part of what co-creator Marta Kauffman said she’s going to change in future projects.
In June, Kauffman said she was “accepting guilt” for the series’ shortcomings, and admitted that it took her a long time to understand how she’d “internalized systematic racism.” Along with pledging $4 million to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, to create an endowed chair in the school’s African and African-American studies department, Kauffman said she would actively pursue more diversity in her productions going forward. She promised:
While the lack of people of color was a huge issue, for many, the depiction of New York City itself — which is a melting pot of representation — also rubbed fans the wrong way. The Good Doctor’s Daniel Dae Kim seemed a little conflicted about Friends, speaking in June about how his family loved the show, but saying that his kids would ask, “How come in their New York, everyone is white?” Friends certainly isn't the only TV series guilty of such one-sided casts and stories, but its massive and maintained popularity over the years has made it easy to continuously put under the microscope in such ways.
The popularity of Friends isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, either, so it’s important to look at such a successful and beloved series and recognize how shows can and should do better in the future. All 10 seasons of Friends, including Friends’ emotional reunion special, are available for streaming with an HBO Max subscription.
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Heidi Venable is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend, a mom of two and a hard-core '90s kid. She started freelancing for CinemaBlend in 2020 and officially came on board in 2021. Her job entails writing news stories and TV reactions from some of her favorite prime-time shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor. She graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Journalism and worked in the newspaper industry for almost two decades in multiple roles including Sports Editor, Page Designer and Online Editor. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.