The humor and social themes showcased within the hit 1990s NBC sitcom Friends may seem tame compared to today’s standards, but 25 years ago, the sitcom was actually pushing the limits of what was allowed on primetime network television. Whether it was best friends Monica and Rachel fighting over the last condom, or the show’s (albeit broad) inclusion of gay and transgender characters, Friends was a part of breaking down such barriers for American viewers that are still apparently an issue in other countries even today.
Fans in China are accusing the country’s streaming services of censoring Friends episodes by either deleting certain scenes or changing the dialogue translations. Australia’s ABC News reported that several major Chinese streaming sites released episodes from Friends Season 1 that had viewers familiar with the original installments wondering what happened to the LGBTQ+ content.
For instance, a major plotline in Season 1 is Ross getting divorced from his wife Carol after she realized she was a lesbian, and Chinese viewers said scenes tied to that narrative have been removed from episodes altogether. In another example, Joey suggests going to a "strip joint" in one scene, though the line was allegedly changed to say “go out and play” on the streaming service Tencent Video. (Which, to me, sounds pretty icky in and of itself.)
Friends is popular all over the world — we've even seen its characters being referred to in British game shows — and Chinese audiences have had access to the series via pirated DVDs and downloads since its original run, though it apparently wasn't easily available for streaming for a while. Friends fans are nothing if not proud about being able to quote the sitcom’s dialogue verbatim, so you can imagine the angry reactions that came about when it was realized their beloved show had been censored.
The news outlet reported that even the online complaints about censoring have begun to be censored within China. Fans apparently called out the streaming services for their treatment of Friends on the Twitter-like social media platform Weibo, calling the edited episodes a “castrated version” and accusing censors of “defiling a classic.” China has reportedly shut down tens of thousands of websites and social media accounts in recent years for content the country deems “vulgar” or “pornographic.”
As well as regularly featuring Ross’ ex-wife Carol and her lover-turned-wife Susan, Chandler’s dad was a transgender woman played by Kathleen Turner. Friends’ handling of LGBTQ+ issues wasn’t always perfect, and the show has been called out numerous times over the years for problematic views and a lack of diversity. David Schwimmer, who played Ross, addressed such accusations by pointing out that what they were doing was groundbreaking for the time, and that those issues should be taken in the context of what the show was trying to accomplish.
Regardless of where you stand on that issue, being able to watch the sitcom back as it originally aired allows us to have those conversations. For others to remove all LGBTQ+ content and other references for whatever reason would definitely upset me as a viewer, so I'm glad that's not the case here in the U.S.
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Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.