This month, we’re travelling back in time to hang out with everyone’s favourite group of coffee-shop-crowding, innuendo-loving…mates (ha, you thought!). For some, Friends is the ultimate comfort watch on those sick days when you need some cheering up. For others, the seemingly constant undertones of sexism, fatphobia and toxic masculinity can all feel a bit too dated to be truly enjoyable.
For this retrospective, the rrramble core team decided to pick one best and one worst episode for our writers to review. The two episodes chosen were: Best: The One Where Everybody Finds Out and, Worst: The One With The Male Nanny. Of course, this wasn’t an objective decision, but the team felt that the two episodes together would give the writers the best idea of what Friends was capable of being, both at its best and at its worst. Read on to find out what our writers had to say about the show (and about our picks!)
Like much of the population who was born somewhere in the nineties, I grew up watching Friends. I’d go as far as saying that it formed a large part of what would become the basis for my sense of humour. I spent a lot of my formative years quoting Chandler Bing, the one truly funny character of the entire sitcom.
That being said, I haven’t watched the show in over ten years. At a certain point in my life, I stopped finding it funny. I went from begging for all ten seasons on DVD (the extended cuts, too) to suddenly cramming said DVD’s into a box that now lives in my attic storage. Truthfully, I have never sat down to examine why. Until this retrospective.
The two episodes focused on for the retrospective were deemed the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ of the show by our core team, and with the greatest of respects I have to completely disagree. I consider both to be some of the worst.
Starting with s5e14, ‘The One Where Everybody Finds Out’, considered to be the best, which gets off to a rather uncomfortable start of the gang peeking on ‘ugly naked guy’. Over the years I had forgotten about that long running joke, and being reminded of it now I honestly can’t remember ever finding it as amusing as the laugh track seems to. But, that aside, I can admit that Phoebe’s discovery of Chandler and Monica is still amusing, other than it being the birth of an incredible reaction gif, there is just something hilarious about seeing a manic and screeching Phoebe Buffay. The rest of the episode holds little for me, though. I find the ongoing back and forth of ‘they don’t know that we know that they know’ a little tiring, and even as someone who uses playful roasting as a form of banter with my friends, I find most of the episode just irritating with how they handle their friends’ relationship. Perhaps the not so delicious cherry on the disastrous cake is Ross. I have a very simple relationship with the character of Ross Geller, in that I think he is the worst. I always have, since I first began watching the show, and my dislike of him has only grown as I became an adult who encountered many individuals of the same personality type as Ross Geller.
Ross is a ‘nice guy’ that seems to think the world and its female inhabitants owe him something. His screen time usually makes my skin crawl, and especially so in this episode. Now, I understand, it must be jarring to learn about your best friend and younger sister being in a secret relationship by watching them have sex. But it also seems incredibly petty and childish to feel like you have some sort of claim over your sibling’s love life, enough that he feels totally justified in having a scream about it. Overall, just not that funny to me.
Then we move on to what was deemed the worst, s9e6 ‘The One With The Male Nanny’, a designation I can wholeheartedly agree with being that the overarching plot of this episode revolves around gender stereotyping and improper communication in relationships. Between Ross’ fragile masculinity, Phoebe threatening her one tolerable relationship (god bless Paul Rudd and the angelic character of Mike), and Chandler not being mature enough to sit down and explain to his wife his insecurities, the whole episode smacks of discomfort for me. I am happy to report the core team have made an astute observation on this one. It may just be one of the worst episodes of a show I already lack love for.
Overall, I think Friends was amazing for the time it was released in, and the show itself does have some incredible moments and poignant episodes (Personally, my highlights include: s3e2 ‘The One Where No One’s Ready’, s4e12 ‘The One With The Embryos’ and s7e14 ‘The One Where They All Turn Thirty’). But for me, it has not aged well. A lot of the jokes are based on ideals that I no longer find acceptable in the year 2021, and while it’s fine to enjoy it through a lens of knowing this, I won’t be spending a whole lot of time reliving it.
I’ve never watched Friends before, but I’ve wanted for a while to see what all the fuss is about – especially after hearing that BTS’ leader RM taught himself English through watching Friends!
The One Where Everybody Finds Out (Season 5 Episode 14) was the core team’s pick for the best episode of the show.
We were off to a great start with a ridiculously catchy theme song – I was surprised to recognise it until I remembered that BTS had sang part of it in their Carpool Karaoke with James Corden. It was also cool to recognise countless meme scenes, e.g. Phoebe and Rachel jumping up and down. I was almost constantly giggling in this episode, if not outright cackling – Phoebe’s dancing was a highlight! The competition between the duos Monica/Chandler and Phoebe/Rachel was hilarious and I loved the way Ross found out about the Big SecretTM. His line also made it easy for first-time watchers to quickly understand why he would have had such a problem with the Big SecretTM.
What kept me from fully enjoying an otherwise heartwarming episode was the fatphobia surrounding the ‘Ugly Naked Guy’ living across the street. It was discomfiting watching the group staring and ridiculing his looks and propensity to walk around naked (in his own home). I suppose it’s fun for them but it seemed creepy to me. I didn’t find the ‘big butt that sat on a pet cat and killed it’ joke that funny either. He could just have been called ‘The Naked Guy’, as being naked is apparently his ‘thing’, and I wonder why is he ‘ugly’? Is it simply because he’s fat and doesn’t fit society’s dominant fatphobic beauty standards? Regardless, calling someone ugly as though that’s their defining trait as a person is quite sad.
The core team picked The One With the Male Nanny (Season 9 Episode 6) as the worst episode – while I haven’t watched any episodes aside from these two, I can report that I didn’t enjoy this one as much.
Ross’ infuriatingly close-minded storyline here was his inability to accept a nanny (Sandy) who is a man, especially a straight man. I however appreciated that Ross’ behaviour was obviously depicted as ridiculous, and how Joey eventually warmed to Sandy. I was hoping for Joey or Chandler to challenge why Ross was so ‘uncomfortable’ with Sandy, but I suppose we can’t have everything. At least we got some insight into where Ross’ heteronormativity stems from and I’d like to believe that in the Friends universe Ross continues to unpack his biases.
The other two storylines were alright – Phoebe’s love triangle made me a little sad because David seems so sweet and had more chemistry with Phoebe, though David practically offering himself as a Minsk tour guide to Mike cracked me up. Chandler, meanwhile, takes a hit to his ego after Monica mentions that one of her co-workers is the ‘funniest guy she’s ever met’. It was kind of funny watching Chandler try and win back his comedic crown, but Monica needing to lie in order to smooth Chandler’s ruffled feathers was a bit pathetic. I wish it had resolved in a way that Chandler realises he doesn’t need to be the funniest guy for Monica to love him the most, or whatever it is that he’s so worried about.
Overall, have these two episodes made me want to watch more of the show? Short answer, no. However, I can see why people would get invested as you do want to know how their lives develop over time.
Friends was, for a long time, my background show. I was one of the millions of fans who clapped to each intro (CLAPCLAPCLAPCLAP), lapped up each uttering of “I KNOW” from Monica, the many sarcastic comments from Chandler and every “How you doin?” from Joey. A little like Antiques Roadshow and Gilmore Girls, it’s always on at least one channel and if you’re like me, you watch for just that touch too long whilst avoiding the hoovering and like that, you’re hooked. I had got to the point (and believe me I admit this with no pride) that I could confidently walk into Mastermind and have Friends be my specialist topic. Now, this isn’t to say I have necessarily moved on from this love, there are still episodes that I return to with nostalgic glee and relax as the comfortable familiarity lulls me into a deep calm, but even I can admit…the cringe cometh.
In the spirit of retrospective thinking, Friends is a great example of how problematic characterisation can work to your favour and, in turn, against it. No one wants to spend hours investing in a show that features perfect people. Therefore, when the gang concocts a scheme to reveal Monica and Chandler’s secret relationship, we all delight in the manipulative game. I have to admit however, even in the best episode, there are scenes that don’t sit right with me. The episode involves some groping, blackmail and extremely nosey neighbour behaviour as the opening begins with the group peeping into Ugly Naked Guy’s (that name never sat right with me) apartment. Taken out of context, this list might be closer to an episode of Criminal Minds however, after five seasons of Friends we trust that our beloved characters aren’t doing any of these things with malicious intent. This is a comedy show after all. By the ninth season however, the cracks in the characters resemble caverns.
As my fellow writers have probably outlined, the ‘male nanny’ story and Ross’s reaction to it all is extremely difficult to watch. It’s in turn entirely disrespectful, ignorant and damaging. I can extend this to one of the subplots even. Phoebe is reunited with David (a lost love from season one of the show). She both lies to him about being involved with Mike and subsequently cheats on him with David. Whether it be the laugh track or the very fact that the non-jeopardy of the show means that these problematic traits slip by with a quick laugh now that I have stopped to really think about it, what may have been socially and politically acceptable in the years Friends saw its peak stardom simply doesn’t stand up today. This all being said, this episode contains one of my favourite Chandler and Monica storylines. Monica reveals that she had met the funniest guy ever at her new job and Chandler goes into comedic overdrive trying to impress her. Even after more re-watches than I could ever count I still laugh aloud at some of those sections.
There is no denying that Friends has elements of racism, sexism, fat-phobia, homophobia and transphobia and that more episodes than those mentioned here contain lines that would never hold up with today’s audiences. That being said, there is good to be found. Even in the worst episode there are laughs, and even in the best episode there are faults.
(Season 3, Episode 2 – The One Where No One’s Ready is my favourite episode and Season 8, Episode 11 – The One with the Creepy Holiday Card is my least favourite…or at least one of them)
Friends is available to watch on Netflix.