Today is Friends’ 25th Birthday. Could it BE more popular?
Those who know me know that Friends is actually my favorite show. Yep, more than any documentary series, historical drama (sorry Downton Abbey!), Mozart in the Jungle, Highlander, The Tudors, and White Collar.*
And yet, I didn’t watch most of the first season when it first aired. To be fair I was a senior in high school, working part time, playing in the district symphony after school, volunteering…you get the idea. But a person at work loved it and kept talking about it so I eventually tuned in. And like millions of others, I fell in love.
Even though they were a few years older than me and already on their journey while I was still dreaming about mine, I completely related to the group. Especially as they paid their dues as I paid mine working in call centers and gross clubs to get by. I do however hope I was more competent than Rachel was at serving coffee!
That dynamic remained—the TV friends were always a few years ahead of me and mine—but they remained people I could see as my companions. Imperfect, sometimes annoying, sometimes making absurdly terrible choices, but still my friends. For the better part of 10 years, they really were there for me and all of their fans.
Through the power of re-runs, DVDs, and now Netflix (soon to be HBO Max), we can now actually spend more time with Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey, and Phoebe than we ever did when it originally aired. And apparently a lot of us are, judging by the reaction when Netflix tried to drop it from their programming last year. Even my dentist has them queued up to keep us entertained as he pokes and drills us (thankfully his name is not Barry!).
While I have spent more than one evening with the re-runs (thanks Nick at Night and TBS!), I avoided the Netflix binge for ages. But this spring, as I geared up to leave my 9-5 for hopefully greener pastures I needed the TV equivalent of comfort food. I pulled up Friends and dove in. How incredible to see the first season chronologically for the first time. How comforting it was to have the gang back in my life as I started a big new chapter. In fact, the first big new chapter that was my choice since the show ended! It seemed fitting to have them there, living out their antics at Central Perk again. I’m older now than they ever were on the show, but here I am again empathizing with them as they pay their dues and pursue their dreams.**
This is, I believe, the real reason for their continued popularity. For those of us who watched the original airing, there is comfort and nostalgia in still having them in our lives. For those who missed it the first time, the appeal of the famous sextet seems to be timeless and they’ve managed to become everyone’s friends.
Yes, some of the jokes haven’t aged well and some of the social mores have definitely changed. Some of the cameos are now emotionally complicated (Brad Pitt, anyone?) and some remain perfect (Tom Selleck and his dimples). And we should definitely not examine the Ross & Rachel saga too closely. But the strength of the show—those six actors playing those six characters—transcends it’s flaws. They have been with me for the last 25 years and I expect they will be there for the next 25. As the song says, when your job’s a joke, you’re broke, and your love life’s DOA, you know who will be there for you.
And before I return to my Friends binging, one moment with the best recurring character and president of the Rachel Fan Club: Gunther!
*If you haven’t figured out that I’m the dorky one in my group of friends, you know now. Sort of a female Ross/Chandler hybrid without the monkey, three divorces, most of the crazy, or most of the crippling self doubt. I do enjoy a good lecture, however.
**I’m also sorta missing mid-90s fashion. And my mid-90’s body that went with it. ;D