Friends: The One Where We Make Millennials “Uncomfortable”

Millennials and cancel culture have found their next target, and it may be one that most people would never think of. The ’90s hit sitcom Friends has come under scrutiny of late for some of the show’s storylines. The star-studded cast consisted of David Schwimmer, who played “Ross Geller”, Courtney Cox as “Monica Geller” (the sister of Schwimmer on the show), Lisa Kudrow as “Phoebe Buffay”, superstar Jennifer Aniston as “Rachel Green”, Matt LeBlanc as “Joey Tribbiani”, and Matthew Perry as “Chandler Bing”. Friends is a show that many reminisce about and tended to binge on Netflix before moving to HBO Max, where it is still highly watched and rated. Many think of Friends as a comfort show and one that they can relate to their everyday lives.

However, as millennials have been re-watching the show, more are noticing problematic storylines that are occurring such as how they portrayed specific situations. One example is that nowadays, some millennials found the LGBT plot points in the show left them feeling “uncomfortable”. An example of this was when Perry’s character was paranoid about being perceived as gay. According to Jukes, “over 70 countries continue to criminalize homosexual activities, and five of these countries carry the death penalty” (2016). Along the lines of Perry’s character, many millennials did not appreciate the mean-spirited jokes Chandler made about his father on the show, who was essentially a drag queen, which creates a second “uncomfortable” issue facing the show as of today. This portrayal was okay in the ’90s due to a different time with a different level of awareness of these problematic issues. Given the standards of today, I think people would find these jokes tasteless, but the audience in the ’90s was different; many issues portrayed in this show may not have been aired had the show premiered in the mid-2000s or later.

Image of Chandler Bing’s Father on Friends from Entertainment Tonight. Image Address.

Another issue that millennials are picking out of Friends in this day and age is that Monica played by Cox was constantly reminded of how she was at one point in her life extremely obese. Cox’s character was never allowed to forget about this as it was always brought up between the friends on the show. At one point, Joey, played by LeBlanc, when first seeing how obese Cox’s character was, yells, “Some girl ate Monica!” I do not think this would be able to fly today with a lot of talk around eating disorders and the big push to end obesity in the United States. However, I think that in the ’90s it was all in good fun, and many issues were not as publicized as they are today. For instance, both transphobia and fat-phobia were still around and it affected those who identified that way the same way it does today, but more allies have become available as more people have become vocal about these issues.

Image of “Fat Monica” on Friends from BuzzFeed. Image Address.

Even though it was all fun and games in the ’90s, the times have changed, and many shows have updated their constructs. According to Petrucci, “no one wants to admit that some of their favorite old sitcoms were problematic or offensive … TV from 10 and 20 years ago made a lot more insensitive jokes…” (2021).  These are only a few instances that make today’s generation “uncomfortable” while watching the show as there were many problematic themes spread throughout the 10-year series.

Written by Cara Cahill