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We can’t be Friends any more The sitcom sold an empty promise of total connection and freedom


May 27, 2021   6 mins

Neo fights his way free of the membrane. He sits bolt upright, slime sluicing from his bald skull, and stares in horror. Facing him is an endless vista of identical pods, each containing a dreaming human, plugged by metal tubes into a simulation while their bodies are tapped for energy as living batteries.

A machine disconnects him from the tubes. A hatch opens, and Neo is flushed, screaming, into the start of his new life.

The Matrix came out in 1999. Its cultural impact is so profound it coined a whole political vocabulary: the ‘pill’, a revelation that destroys your worldview but awakens you to a new truth.

Offered a choice between a ‘blue pill’ that will deliver blissful ignorance in a comforting lie, or a ‘red pill’ that will awaken him to grim reality, Neo takes the red one. He wakes up from the simulation, to the horror of his true existence as living energy source for a world of machines.

What would have happened to Neo, had he taken the blue pill? I like to think he’d have spent the rest of his life in the world of the classic sitcom Friends, whose cast are reunited today for a much-trailed reunion.

First aired in 1994, Friends ran for a decade. It was wildly popular, with some episodes attracting 50 million or more viewers, and in 2019 was still the most watched show on Netflix. Even for my Home Counties teenage years, thousands of miles from the sitcom’s Manhattan setting, its quirky storylines became short-hand for a whole worldview.

We knew it wasn’t real. The apartments were too big, and no one could possibly have that much time to sit around drinking coffee. But we talked about what we’d do ‘if we lived in Friends world’. It was a shared imaginary, a picture of how we’d love life to be.

In Friends world, we might be free of all obligations except the ones we’d chosen. Where parents were domineering (especially Ross and Monica’s mum), social life, was opt-in. People drifted in and out of the Central Perk cafĂ©, and events were driven by happenstance and whim.

And yet the bonds of this elective ‘family’ were unshakeable. Neurotic men like Ross were not exhausting fun-sponges but lovably vulnerable. Naïvete in the style of Joey or Phoebe made you not abused and exploited but charming. On-off relationships like Ross and Rachel’s were not destroyed but cemented by having a baby. You could be mean, capricious or spiteful, and it was a foible your friends loved and forgave, not something that got you ostracised.

In a nutshell, Friends world was a soft-focus picture of the adult life the baby boomers hoped they’d created for their offspring: maximally connected, but also maximally free.

Around the time Ross and Rachel were getting amusingly married in Vegas while drunk, and The Matrix was featuring heavily in stoned conversations about the nature of reality, I was at university reading Walter J Ong. This Jesuit literary theorist argued in a seminal 1982 book, Orality and Literacy, that writing and reading are not simply a technology but radically consciousness-altering.

Literacy, Ong suggested, profoundly changes a culture. In societies that don’t use writing to store knowledge, ancestral memory is retained and relayed using song, spoken storytelling, pictures and artefacts. And this in turn, Ong pointed out, shapes the things that can be remembered.

“Try to imagine,” he suggests, “a culture where no one has ever ‘looked up’ anything.” Even the idea of objectivity, Ong argues, is inseparable from the act of writing things down so they stay unchanged over time.

Boomers David Crane and Marta Kauffman created ten series’ worth of maximal connection plus maximal freedom in Friends. But as they did so, new digital media were turning the “open” values that suffused the show — its open friendships and ambiguous love-affairs, its whimsical open-mindedness, sometimes neurotic open-heartedness — into something new. That transformation has been as profound, and perhaps as irreversible, as the shift Ong described between oral and literate cultures.

Because making the jump from a print-and-TV culture to our networked, interactive, digital one doesn’t just give us more ways of reading the same stuff. It changes if, how and what we read, and even how we think about reality itself.

To illustrate, consider Alan Partridge, another cultural icon of 1990s Britain – and also the subject of a relatively recent nostalgia reboot. Partridge was funny in 1997 because he was stuck in a timewarp. With his brown slacks and leatherette driving gloves, he was a petit-bourgeois Eighties hold-out desperately trying to stay afloat in a world he found increasingly incomprehensible.

Today, the digital networking of culture has also homogenised us. The kind of backwater where people can exist in a timewarp, Partridge-like, is increasingly difficult to find. And when you do stumble upon one, chances are someone with a MacBook is already there, Instagramming the colourful locals and tweeting about his “digital nomad” lifestyle.

So as a 21st-century TV host, Alan Partridge falls flat. It’s simply not plausible that someone could be as adrift from prevailing cultural currents as he is, and still have a job in TV. So instead of being deliciously cringe, what you get is a mean-spirited media-world in-joke about how embarrassed everyone would be if one of those people who’d never stand a chance in the industry actually became a TV presenter.

And with the homogenisation that has de-Partridged even our backwaters has come a sea-change in our ways of interacting, thinking, even understanding what reality is. Friends aired its last episode four months after the launch of another type of “friends”: the virtual, networked kind mapped by Facebook.

The shift from “Friends world” to “Facebook friends world” started out as a way of mapping aspects of our social worlds that were already there. To begin with, we added “friends” we actually knew. But over time, it came increasingly to stand in for those social worlds, as we’ve increasingly swapped real-life meetups for messenger groups. Now, accelerated still further by lockdowns, much of social life has withdrawn from IRL altogether for an online-only mulch of infighting and memes.

This in turn has taken the boomers’ “open” values in strange new directions. Whereas I spent my pre-internet teens poking around in arcane subcultures, today everything is “open” – or at least, it’s online in the public domain. You’d think that would make it easier to find like-minded souls, which is true — but those friendships are opt-in, like in Friends world, which means they’re also opt-out again.

Against that backdrop, it’s nigh-on impossible to create the kind of boredom and insularity that forges teenage subcultures. Instead, less-than-model-perfect girls like I was (which is to say, nearly all girls) spend their time ‘perfecting’ selfies with Facetune for public consumption. In the process, many grow terrified of meeting people in the flesh and revealing their less-than-perfect real selves.

And this has ridden on the coat-tails of a more general withering of ‘IRL’ social life. We don’t hang out in cafes any more in the expectation of bumping into friends. It’s been rude to phone someone out of the blue since 2011. Often, we don’t make IRL friends at all: in a 2019 poll, 22% of millennials reported having no friends.

None of this is to lament the passing of the Nineties, a decade I loathed. For me personally, life is much nicer now. Nor was I even much for Friends in the Nineties. It felt too twee and feelgood for a sullen adolescent as I was, with Tipp-Ex slogans on my Doc Martens and a predilection for Nietzsche and pirate radio. I scorned its upbeat and gregarious vision, preferring the world sketched out in the subscription of Green Anarchist I devoured (wholly without irony) in my parents’ leafy commuter-belt home.

I longed to grow dreadlocks and run away from home in a caravan of crusties, or live in a tree to protest the Newbury bypass. I didn’t. But Spiral Tribe, whose open-air raves triggered legislation to ban unlicensed dance parties the year Friends launched, were close to the truth when they sang: “You might stop the party but you can’t stop the future”.

Friends was the party; it was the blue pill. And it did stop. But the future didn’t. There was a time we all believed, with Tony Blair, that ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ and that being more open — with our friendships, our emotions, our everything — was the royal road there. But it turned out that the flimsy, pastiche-laden, ironic Nineties of Tory sleaze, illegal raves, Britpop, football, and Princess Di really was as good as the End of History was ever going to get.

Now we’re through the looking glass. In this new post-literate world, along with the red pill you can have a black one, a white one, a pink, purple or even chaste pill. The only pill you can’t have is the blue one: the comfort blanket of Friends world, where “openness” never made life worse, the party never stopped, and the future never arrived.

That one is no longer available, except in obsolete formats that don’t work on modern screens.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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objectivityistheobjective
objectivityistheobjective
3 years ago

Friends was a sit-com. If you expected that it was going to offer some life-changing, life-affirming insight into your reality, you really do not have a reality. You flipped it on for 30 minutes, once a week to get a few laughs. That’s what sit-coms we’re supposed to do. Every TV show, every movie, and I mean every one, you can pick apart as not being real, whether it’s the apartment is too big, or everyone is extraordinarily attractive, or every joke is so good it must have been written by a professional joke writer. Nothing is real that’s put on TV or even in the movies. How often do you see a character take a dump or a woman changing her tampon? Almost never (Nomadland). Are these characters not real human beings without bodily functions? They are real, but the producers only have 22 minutes of airtime per show, so they are not going to spend it on anything that is not completely relevant to the storyline. And if they made it too real to life, no one would watch it because we watch TV shows and movies to take a break from real life. And I’ll take the 90’s over the 2020’s any day. Everyone is completely disconnected today. Everything even our relationships are filtered through screens and algorithms. Talk about lack of reality, we are living through it right now. Everything is fake. Everything. Social media is a cesspool of phoniness and frauds. Everything is image and profile. This is the most pretentious, self-righteous, judgmental, hypocritical, disingenuous, mean-spirited time in my lifetime. The TV shows and the movies these days are garbage, and maybe that’s why Friends is still so popular.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago

I think the 2020s is the perfect time for gloomy introverts. In the 90s (and to a lesser extent in the 2000s, and to an even lesser extend in the 2010s), I felt like everyone was having a great time but me. Now, everyone claims to be alienated and miserable. For the first time in my life, I fit right in!

Al M
Al M
3 years ago

If you were young in the mid 80s, being a miserablist was pretty much de-rigueur. I guess it’s all come full-circle, just with without the good pop music. Maybe now we’re in for another decade of hedonism like the 90s. Shame I’m too old to enjoy it. Still, table service and a few pints of fyne ale or good bottle of wine seems to do the business these days.

Last edited 3 years ago by Al M
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago
Reply to  Al M

Which is why I find the ‘social life being opt-in’ aspect strange. Maybe the costs of being a loner in the past were higher, but there were plenty of people who were reculses for one reason or another. Just look at all the recluses in Dickens’ novels.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Al M

The 80s were still Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n Roll, the 90s was the return of suits and stiff hair, the end of fun.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago

comment image

J Bryant
J Bryant
3 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

10 out of 10 for uploading the cartoon. Thou art a magician, sir! 🙂

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Thank you but I can’t really claim credit, it’s very simple: if you drop a link into the message box which directly references a picture (as in, the last the bit of the url is somethingsomething.jpg or ~.png) then the picture shows up in the box.

Kristof K
Kristof K
3 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I say, Mr Kotak, you’ve received doubtless fully justified praise for the technical acumen you displayed by introducing an image into an UnHerd comment. Any chance you could add a textual “alt” description so that a visually impaired person with no useful sight such as my self might better participate in the conversations? (TIA, if it’s technically possible / you decide to do it, though I appreciate the graphic might be truly describable only by a professional essayist/TV pundit/the original artist, and then perhaps only with multi-thousand words!)

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago
Reply to  Kristof K

I’ll take a look – UnHerd comments seem to allow a limited amount of HTML so it may be possible to embed a text alt tag alongside with an image.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

Sometimes a tv show is just a tv, a few minutes of relatively mindless entertainment about make believe people in a make believe world. Yes, much of the show had a very limited connection to reality, but one could say the same of the Cosby show that ruled the 80s. Yet people watched both.
Their network, NBC, used the tagline “must see tv” to gin up interest. And, this was when cable was a nascent enterprise, streaming services were not even a concept, and ‘on demand’ had yet to develop. Friends ran out of gas because eventually, people grow up. Even popular shows grow stale and something else comes along to take their place. Of late, it is often preachy melodramas seeking to enforce the dogma of the day which may be many things, but entertaining is not one of them.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Mmust see TV’ must be one of the most egregious oxymorons ever constructed.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

It didn’t really run out of gas, it ended when it needed to. “Found families” fall apart and real families begin. It was the finale that got 50m.

ralph bell
ralph bell
3 years ago

Nice querky article and its so true about odd ball personalities/shows not existing today (Alan Partridge) with today’s woke intolerance and digging for dirt when not fitting their prescribed culture.

J Bryant
J Bryant
3 years ago
Reply to  ralph bell

This is what depresses me. I love good movies and TV shows but I think the current obsession with wokeness will turn most new productions into mini soapboxes for delivering an ideological message. Gritty, edgy shows won’t be allowed.

Simon Baseley
Simon Baseley
3 years ago

Friends is almost exclusively responsible for introducing first into British speech the corrosive use of the word “like”. Theories as to why this idiom has become so popular are many and varied although all seem to agree that it provides a cue to friendly informality, perhaps explaining why it is so popular with the young. I am, like, sooo sick of it.

lewisjclark25
lewisjclark25
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baseley

Might be a stretch to say that Friends is ‘exclusively’ responsible for this phenomenon. But I’m sure it had a role, as part of that long running, never ending geyser of mass media imports gushing up from America.

Simon Baseley
Simon Baseley
3 years ago
Reply to  lewisjclark25

I did say “almost” exclusively responsible but yes, Lewis, we are of like mind.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baseley

That is like the most irritating like tic people use, followed by you know all the time & sort of repeated a lot.

David Fitzsimons
David Fitzsimons
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baseley

‘Trainspotting’, book, UK release 1993: ‘Likesay’.
‘Friends’, TV, UK release 1995.
Edit – the US ‘like’; I concur (hated Friends? +1).

Last edited 3 years ago by David Fitzsimons
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baseley

I never watched it , yet I did as I saw Jennifer Aniston’s hair commercials. Her life ( will she ever get back with Brad?) and rest cast seem to have become an extention of the show. Prefered Red Dwalf-good wholesome family drama.

Christiane Dauphinais
Christiane Dauphinais
3 years ago

In the old days, it was customary – as a matter of courtesy to the reader – to define an acronym the first time one used it. In the “new post-literate world” Mary Harrington talks about, the custom has been lost. Having to consult Wikipedia to find out what acronyms (eg. IRL) mean makes reading tedious.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
3 years ago

You’re supposed to be using them all the time now like they are words. Soon IRL everything will B OMG and LOL. I guess it all started with ASAP, RSVP and BYOB.

Last edited 3 years ago by Alan Girling
Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago

To take a cue from Alan Girling, would you also require an explanation for RSVP and ASAP??????
IRL has been part of internet talk for ages. You did what we all do when are missing out on a fact. We look for it. You found it, that should have been end of story.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

Recently I tried to rewatch both The Matrix and an episode of Friends. I didn’t get a third of the way through either before becoming intensely, irritably bored.
I think the reason is the same reason I hate Star Wars, a deeply, deeply stupid film that amounted to a merchandise commercial you had to pay to watch. All of these screwed up so much that came after them. Everything had to look and sound like Star Wars, or The Matrix, or Friends.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Better than the depraved Netflix stuff – all sadism, horror, violence, unhealthy sex, cruelty, and always satanism with undead, being the favorite character.

It may have been dull and insipid, but it was not evil, like what is classed as entertainment is today.

Geoff H
Geoff H
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Quite so, and then people wonder that the violence in the world is getting worse. You cannot desensitise people to such stuff and wonder where the sociability has all gone. And it is not just films and TV. Games are ever more graphic. Gone are the days of ‘Lego’ block graphics, that if you squinted you could make out the character. It is all augmented, photo-realistic bloody gore.
I read the back of a DVD the other day – ‘Strong bloody violence, sexual violence, sex, nudity, very strong language’.
Amazing what you can get at Tesco’s today – every little helps. Not.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Groundhog Day Now there’s a movie!

VĂłreios ParatiritĂ­s
VĂłreios ParatiritĂ­s
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The best part of Star Wars was the Empire Strikes Back and the post original trilogy novels, comics and games where many authors and artists built the lore of the Expanded Universe. Timothy Zahn, KOTOR, Tie Fighter, Dark Horse Comic, this was the value of the Star Wars franchise and like a couple of drunken fools the Disney braintrust took this legacy and flushed it down the toilet for so called girl power and so called diversity.
Very much a story of our time.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Exactly! Well I kinda liked the first Matrix, just because of the novelty factor, but by the third one, it was truly awful. Also disliked the Star Wars, even the first one. I was raised on Battlestar Galactica, Space:1999 and Logan’s Run, which were much more interesting.

Jeff Mason
Jeff Mason
3 years ago

It was just a TV show. Why do people insist on searching for deeper meaning and when they don’t find it, invent it. Friends wasn’t ‘selling’ anything but ad space. It wasn’t trying to make a huge social statement like other shows. When M*A*S*H ran out of funny things to say, it became a preachy modern show telling us what is wrong with 1970’s America and became incredibly less funny. I did watch the last episode if only to put a stake through the vampire’s heart. There is a very good reason that Friends reruns are still popular and M*A*S*H reruns are not. Good humor is timeless. Preachiness get stale – fast.

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
3 years ago

Another profound effect of Friends was the way it changed how young people spoke in the UK. Now they are passing it on to their children. The worst kind of twee American. It is not helping the preservation of regional accents in the UK and it embodys the shallow and unreal nature of Friends itself.

lewisjclark25
lewisjclark25
3 years ago

On a similar theme, supposedly Neighbours and Home & Away were responsible for Aussifying speech patterns throughout the UK.
You know, like when the end of every sentence is inflected, like, upwards? Like every sentence is spoken, like, a question?

Judy Simpson
Judy Simpson
3 years ago
Reply to  lewisjclark25

As an Australian, I’ll happily take responsibility for the upward inflection at the end of a sentence, but like is something we adopted from the US. If I’m correct, I think it was a Californian habit. I remember first hearing it spoken in Sydney in the early 2000s(?) by young American tourists. It horrified me then and I was equally horrified when my own children picked it up.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Simpson

It is not all bad. “No worries” is an Australian phrase that has moved to the English speaking world. It’s welcome.

Ok, is originally American. Apparently the English speaking world needed a catch all for yes, I can, definitely, sure etc.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
3 years ago

I think people over estimate the effect of US television on accents, except in some cases. How many people in the U.K. actually say “I was, like
” anyway? British accents have remained in many cases impenetrable to me as a English speaking foreigner. It’s not like the Liverpool or Glasgow accent have disappeared.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
3 years ago

Gosh, and I never knew it was rude to phone people up!!!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

I always talk to the person sitting next to me on the Tube and that is the ultimate faux-pas, but can be done if you lack any social reservations as I do –

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I do it on the bus but we’re not allowed to any more ….sigh….

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

Well, at least you know now.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
3 years ago

I’m more of a Seinfeld guy. Friends were okay in small doses, but never good. It’s orders of magnitude better than “how I met your mother”, that one inspired murderous thoughts in me.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Jorge Espinha

I didn’t watch Seinfeld systematically, Seinfeld himself was way too annoying to me, as were the other two. I did like Kramer, he was the only redeeming character of the show, and he was one of the first of the “cancelled” people generation, the beginning of the end.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

I loved the nineties, but then again I was a single young guy working in bars in Amsterdam. Once I got married that all ended.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

You might have served me! I was a young(ish), single guy working in ad agencies (well, mostly watching/playing football, drinking old Bordeaux and going to bars) in Amsterdam in the 1990s.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Aha. That explains it!

Simon Baggley
Simon Baggley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

” Drinking old Bordeaux ” while you were youngish – bizarre

Al M
Al M
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baggley

Prescient. I wish I had developed my love of claret in the 90s when I was young and carefree. I’d now have bottles reaching their peak, giving me a middle-aged ‘blue pill’ fuzz against the horrors of the modern age. When I think of some of the ghastly potions we gleefully swilled down at parties and nightclubs in that decade. *Shudder*

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

I loved the 80s, by the time the 90s came around, the road back to women as Stepford Wives and men in suits was already returning. The 80s were the end of good times.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago

Never watched “Friends”. Cannot bear the US sitcom artificiality. As for the comments on “where do we go from here” in terms of human contact/connection, I have a guess: People will eventually realize that being 100% passive is not cutting, and some will actually seek real life interaction. Many will fail abysmally (because they cannot generate any interesting “content” by themselves), but a few will succeed and finally provide the sorely needed good examples of how to actually enjoy being alive. No rocket science really. Little children do something equivalent all the time.

Last edited 3 years ago by Andre Lower
William Gladstone
William Gladstone
3 years ago

I guess “they” (probably WEF types) always try and package an ideal future/norm for young adults. I would say now its the woke, non hetero normative, Gender fluid-ey, rainbow-ey, unicorn-ey one.
I always found friends quite funny and it was a nice idea and infinitely cheerier than This life which was our miserable unpleasant version. I never actually thought it was going to happen and I suppose coming from a slightly older generation I thought it would be more like the young ones but uni wasn’t like that really either.
Its all pre-packaged nonsense perhaps we need a gone with the wind style warning to that effect at the start but we will probably have to wait another 40 years for that.

Alex Delszsen
Alex Delszsen
3 years ago

About that norm they push for young adults:
I am profoundly worried about the “p*ssed off and powerful”glower and folded arm trope they are pushing to represent young females and people of color. As if, if you aren’t projecting how alienated and ready to blow you are—aren’t projecting that you are a threat—then how else will you get to the top in prison? Er, correction, in society?

Last edited 3 years ago by Alex Delszsen
k8dsnkcgyq
k8dsnkcgyq
3 years ago

It didn’t really sell this dream of cafe lifestyle with zero responsibility. They all had jobs. It just wasn’t about their careers (although at times it was.) Probably why they called it Friends and not R.E.S.P.O.N.S.I.B.I.L.I.T.I.E.S

Alex Delszsen
Alex Delszsen
3 years ago

We find a thread of continuity with the huge apartments and endless coffee shop time in the 90s in the Instagram-ready selfie accompanying the story, where the camera isheld so as to strategically block out the unattractive person who won’t promote the naaaarative.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
3 years ago

I wonder if we should just unharness electricity. No more anything we take for granted, of course, but genuinely new.

Were they any worse off in the 1700s? Everyone who lived then, died then, and everyone who lives now will die soon.
The world is inter-connected, and smaller, and more instant, but nothing is better than a skylark or a cowslip. Nothing we have invented has actually improved our lives at more than the most superficial level. Nothing we have invented is really any more significant than a fridge-freezer.

Maybe the man who sang about going to lie down in a field had it about right.

Most people ask why are you going to lie down in a field, but the real question is: why isn’t everybody going to lie down in a field?

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago

Disgraceful; not even one trans or non binary cast member. I’m being sarcastic.

J. Hale
J. Hale
3 years ago

That’s what made the sitcom fun to watch. Six good looking, straight, young white people living in a major city. The show created the pleasant illusion that this was somehow reality for generation X.

Last edited 3 years ago by J. Hale
Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  J. Hale

As a Gen-Xer, I can not disagree more! These people were vapid, conformist, and we wanted nothing to do with them.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
3 years ago
Reply to  Trishia A

I don’t think you are talking for all of generation X, Trishia.

Nicolas Jouan
Nicolas Jouan
3 years ago

I’m a millennial fan that devoured the show in the 2000s. I still love it. Yet, I see the immense contradiction behind the world of Friends cleverly formulated in the article:

In a nutshell, Friends world was a soft-focus picture of the adult life the baby boomers hoped they’d created for their offspring: maximally connected, but also maximally free.

Friends, like many subsequent sitcoms, tends to glorify both personality quirks and ultra-openness, suggesting that it will result in a delicious cocktail of attractive ingenuity and wholesomeness. The slight detail is that we were not ready for an unscripted world around us. It appears that, when you are a childish womanizer or a control freak, people actually tend to dislike you.

Steve Garrett
Steve Garrett
3 years ago

Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe.

G A
G A
3 years ago

When did ‘cringeworthy’ turn into ‘cringe’?

jvcowan
jvcowan
3 years ago

This is an incredible article. Quite incredible writing.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago

I can proudly hold my head up and admit that I have never even watched as much as two consecutive seconds of this American tripe.

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
3 years ago

I loved the 90s, but I always hated Friends.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago

a mean-spirited media-world in-joke about how embarrassed everyone would be if one of those people who’d never stand a chance in the industry actually became a TV presenter

ï»żActually, that’s what Alan Partridge always was.
ï»żYou’ve just grown up since.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

I think I have fonder memories of the 1990s than Mary, maybe because I am older. I never watched ‘Friends’ much, but the 1990s was a great decade for American movies, especially ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Fearless’: “At the end of its long journey, the soul finds itself, naked and alone, drawing nearer to the divine.”

Andrew Russell
Andrew Russell
3 years ago

Nice article. I enjoyed Friends but I never went out of my way to watch it. It was well-written and could be pretty funny. My main memory is of an episode where Joey (I think) finished a brief phone call and was asked who it was. “That was K.C.” came the reply. “What did he want?” “I don’t know – do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight?”
This is a joke that would now need to be explained, but people watching it at the time would get.
The Friends reboot (groan) is about as necessary as a new Die Hard movie.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

Sometimes light entertainment is just that, light entertainment. We really don’t need to analyze every single show on television for hidden messages. Can we no longer just enjoy a television show for the momentary escape and entertainment it offers? I used to watch Lassie and Flipper when I was a kid but I never heard anyone try to imbue them with hidden messages. This sort of navel gazing should be discouraged. Friends is not real life anymore than Flipper was.
I grew up in the same neighborhood as Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Fran Drescher. All of whom made highly entertaining shows. None of them were real life.

Last edited 3 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
3 years ago

Mary, why did you loathe the 90s?

J. Hale
J. Hale
3 years ago

In hindsight the ’90s was pretty good. That decade between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the twin towers saw relative peace, and growing prosperity and freedom around the world. It really did look like a capitalist economy regulated by a democratic government was the solution to mankind’s problems. Thirty years later, we’ve got global warming, endless wars, rampant inequality, etc.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago
Reply to  J. Hale
  • First invasion of Iraq
  • Rwandan genocide
  • Croatian war
  • Somalian war
  • Bosnia
  • Chiapas

Just a few horrible times of the 90s that come to mind

Don Gaughan
Don Gaughan
3 years ago

When in a depressed state, as reportedy so many and young are experiencing these days , my view of the world and life was darkened by the pessimism and mind solely seeing the bad.
As I got oldervand saw that neither good times or bad times last forever, and the depression started to fade , I saw my views then were overly dark and blinded me to the good , hopeful and uplifting around me..including a more capable proactive self awareness.
I was not a big Freinds fan myself, and felt it was made for another, different audience demographic, but did watch to see how THEY behaved and interacted.
Despite whst ever circumstances we are in, the pandemic lockdown , the woke mob divisions, the paradoxical social effect of the internet , the lonliness epidemic , humans are social order beings and we need each other…and somehow that need and drive will manifest in all that we face.
Your article connected your thoughts and feelings with me, fellow carbon based life form.

Trishia A
Trishia A
3 years ago

The Phoebe character played a huge role in the backlash against feminism, playing up stupid blonds as “nice”, then followed third wave feminism, where so-called “feminists” cherish stupidity, weakness, and overall submissive behaviour.
I would place that character as the worst female character of 90s television. I despised it.

parkalot01
parkalot01
3 years ago

The reunion was a calculated risk. I don’t think it paid off. Several of the characters did not age well. It’s like watching people inside a picture change. Do you want the real world? Do you want the fat, the vacant stares, the fake smiles, the awkward pauses and all of that? Sure, it’s real life but what does it prove? People get old?

Robert Malcolm
Robert Malcolm
3 years ago

I don’t think I ever managed to watch a whole episode of Friends: the endless studio laughter was a real switch off. I preferred the grittier realities of ‘Minder’ – though even that was pure sanitised East end mockney gangsta porn.

John Shea
John Shea
3 years ago

So being American I watched this show for all of two seasons. It was all people talked about. Pre-Internet you would watch it. The reason I only watched it for two seasons was the characters were all stereotypes and lived predictable, boring lives. By the second season I knew what the characters would say before they even spoke it. Phoebe was the only interesting character, she had original takes and thoughts. You still cannot escape the series, the reruns seems to never end playing. How sad us Americans had to foist this series on the rest of the world.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago

I’m not sure how many more articles about Mary Harrington’s life packaged as being about tangential cultural themes and her vaguely concealed self-obsession I can take.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Mark Preston
Mark Preston
3 years ago

Like most female comedians, some female journalists just can’t resist making everything about them them them.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Preston

As opposed to men, who are famously selfless and humble.
(yes, I’m being sarcastic. And it’s so sad that I feel the need to point that out)

Last edited 3 years ago by Daniel Björkman
Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago

Daniel, I don’t think Ferrusian and Mark were criticizing the author’s lack of humility or drive for self praise. The criticism was on her obsession to describe everything through the context of the effect it had on her personally, as opposed to the broader public.
That pattern is indeed very common in the female universe, and is bothersome if you are interested in what other people may have thought about the subject.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Andre Lower

General tendencies : Men objective, Women subjective.
This is “bothersome” ?
What do you want ? Women to be more like men ?
That would be a pity.
How about recognising the difference between us and appreciating a different approach.
Variety in a magazine is good I think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Doz5w2W-jAY

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago

98.327

lewisjclark25
lewisjclark25
3 years ago

I don’t mind Mary using her life story to make a point. That point seems to be that folks really do get more conservative as they get older.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

I like her adding in her life.

Judy Posner
Judy Posner
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I am a memoir junkie myself, and I love essays which nod to the personal… but there is something about her self-confessions that doesn’t feel natural.

guygatenby
guygatenby
3 years ago

Really? I’ve read most of her stuff on here and other places, listened to her interviews. Would be curious to see if there is ( do recommend) someone writing better and with greater depth on the range of subjects she does.
Humble enough to share/personalise the fact that she wasn’t always one of the cool kids. She’s great.

VĂłreios ParatiritĂ­s
VĂłreios ParatiritĂ­s
3 years ago

Better not to comment sometimes, FG.

Judy Posner
Judy Posner
3 years ago

I think you may be on to something!

Last edited 3 years ago by Judy Posner