November 13, 2019

Why We Still Love to Watch "Friends"

“My friend Molly had her first baby about a month ago. She watched Friends in the hospital during labor. Then she took her baby home, where she watched more Friends—the entire last five seasons, to be exact.

I was baffled. Not because I thought Friends was awful, but because I probably hadn’t given it a thought in a decade. Casting my mind back, all I could remember was an ex named Janice who screeches and a turkey jammed on somebody’s head. Surely such a program would add to the stress of childbirth, not soothe it.

But the truth about Friends is staggering. Instead of fading into irrelevance, it has only increased in popularity since it went off the air in 2004. This fall sees the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first episode’s airing, and twelve episodes of the show will be screened in theaters across America to mark the occasion. Pottery Barn has launched a tie-in range of Friends-style objets. Netflix paid WarnerMedia something close to $100 million to keep the show on its service for a single year after fans went postal over a proposed platform change in 2018. In January, the BBC reported that Friends is the most popular show among under-16s in the U.K.—currently.

This has come as a surprise. When the show became available on Netflix in January 2015, it prompted a wave of think pieces about millennials who were rejecting Friends over its outdated cultural politics. Offended by Ross’s anguish over his gay ex-wife and Chandler’s transphobic comments about his father, such essayists predicted that Friends’ supremacy would soon be over.

In a trend-bucking twist of TV fate, the opposite came true. Friends has bulldozed its way into the American canon, and is somehow more relevant than ever.”

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