Anyone who knows me will know one thing if nothing else. I love Friends. I’m going to assume you will know the show I refer to, if not you’re probably from Mars or something. Well, I really love it. I love it to the point of being able to have conversations, with people equally as cool as me, made entirely of quotes alone. I probably know my way around Monica’s apartment better than some of my real life friends houses. So to summarise, I love it as much as I loved Tom Selleck aka Dr Richard Burke *swoon*.
So I wonder what it is about this US Sitcom that I love so much? After all, I was born in 1993. I was one year old when it first aired, eleven when it finished. Too young to have grow up alongside it but old enough to go around the charity shops aged 13 buying old VHS’s like my life depended on it. The 21st century worthy dvd box set now sits proudly in my flat holding all ten series. Which I still watch religiously. It’s my go to show when I’m bored, sad, lonely and content. It makes me laugh when nothing else will and makes me cry when I need to wallow. In the UK, our Comedy Central channel still plays re-runs every single day without fail. In 2016! I recently read a brilliant article explaining why it might be that this particular show has survived the test of time and now appeals to a whole new generation who were just starting to walk and talk when the show aired it’s final, totally emotional, episode. (Number 236 to be precise).
Friends was set in a time before everything went crazy. In a time before our mobile phones were glued to our hands. In fact, I recall pagers being the norm in the earlier episodes. Even when the Friends had phones, they were the simple, call-and-text kind. And they certainly didn’t have the internet on tap either. Nowadays if our webpage hasn’t loaded in 0.01 seconds we start getting fidgety and mildly curse at our touch screens. Everything was developing sure, but slowly. At a pace we, and they, could understand. Their lives were visibly simpler too. Made easier by the introduction of computers and phones, but still comfortingly straight forward in a way that proves the 90’s was the last decade of such simplicity. Cue 2001, a post 9/11 world and subsequent invasions, the race for bigger and better technology and a changing social landscape across the USA and on this side of the pond. Friends carried on until ’04 and thankfully exited on a high. A credit to it’s incredible writers. But had it carried on into the latter half of the noughties, could it have been the same? Would it hold the same nostalgia for us millennials? Probably not. The world was a very different place back pre iPods and the Kardashians. And don’t we yearn for it when we hear that familiar “I’ll be there for you..”
The dating game for instance was a whole different ball game back then. Tinder? Nope. Disastrous dates and awkward moments? Yes. Our Friends wouldn’t have believed us if we’d said that in 2016, swiping left and right on our phones was more often than not our first optimistic glimpse at our Friday night date. And a player ‘sliding’ into our DMs is more frequent than being approached in a bar. I’m not saying they had it easier or better but my god it was so much simpler! Not easier… simpler. Take away social media and you’re left with? Being social. Meeting a date through a friend of a friend. Spotting that guy across the table next to yours and having him ask for your number (your house number.) And those infamous dick pics *puke* and nude selfies would have to have been developed by real humans, or at the very least printed on a Polaroid and kept well hidden (better than Monica anyway, see ‘The One With Ross’s Sandwich’). First dates were in restaurants where no one had a buzzing phone on the table, under a starry Planetarium sky (well played Ross), or in Rome or London (extremely well played Monica). So yes, if I had to choose I would definitely prefer dating in the 90’s. I’m sure it would be just as hard to find the one, but it would certainly be a lot more fun. It would take effort – an art we’ve sort of lost. Which takes me to my next point…
Meeting for coffee and sitting round on couches talking as a six-some is almost unheard of amongst 20-something’s today. We WhatsApp and FaceTime to make quick plans and more often than not that doesn’t involve talking much when we eventually get together. The level of effort needed to maintain a friendship just isn’t necessary anymore. No 18 page letters (“FRONT AND BACK!”), no trips to Barbados just to support a Friend’s keynote speech, and certainly not many bonding activities that don’t involve group chats and screenshots. The Friends had to talk to each other face to face, or at least on the phone where they could hear someone laughing or crying on the other end. They were roommates, but they still had their own lives. They met every day, but they had their own careers and passions. Their lives moved on, they got married, and had children. Ultimately they were different people from different backgrounds but came together in the most organic way. And I truly believe that isn’t all lost today. We still seek comfort in our friends and we still meet people we instantly connect with. But like most things in our modern and busy world, we make it more complicated than it should be.
One more thing that Friends reminds us of is our modern pressure to succeed. Pressure from parents has always existed, even the six of them weren’t safe from that. I can only speak from a UK perspective here, but their journeys are reminiscent of a time before crippling student debt, lack of entry level opportunities and a housing ladder young people can’t even dream of getting on. Rachel was spoilt brat turned fashion guru with a job offer in Paris. Phoebe found her passion in massaging and no one ever pushed her to become something “better”. Joey never stopped pursuing his acting for better, or mostly worse. Ross excelled in his geekiness despite the jibes and jokes. And got tenure as a result. (I learnt that word because of Friends so guess I haven’t completely wasted my time). Monica pushed through the knockbacks and flammable boobs to get her restaurant. And Chandler is perhaps the most relatable friend, like us, stumbling through life doing something no one quite remembers to realising his potential much later in life. Although we can never get that way of life back because the world and it’s ways have sprinted too far away from us at this point, at least we can find comfort in an episode of Friends at the end of a long day.
So there we have it. That’s why I (and tons of others my age and younger) still watch Friends, and how some irreplaceable 90’s nostalgia not only makes us laugh and comforts us, but teaches us a lot about our lives today. No one can bring the six of them back, it wouldn’t be the same even if they did. There’s something about the lives of 20-somethings finding themselves that is cringey, relatable and unique. And no one can turn back the clock either. But maybe we can learn little lessons from our Friends. Stripping things back, putting down our phones for a few hours, talking into the night, going on road-trips, dating the scary but better connected way and ultimately learning about life and its stumbles and achievements with as little distraction as possible.
In a very real way, we can bring the Friends era into the 21st century. (If you got that quote, I’m proud of you. And we should be friends).