(BBC) Still Friends? The trouble with old sitcoms
Ahh, Friends. The US sitcom that took over the world.
Millennials may look back fondly to the heady days of the ultimate 20-something Manhattan lifestyle enjoyed by our favourite flatmates – Monica, Ross, Chandler, Joey, Rachel and Phoebe.
But nearly a quarter of a century – yikes! – since it began, a new generation of fans are discovering the hit show for the first time on Netflix.
And some of them are clearly finding it a bit uncomfortable.
Another found herself not enjoying the show as much second time around.
I was a uni student in the 90s so looked forward to rewatching Friends on Netflix over New Year. But I agree – the ‘fat Monica’ and ‘gay Chandler’ ‘jokes’ feel very out of place now. And was Joey *always* that bit creepy? Disappointing.
Freelance writer James Baldock, who wrote about the Friends issue in Metro, told BBC News the backlash against Friends “was inevitable”.
“People my age tend to think of Friends as ‘current’, but it’s as steeped in nostalgia as, say, Miami Vice was 10 or 15 years ago.”
Writer Rebecca Reid told BBC Radio 5 live she “couldn’t believe how badly it has aged”.
“The homophobia is staggering – the punchline of every joke about Ross is that his ex-wife is a lesbian, as if that’s some failing of his and that it’s hilarious that she’s a lesbian.
“The sexism’s pretty rampant as well… [and] it’s the whitest show in the whole world.”
She did acknowledge, however, that “she did sort of love it”.
“It’s really dangerous to start looking at stuff that was written a long time ago through the lens of what we do now.”
Others were less concerned.
More recent shows have also split opinion, such as Will & Grace.
The show, which debuted in 1998 and was about the lives of a straight woman and her gay best friend, was groundbreaking at a time when you rarely saw gay characters on TV.
Baldock said: “The issue is that there are a good many classic programmes that embody values and employ stereotypes that are no longer tolerated in our society [like] It Ain’t Half Hot Mum – a programme I watched as a child, without ever once wondering why Michael Bates was covered in make-up.
“People get very twitchy about this now, and with good reason, but that’s not in itself [a reason] to ‘censor’ these programmes – if anything they stand as decent historical archives explaining what the world was like.
He added: “Homophobia, racism and misogyny are not and have never been acceptable [but] if it’s 20 years old, why on earth are you surprised if it’s different? If it makes you uncomfortable, why on earth are you watching it?”
The Daily Star’s TV critic, Mike Ward, agrees.
He told the BBC his reaction to the criticism of Friends was “sigh and despair”.
“If you take it at face value and apply modern day sensibilities to it and look at it as someone who went out to make it in 2018, you would be shocked.
“We have to be grown up about this, we have to look at perspective and look at the context in which it was made.
“It’s fine to say it’s uncomfortable by today’s standards but if you’re not careful you look at the world from an insular, narrow perspective.”
Ward says “we’re in such a sensitive era now” with comedy.
“Friends has been on Comedy Central for ages, it’s not as if someone’s just found it and put it out there. I don’t think it’s caused any major harm. And the characters – by and large we were laughing at their ridiculousness. They’re not role models.”
Ward adds Fawlty Towers is one of his favourite shows.
“I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, I’m laughing at it because it’s racist – it’s a long, long time ago, it’s a different age. I’d like to think we’re smart enough not to have to be protected as if things have never been different.
“And there’s a bit of arrogance – thinking we’re so perfect now. Not that I endorse the old attitudes, but I suspect if you fast forward 50 years into the future you could put people in front of the TV now and people will cringe as we do.”