The staying power of Friends: Still raking in viewings after two decades

I’m currently shattered from a lack of sleep. Summatives? No. Staying up all night re-watching the entirety of Friends for the third time? Guilty.

Friends first aired in September 1994. That’s also my brother’s birthday month. (He is now 23 with a big beard, and a job, in London; he’s  changed a lot, but Friends hasn’t changed at all.) Ever since Comedy Central got the replay rights for the show in 2011, up to 17 episodes of Friends have been on TV daily. Recently hitting Netflix, views remain sky high in the show’s second decade; this a test of time many other shows have failed to withstand. Yet, we’ve all got that one friend who claims to have never seen an episode (have they been living under a rock their whole life?). Even worse are those who dismiss the golden oldie. The question we must ask then, is why a show about twenty-something year olds, first airing over twenty years ago, still resonates at all with twenty-something year olds today?

The world of Friends is undeniably dated, there are no mobile phones, some questionable fashions, and no young person would be able to afford Monica’s huge apartment in New York. The quirky coffee shop setting screams nineties vintage, an era when most of us where toddling around in nappies. So why do we love the show as much as our parents did, when we live in a seemingly parallel universe? Because, it’s not actually all that different, at least not in the ways that matter.

Ross is my favourite character because I love a shy, goofy guy; this maintains even if dating lingo in Friends takes place via landline voicemails rather than swiping right on Tinder. Indeed, nothing sums up how much nothing has really changed like the relatability of Ross and Rachel’s ‘will they? Won’t they?’ saga. Here are some iconic episodes for Rachel and Ross fans:

1 . ‘The One with the Prom Video’ (Season 2, Episode 14): Rachel finds out Ross was ready to swoop in and save the day by taking her to senior prom after she was stood up by her planned date.

2 . ‘The One with Ross’s Wedding Part 2’ (Season 4, Episode 24): Ross says Rachel’s name at the altar. No matter how bad things are going, you haven’t ever screwed up this much.

3 . ‘The Last One’ (Season 10, Episode 17): The ultimate ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ climax. Rachel flees her imminently departing plane after realising Ross is the one (again). Aww.

The crucial thing about Friends, and what I believe makes it so popular, is that the characters are fallible; they fail all the time. Joey struggles to find a successful job, while Rachel scrapes to live independently of her parents. Monica and Phoebe, meanwhile, go through several unsuccessful relationships. When we get in after a long day (of two lectures!), we want the comfort blanket of sitcom television; they provide us with the ease of watching others go through problems we can relate to. Ross, after one too many margaritas, will always make me smile when I feel like life isn’t going to plan. Rachel may be beautiful, but she’s a terrible waitress, gets cheated on by Paolo and has her heart broken by Ross numerous times. And, no matter how bad life gets, at least you’re not Janice.

An atmosphere of cosy, calm, fun pervades all this negativity and drama. The totally unrealistic yet totally desirable setting of two apartments of best friends across the hall from one another takes us away from our student house in the North East to downtown New York City.

Also, humour never gets old, and you’re lying if you don’t think Friends is funny. I’ve watched every episode numerous times and I still crack up. Excellent direction and natural talent is also behind the phenomenal success of this show. Chandler (the best character, sorry) with his witty one-liners and comic timing, Ross’s fashion faux pas such as the fake tan and tight leather pants, and Phoebe’s constant delusional digressions make the show the joyous viewing that it is. To prove my point, here are the three funniest Friends episodes of all time (in my, indisputable opinion):

1 . ‘The One with the Blackout’ (Season 1, Episode 7): this episode clearly showcases why Chandler is THE most hilarious character. Stuck in, what he eventually defines as a vestibule, with a Victoria’s Secret model, he goes in to true socially awkward meltdown and ends up choking on a piece of chewing gum. The combination of his awkward outward action with the voice-over of his inner panic is genius.

2 . ‘The One where Everybody Finds Out’ (Season 5, Episode 14): Phoebe and Rachel start tormenting Monica and Chandler as Phoebe finds out the ultimate secret of the entire series. Phoebe’s seduction of Chandler has got to be one of the most golden moments of comedy in Friends history, as well as a classic Ross meltdown when he finds out his little sister and best mate are dating.

3 . ‘The One with All the Resolutions’ (Season 5, episode 11): Ross gets stuck in a pair of tight leather trousers. Enough said.

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