NBC’s hit sitcom and fans’ one of the most favorite shows FRIENDS was first aired in 1994. It starred Matthew Perry as Chandler, Courteney Cox as Monica, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel, David Schwimmer as Ross, Matt LeBlanc as Joey, and Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe. It has been over one and a half-decade since the show ended, yet the fans of the show keep on increasing.
Apart from this, FRIENDS became a treasure trove of cultural reference points. It still gets appreciative laughs even after years. This effect increased when the show went into syndication and then DVD boxsets. However, thanks to a run on Netflix, it made a lasting impact on television as well as society.
Here are some of the social changes highlighted by FRIENDS that we often talk about:
1) Friendship Above All
Before FRIENDS, comedies were mostly based on romance or career. Even though friends in FRIENDS have their fair share of romances and career-related issues, their main relationship was always with each other. Remember, when Ross and Emily’s marriage broke off because Ross was not able to let go of Rachel. Also, when Chandler spent Thanksgiving in a box to prove to Joey that how much his friendship meant to him. They all had many relationships throughout the series, but they never ignored their friends whatsoever. After this, many friendship-based shows came such as “The Big Band Theory”, “How I Met Your Mother”, and “Community”. This might not sound much of a social change directly but given the fact that it influenced the storylines of future shows, it somehow contributes to a society that values friendship even more.
2) FRIENDS Gang Included Both Men And Women
Before FRIENDS, friendship-based shows focused on groups of same-gender people usually. For example, “Happy Days” was based on a guy gang, “Sex And The City” was based on the group of four girls, and “Golden Girls” was also based on the girl gang. By creating a mixed-gender group, FRIENDS had the chance to play around with a different set of dynamics. Even after that, there was also space for the three women to do “Girly Friendship Things” and men to do “Manly Friendship Things”. FRIENDS proved that gender diversity in the show can give varied opportunities for comedies.
3) FRIENDS Changed The View Of America After 9/11
There was no doubt that the gang was really influencing the world and shedding a fun, silly light on this country after what happened to Television after 9/11. The show was in a really unique position, and they handled it uniquely. At that time also, the audiences were glued to the news and also glued to FRIENDS. Because after all, it was New York, familiar, unchanged, and a really good comedy. The show organically added tributes like American flags in the background and New York Fire Department (FDNY) shirts as well. However, it did not attack the storyline and just let it represent the pride of New York and its heroes at that time.
4) FRIENDS Showed That We Can Choose Our Family
Be it heterosexual married parents or be it the problems into the mix, the classic sitcom set-up has always been to start with a family of strong personalities. However, FRIENDS showed the new stage of life where you’ve moved away from your family. David Crane and Marta Kauffman wrote in their original pitch for the show, “It’s about friendship because when you’re single and in the city, your friends are your family.” Having an unconditional support system from people around your own age brings a lot of freedom. And, it also marked the transition from the 20-something definition of family to the next stage when Monica and Chandler move to the suburbs with their babies.
5) Normalized Same-Sex Wedding
Even though FRIENDS wasn’t the first show to air same-sex weddings, a wedding between two women was still considered controversial. While talking to The Guardian, Jane Sibbet said in 2019, “Certain affiliates wouldn’t air the episode with our wedding.” In 2017, she also said that the part of the ceremony where Carol and Susan (Jessica Hecht) would have kissed was deliberately skipped and she was disappointed about it. The show has also drawn retroactive ire for its portrayal of Chandler’s “dad”. In 2019, Marta Kauffman told USA Today that if she would get a chance, she would change the way Chandler’s dad, Helena was portrayed in the show.
6) One For All And All For One
In TV history, the cast of FRIENDS is notorious as they made sure they all got equal pay that is $1 million per episode. You can see the influence of unity in shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and more. There also casts did the same thing and made sure the whole on-screen family is taken care of. FRIENDS also really created an archetype for this gang-type situational comedy. Not that it hadn’t been around before, but shows like “New Girl” and “Big Bang” definitely take their cues from FRIENDS.
7) FRIENDS Changed The Way We Talk
To earn a spot in pop culture, many shows have relied on catchphrases from FRIENDS. For example, in “Family Matters”, there was Steve Urkel’s “did I do that?” FRIENDS introduced some of the catchphrases such as Janice’s (Maggie Wheeler) “oh … my… god!” and Joey’s (Matt LeBlanc) “how you doin’?” Its contributions went beyond repetitive phrases. Some of these catchphrases only appeared once in the show, but they stuck with the audience. They took them, used them, and after a while forgot where they first heard them.
8) FRIENDS Moved At A Faster Pace
Spending so much time at the Central Perk may explain how the creators of the show were envisioning when they came up with FRIENDS. Even though the cast wasn’t cutting out early, the scenes were shorter. However, it took six to seven hours and sometimes even more to shoot a single 22-minute episode. The writers would come up with a new one on the spot if a joke didn’t make the studio audience laugh. FRIENDS was notorious for taking much longer to tape than other sitcoms. And once a scene is finished, it took 20 minutes to change the settings for the next scene.
9) FRIENDS Showed The Line Between Cheesy And Dark
The main characters from many American sitcoms finally reconcile in the final minutes after various hijinks and arguments big or small, preferably with a cheesy monologue or voiceover. However, FRIENDS never caught into this trap. The characters had their dorky moments, but they were still supposed to be cool New Yorkers. If you don’t know, cool New Yorkers don’t express emotion. Even when the characters had a fight, the makeup moments balanced the characters’ emotions with humor. It has become the TV equivalent of comfort food. FRIENDS showed us that the shows don’t have to be heavy-handed to have an emotional impact.
10) FRIENDS Forced Originality
People mostly used streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime to watch existing series that they were hosting but didn’t create. According to Forbes, in 2015, Netflix paid $100 million for the right to stream FRIENDS. Not just that, it paid almost the same amount to keep it for the duration of 2019. Since the networks are now keeping the old content for their own streaming services, streaming platforms have to come up with their own shows and movies. Finally, it may ultimately result in more original content for viewers as streaming services do battle over old titles.