Why “Friends” is still so popular

The hugely popular sitcom Friends ran for 236 episodes from September 1994 to May 2004.
When it premiered in 1994, the show was everywhere. The theme song was everywhere, “The Rachel” haircut was everywhere. I was in middle school then and thought I was very punk rock. Battle lines were drawn. In the US, some kids were into Friends and Gap cargo pants, and some of us were into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and wearing all black and writing unfortunate poetry. It was the ‘90s. Things were weird. The show got hugely popular..

Twenty five years later, the show hasn’t just endured, it’s exploded, reportedly earning $1 billion in syndication revenue for Warner Bros a year. Along with The Office and Grey’s Anatomy, it’s one of the most watched and popular shows on Netflix, with viewers around the world spending 54.3 million hours (the equivalent of 62,000 years) watching it in 2018. With numbers like that, it’s not hard to see why the streaming service reportedly paid $80 million to keep it throughout 2019. Last month, Warner Media announced the show will be moving to HBO Max, its upcoming streaming service, next year.



Forgiving the flaws

Although Friends was certainly criticized at the time for its portrayal of a New York City full of white people, it took a little longer for some of the other aspects of the show —like ‘fat Monica’ and transphobic jokes on Chandlers dad —to be considered problematic.

While the show won a GLAAD Media Award for depicting Ross’s ex-wife. Carol, as being in a lesbian couple (sadly, this was a pretty big deal in 1995). Its approach to the LGBTQ+ community, and lack of characters of color, can feel cringeworthy to some fans.

“I don’t think that consistently using Carol as the butt of jokes at Ross’ expense. Poking fun at the friendship between Chandler and Joey. They would go over as well if written in a contemporary show,” says 22-year-old Dana Seech from the US.

Still, Seech, says loves the show for the way. “The characters build a family unit that can resonate with audiences. And“the New York City culture and fashion of the 90s and early 2000s.”

Twenty-one-year-old Sabrina Hutton of Tampa, Florida, says she’s been obsessed with Friends since she first watched it with her grandmother as a child. The show “fell a little short when it came to different races and ethnicities,”  Hutton says, noting that “in all 10 seasons there has been one major character who was black.”

Viewers seem able to forgive the show’s more anachronistic tendencies. Perhaps in exchange for its message of the potential of a good friendship. As Michael Schulman writes for the New Yorker, Friends “was pioneering in defining people’s twenties, often aimless and uncertain, as a distinct phase of adulthood, in which platonic friendships can provide a kind of structure lacking in romances or careers.”

Ultimately, it’s the connection between the characters that got viewers hooked then. Particularly in an age dominated by the loneliness of city-living and smartphones. “I think the show gives young people hope that despite their past or current circumstances.

There are people out there that will be able to make our lives a little brighter,” says Justine Teixeira, 19, of South Africa.

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