As new audiences continue to discover Friends through various streaming platforms, the now-classic comedy remains one of the most popular shows on TV. In recent years, however, much criticism has been written online about the sitcom’s handling of various social issues — from its lack of diversity to its outdated jokes about sexuality — and how it fails to meet our social standards in 2020.
Friends star David Schwimmer addresses these concerns in a new interview with The Guardian. “I don’t care,” he says. “That show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships. The pilot of the show was my character’s wife left him for a woman and there was a gay wedding, of my ex and her wife, that I attended.”
Schwimmer believes that “a lot of the problem today in so many areas is that so little is taken in context. You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time. I’m the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time. I was already really attuned to social issues and issues of equality.”
“Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends,” he says. “But I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of [color]. One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian American woman, and later I dated African American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.”
(The irony of Schwimmer’s “all-black Friends” comment, of course, is that Friends is widely considered to have been “inspired” by Queen Latifah’s Living Single, an all-black comedy that came out a year earlier.)
“It’s interesting also how the show handled the Judaism of the characters,” Schwimmer adds. “I don’t think that was earth-shattering or groundbreaking at all, but I for one was glad that we had at least one episode where it wasn’t just about Christmas. It was also Hanukkah and, even though I played the Hanukkah armadillo … I was glad that we at least acknowledged the differences in religious observation.”
Do you agree that Friends is being unfairly judged against 2020 social standards? Drop a comment with your thoughts below.