Life & Culture

Friends: The one with the multi-generational appeal

Friends is the TV show that works for all ages according to our writers


The 40-something: Cari Rosen

These days it might be Bake Off or Grand Designs, but back in 1994 there was only one  essential show to view…and it kept us glued to our tellies for 10 whole seasons. 

So what was it about Friends that reeled us in and kept us hooked? It was new, yes, and glossy and funny. But there was also something more. We watched — and we identified. After all, Joey, Monica et al were 20-somethings, living in the big city, finding their way in work, love, life, and so were we. True, we were in North London, not Manhattan and none of us lived in a loft with a view. But if you skimmed over the details (in my case a poky flat with a dark brown ceiling, overlooking a railway line) this was us, this was our life.  Small wonder that we never missed an episode.

I may not have hung out in a coffee house (possibly because I don’t like coffee) but, nonetheless, I found it refreshingly different to see people like me — albeit American, fictional, and impossibly glamorous versions of me — reflected on screen. The location, the reality might be different, but far easier to laugh off a bad day at work, a dating disaster, a crisis of confidence when they made these things seem universal. 

I suspect I’m not alone in aligning myself to one character in particular whenever I watch a film or a series on TV. And in this case, of course, I was Rachel. It was the hair (let’s ignore the fact that my actual hair was a dead-ringer for Monica’s in The One in Barbados) plus I too had a grandmother with a secret cookie recipe. But, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see I was actually Geller through and through, all Jewish angst (Ross) and a desire for everything to be ‘just so’ (Monica). 

As the Friends grew up so did my own friends and I. As their lives changed on screen, so did ours, albeit with (marginally) less will-they-won’t-theys and hilarity involving small monkeys called Marcel. But still, there were weddings and babies and the rest. 

These days I rarely watch the reruns – but I can still quote swathes of the script by heart. For me Friends was the right show at absolutely the right time. Oh, for a 40/50-something reunion.

The Millennial: Rosa Doherty

I’ll Be There For You promised the ubiquitous theme music to the 90s sitcom. This, unbeknownst to me at the time, would provide an unreliable guide to my twenties.

I was only aged eight when the first episode aired on NBC in 1994, and I lapped it up as a guide to adulthood.  Friends was there for me when I got the first haircut that wasn’t dictated by my mother — a ‘Rachel’ of course — and the same character inspired my first job as a waitress.

I didn’t like waitressing much, and I wasn’t all that good at it, being prone to dropping crockery. But that didn’t matter because my friends would stop by and hang out to make fun of each other and gossip about who was dating who. It was Crouch End’s version of Central Perk.

Ten years of hair appointments pretty much involved me clutching a copy of whatever glossy magazine had Jennifer Aniston on the front. It was years before I admitted that layers weren’t my thing.

The programme provided all who watched it valuable life lessons. Some of them I learnt from, some, I didn’t.

Like the time Phoebe struggles to choose between two guys she is dating and instead of choosing one, gets caught by both of them at Central Perk.

I had to learn the hard way that the embarrassment of failing to pick never fades.

Friends provided cultural references for my non Jewish friends, even if they were sometimes misled. Some to this day ask what the armadillo has to do with Chanukah.

Friends is the programme you never get bored with. No matter how many times you claim to have watched all 236 episodes, there is always someone else’s favourite you don’t remember.

It can turn a hungover Sunday from hell to the perfect day on the sofa. And it is wholly responsible for selling me the idea that living with your childhood pals would be fun. It took 20 years to realise that this was a seriously misguided idea.

Unlike the characters, I‘m no longer friends with anyone I’ve shared a flat with. 

The fact I’ve fallen out with all of them means I’d be insane not to take a step back and look in the mirror.

Maybe it was my Jewish princess, Rachel-like tendencies that rubbed my former flatmates up the wrong way. Or was it my Phoebe-like ditziness?

Or maybe it was my Monica-like neuroses, which made it impossible to live the dream with people who smoked in the house all day, and used my cut glass heirlooms for ash trays. I’m sure Phoebe never did anything like that.

Actually I think what Friends has taught me most, is that in order to love the constant dry wit of the Chandlers, or to tolerate the academic snobbery of the Rosses, or the spoilt brattishness of the Rachels, you need to be able to go home at the end of the day to a place where the Joeys can’t just wander in and open your fridge.

The Teenager: Ella Garai-Ebner

I can watch Friends repeatedly, and I don’t seem to get bored with it. Over and over again, the same episodes, laughing at the same jokes and reciting the same lines along with the TV. What is it that I love so much? What makes it so addictive? 

I think it’s the characters; as clichéd as it may sound, they really do start feeling like our own friends. They’re so well rounded, they’re not cardboard cut-outs — they’re fully formed, with all the flaws of normal human beings. They’re also written in a way that makes them very recognisable, you learn to pre-empt their individual reactions to things. They interact in a way that is very endearing, which means you get hooked — you feel you’ve got to know them all. 

It’s amazing that 20 years after the show first aired, it doesn’t feel old fashioned when you watch it. Of course, there are some elements that don’t feel as familiar — the most notable example being the use of phones and social media, or lack thereof. How different things may have turned out, had Rachel been able to FaceTime Ross before his wedding in London, instead of jumping on a plane! 

If you have the sense of humour Friends is pitched to, there’s no reason you shouldn’t find it funny, whatever your age. It is so well written, acted, and directed, it has aged and will continue to age extremely well. Love for the show spans three generations in my family, and my mum and I will never tire of communicating through quotes and references. 

I think the most recent show to parallel Friends is How I Met Your Mother. Both revolve around a close group of friends, and seem to attract similar audiences.

Friends will always be my favourite, though, there’s no other show quite like it, it’s completely unique in its hilarity, so easy to watch and I can’t see that I’ll ever tire of it. 

Friendsfest is at Clissold Park, London N16, September 15-24 

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