Look, we all know by now that Friends is problematic. That’s established. It’s agreed. With two decades' hindsight we see the casual homophobia, the fat-shaming, the disturbingly whitewashed vision of New York. We know that for all its record-breaking, era-defining success, Friends was not necessarily a pal to social progress.
But we also know that we’re all (or at least most of us, with varying degrees of guilt) still watching it.
Whenever we're sad or sick or lonely, when the rain starts to fall, it’s there for us. When it’s late and we’re too tired to think of anything else to put on, it’s the default. Our generation uses Monica, Chandler et al the way others might have used Classic FM; as a soothing background drone to cushion the silence but demand basically nothing from us in terms of attention or cognitive legwork. Except the ability to point at the screen and say "...ack, problematic".
It’s not just Friends, of course. The comfort sitcom (could we call it a 'comcom'? Okay no) has been a staple of the viewing landscape forever – the shows we know by heart, love dearly and reach for whenever we need some televisual crumble and custard. Gilmore Girls, Frasier, Family Guy, Will & Grace, The IT Crowd, Gavin and Stacey, the occasional, medicinal application of The Vicar of Dibley… We all have our old favourites stashed in the cupboard, going gently stale. Some are downright funky in their retro prejudices, others more quaintly unenlightened. Some we watch on the sly, one finger on the remote in case a woke flatmate walks in; others we would fight for over a pub table and not care who hears.
Instead of arguing ourselves hoarse over whether or not it’s okay to keep revisiting our TV relics, here’s an idea: let's celebrate a new generation of comfort comedy instead!
Because the great news is that right now and this year, our screens will be brimming with shows that fit the bill. Life-affirming, easy, escapist viewing, but smart and thoughtful too. There’s nourishment there as well as sweetness, substance as well as fluff. And until 20 years down the line, when our kids point out all their flaws by 2039 standards, they’re pretty much guilt-free viewing. Tuck in.
PS. Friends is leaving Netflix this year anyway. Maybe it’s time to get off the plane.