I grew up watching “Friends,” and I always kind of liked it. It was always on, it’s generally unobtrusive and it’s great for taking a nap to. Unproblematic King Paul Rudd even got a recurring guest spot.
But it also ruined television, and should not be forgiven.
It is, of course, not a good show that doesn’t really make any sense. There’s no reason a head chef should need a roommate in a rent-controlled apartment, nobody seems to ever work during the day because they’re too busy being mean to Gunther at that stupid coffee shop, and Chandler’s outfits are nauseating.
That’s not all, though. Every character displays increasingly neurotic and worrisome behaviors, diversity is nearly nonexistent, it’s transphobic, it’s homophobic, it promotes toxic gender stereotypes, Ross is just generally unbearable. And let’s be real — Rachel’s hair isn’t even that good.
“That’s fine,” you might say, “There’s plenty of bad shows.” And you would be right.
“Stacked,” the book store-themed sitcom starring Pamela Anderson, was bad. ABC’s “Cavemen” was bad, probably. “How I Met Your Mother” was fine, unless you thought about how the premise was a middle-aged man telling his children about all the women he used to sleep with. Then it was bad. “Big Bang Theory” is atrocious. All have more value than “Friends.”
“Friends” is a rip-off of “Seinfeld” — a show that’s amazing, for the most part — but that’s not the problem. The problem is that it showed all the networks how a bland, low-effort, cookie-cutter version of a successful series could make them millions.
Just by recasting a show with less funny, more conventionally attractive people, NBC hit the jackpot, making a killing off syndication to this day.
If a show is successful, the networks thought, then a similar, but legally different, show would probably also find success. So that’s what they made.
And when every show is a rip-off, you start getting rip-offs of rip-offs. And rip-offs of rip-offs of rip-offs. And that is when originality dies.
Without “Friends,” we probably don’t have 7 million versions of “Law & Order.” We don’t have a new show every year about a doctor with a serious personal flaw who just can’t play by the rules but gets away with it because he gets results. We can go a few days without seeing an unshaven, long-haired guy in his mid-20s wearing a flannel find out about a child he has from a one-night stand a year ago, then go through a touching personal transformation that leads to him discovering that only a child could make him finally grow up.
Instead, we’d have good shows. Or bad shows, maybe, but the point is they would be original. And we would also still have the reboot of “Wet Hot American Summer,” which doesn’t count as a lazy, unoriginal remake because it objectively rules.
So “Friends” is bad, and it was for the best when it finally ended in 2004. But don’t worry; it wasn’t done sucking the joy from people’s lives. Because Netflix retained its rights to it, for $100 MILLION DOLLARS. FOR ONE YEAR.
Netflix was one of the few places still making shows that pushed boundaries, that highlighted underrepresented groups of people, that didn’t have to meet weekly viewership goals or answer to advertisers. And, because people just couldn’t live without their mind-numbing dreck, those shows are getting cancelled.
“American Vandal.” That was a good show, I really liked it. It’s not getting another season. “The Get Down,” that was another one. No more of that, because it got passed over for Phoebe singing “Smelly Cat.” “Sense8.” “Haters Back Off.” I could go on.
It’s probably important to note that none of these shows were cancelled explicitly due to the “Friends” deal, but I have to imagine that an extra $100 million might be able to pay for a few.
At the end of the day, there will always be good shows on TV. But, thanks to “Friends,” they’re a lot harder to find. Ross sucks.
Rating: 18 out of 100 million, one for each episode featuring either Paul Rudd or Jean-Claude Van Damme.