Ever since vintage hit comedy sitcom “Friends” dropped on Netflix a couple of years ago, it has been flogged by those with an insatiable desire to see wokeness reach back into the annals of history. The Monica fat-shaming, Joey’s flagrant womanising and the flippant jokes made at the expense of Chandler’s trans father – you can see why a few millennials have been left aghast.
With rumours of a remake in the works, the man who played drab paleontologist Ross Geller, David Schwimmer, has put on record that he’s ‘aware of [his] privilege as a heterosexual white male’ and has criticised the lack of diversity in the show that made him millions.
According to Schwimmer, the original cast was too white. His solution? An ‘all black’ or ‘all asian’ reboot.
Unfortunately, Schwimmer climbed aboard the woke train without conducting the most rudimentary of background research. Quick to lament the racially homogenous comedy scene of the mid-90s, the actor failed to acknowledge a successful sitcom named ‘Living Single’ which preceded the launch of Friends and followed an almost identical template: a witty take on the lives of a group of young professionals living in New York City. The kicker? The cast was exclusively African American.
The Living Single stars immediately rolled their eyes at Schwimmer’s glib remark about engaging in a ‘very conscious push’ to have the Friends producers cast him a black girlfriend.
Clearly, this was an innocent mistake. But on other topics, issuing the correct public remarks in order to both appear suitably woke and remain protected from a wave of Twitter mob backlash is an acutely exhausting pursuit. Everyone feels the pressure to be up-to-speed, but too many are sliding blindly into woketown without a morsel of appreciation for its ability to bite back. As Brendan O’Neill rightly cautions, ‘If you live by the sword of wokeness, you might die by it too.’
Of course, few would argue that Friends should be championed as a comedy for our modern times; I’ll be the first to admit that some of Joey’s homophobic remarks are cringeworthy. Problems arise, however, when we attempt to apply today’s cultural norms retrospectively — when a small group of woke individuals adopt today’s niche measuring stick to judge sitcoms of 20+ years ago, resigning them to the ash heap of history if they fail to score favourably.
It’s a bit like last year’s commercially disastrous attempt at a feminist remake of ‘Charlies Angels’ and the all-female reboot of ‘Ghostbusters’. They flop at the box office not because people care nothing for women in film, but because the ordinary majority are growing tired of having to forsake a golden oldie for a tacit validation of the toxic identity politics as perpetuated by Hollywood elites. You can be intersectional in your feminism without having to sign up to any and every ham-fisted attempt at cinematic affirmative action.
Of course you are free to disapprove of Friends and its lack of political correctness. But unfortunately, with lives now lived out in the Twitter echo chamber, there is little room for nuance and we shift with lightning pace from baulking at Chandler Bing’s dodgy jokes to eviscerating anyone who dares keep Friends on their Netflix favourites.
Yes, Friends is probably a little outdated for our brave new world. But it was brilliant for its time, and had millions in stitches on a weekly basis. Plus, figures indicate that the sitcom is still hitting the spot, with a recent BBC report ranking it as ‘the favourite TV programme for young people in the UK’.
As ever, those seeking to ditch Friends are in the minority; they do not represent everyone, even though their Twitter clout will attempt to convince you otherwise.
So in a world gone woke, why are youngsters still watching it? Well, perhaps the show’s enduring popularity is in part due to the fact that young people are more capable of recognising a funny joke for what it is: funny.
Friends may have its faults but it made huge strides in breaking other less touted stereotypes. What about the fact that Friends featured working mothers in high-flying careers? How about the story of infertility and adoption? What about the positive female relationships that weren’t based on competition, but saw Rachel, Phoebe and Monica building each other up? It wasn’t all bad, people.
It’s also high time we remind ourselves that it is entirely possible to be void of bigotry and still laugh at an inappropriate joke; to be clued up on the pressing issues of the day and still appreciate a time when things were a little less politically correct. Of course, if you really cannot stomach the iconic sitcom in light of today’s progressive cultural agenda, don’t watch it. At the same time, please steer clear of guilt-tripping the majority of us who still find it absolutely hilarious.