It has been over two decades since Friends appeared on our TV screens. As a child of the early nineties, I didn’t watch it first time round, but instead caught it on reruns throughout the 2000s on E4. And I quickly became obsessed with it.
I’m not the only one. Friends has long since held an important place in our collective consciousness and in the annals of pop culture – but while many other TV shows du jour have since faded into obscurity, the popularity of Friends has endured.
“Some things don’t change. Friends is a reminder of that, and that’s why so many of us reach for it in times of grief or fear, when catastrophe strikes or when life seems suddenly unrecognizable.”
There’s something about watching old episodes of Friends that is soothing and comforting. It’s wholesome. At nights when I can’t sleep, I deliberately replay episodes in my head until I drift off.
The part of the book that I found particularly interesting was when Miller delves into the post-9/11 landscape and how a show like Friends could deal with such life-changing trauma inflicted upon their city. In the end, the production team went with small changes – more American flags, more I ❤ NYs, and re-taping the untimely episode where Chandler jokes about being a terrorist at the airport.
“She (Lisa Kudrow) thought of all those fans over the years – before the attack – who would stop her on the street and gush about what a fun little escape it was. Only now did she understand the magnitude of that. […] Throughout her years on Friends, Kudrow had always tried not to take it all too seriously. “We’re not curing cancer. It’s not a big deal. But you know what? It is a big deal when you can offer people a break from such a devastating reality.”
It’s important to remember, of course, that Friends was a product of its time, and by no means a perfect show. Watching it now, it’s hard to ignore the lack of POC, the fatphobia, sexism, transphobia and homophobia, and these are things that Miller touches upon in this book. It’s a mark of how much progress has been made that these things feel startlingly out of touch when you watch the show today.
The book delves into the background stories of the actors before they were famous; the development of the show and the famous negotiations where the cast banded together to ask for a raise and wage parity. Miller also discusses the story of Amaani Lyle, a black woman who was a writer’s room assistant in the early 2000s who lost a harassment and wrongful termination case against the production team. Largely kept out of the media at the time, you can’t help but think about how the story may have been received in our post #MeToo world and the brave women who stood up to harassment in the entertainment industry for decades and were ridiculed, ignored and dismissed.
I was hoping for a more of a deep-dive into the show itself, the character arcs, the storylines – something a bit more of an analysis rather than a sweeping look at the life and times of the show. There wasn’t the sense of any new ground being uncovered, but Miller nevertheless has an engaging writing style and compiling secondary source information in the way she did was no mean feat. Recommended for all Friends fans, especially if you are interested in the cultural and production context of the beloved series.