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20th Jul 2015

Friends: All time classic or overrated schmaltz?

Nooruddean Choudry

Everyone loves Friends right? Right?

It’s eleven years since the US sitcom came to an end, yet its appeal and influence endures to this day. Repeat showings are seemingly never-ending, whilst references to famous scenes and quotes are still everywhere.

The thing is though, was it even that good? Here at JOE Towers, opinion is divided. There can be little doubt that the show was a staple of noughties telly and a watchable half hour of sitcom fare, but was it any more than that?

Here we look at the arguments for and against…

All time classic

Could anyone who doubts the brilliance of Friends be more wrong? There’s a reason why umpteen pretenders have tried to mimic the show’s template of a group of twenty-something pals and failed – because you can’t imitate perfection.

The show was a worldwide phenomenon and a big reason for that was the brilliant writing. Unlike UK comedies, US shows are a group effort. The story arcs in Friends are unsurpassed for non-stop laughs and engaging plots.

The show is ageless. It’s been repeated to death on various channels and yet you can always stumble upon a random episode and still enjoy it. Of course there’s other great comedies out there, but people are so snobby about anything popular.

That’s the thing about Friends – you genuinely cared about them. Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross were such well-defined and relatable characters that you grew to love them. We all know a Joey or a Phoebe or a Monica…or a Gunther.

Then of course there was the Chandler-Joey bromance. Rarely has male friendship been depicted on television in such a lovable, genuine way. People talk about Ross and Rachel but the two flatmates were the real emotional centre of a great show.

Overrated schmaltz

Friends was bubblegum TV. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t pretend it was anything more than the sitcom equivalent of Maroon 5 or Dominos pizza – undemanding, nice enough, popular and safe.

It’s no more a classic than Sex in the City or Entourage. Part of what fuelled Friends’ success was that everyone was watching it, so you did too. To claim it’s a classic in the context of other great comedies is a p*sstake.

Friends can’t hold to a candle to the likes of Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Community, Veep, 30 Rock, etc. It even pales in comparison to similar populist shows like Happy Days, Cheers and even Modern Family.

Take Seinfeld, which was around a decade earlier. Now that’s a brilliant show about a group of New York friends that’s still hilarious and hasn’t aged a bit, unlike Friends. Flaws and f*ck-ups are funny – perfect smiles and good hair are just nice to look at.

And finally, Ross and f*cking Rachel. Any modicum of enjoyment was sucked out of the show as soon as that tedious will-they-won’t-they subplot stank out the place. It became nothing more than a weekly rom-com. And you only watched it ‘cos your older sister did.