For many Gen Xers, the TV show Friends defined an era, our era.
The show started airing in September 1994, during my last year in high school.
Netflix all ten seasons just this month, January 2018, coincidentally my teenage daughter’s last year in high school.
To me back then, the show served as a special preview of “the world out there,” i.e., adult life. For my daughter, with whom I watched some episodes, it serves as a point of conparison between the issues she faces today and those I faced during my formative years.
The story kicked off when spoiled “daddy’s girl” Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) runs out of her wedding and (while still in her wedding dress) goes looking for her high school best friend (Monica Geller).
Monica, despite having lost contact with Rachel after high school, good-heatedly welcomed her into her home and into the gang composed of Monica’s brother Ross (David Schwimmer) who was traumatized by his divorce from his wife who turned out to be a lesbian, the boys who live across the hall Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) who was Ross’ roommate in college and struggling actor Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), and Monica’s cooky ex-roommate Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow).
Throughout the show’s ten-season run, the six friends navigated their way through life in New York City: found and lost jobs, started and ended relationships, and found and reinvented themselves.
While today, my daughter and her peers found the show’s jokes about “Fat Monica,” homosexual relationships and transgender identity problematic, back then, I was amazed these themes were being shown at all.
I was inspired by Monica’s transformation from an obese teen to a slim and confident chef (and I’m still perplexed as to how she was able to maintain her size despite being constantly surounded by food).
I found the decision of Ross’ ex-wife to raise their child with her lesbian partner, and later Rachel’s to be a working unwed mother brave.
I understood Chandler’s resentment of his father Charles’ transition to Helena Handbasket; after all, the announcement of her separation from Chandler’s mom was done after Thanksgiving dinner when Chandler was nine, hardly the epitome of sensitivity to the child’s sensibilities.
Despite the differences in the lenses that we view this iconic show, some themes are constant: the importance of friendship, acceptance of oneself and others, and growing up.