On January 22nd, a Twitter account dedicated to exposing TV Secrets, @TV_exposed, announced that a Friends Reunion was going to happen. Despite being sick of E4’s constant repeats of the series a couple of years ago, having actively avoided it since then, I’ve been enjoying it more recently. So I’ll be pleased to watch it if it actually happens, though I’m not jumping the gun and expecting it will. It would be nice to see ‘The Friends’ later on in their lives and having grown up with it in my early adolescence, there’s a little nostalgia.
But I’m struggling to picture it working a decade later. Friends is so much of its time. And not just for the terrible clothes they wear (oh ‘90s fashion!) but because of the source of the jokes. Consider the episode that Ross and Rachel hire Freddie Prince Jr as Emma’s nanny and the problems Ross had with his gender. How funny the canned laughter informed you it was that Chandler’s dad was a gay burlesque dancer and that, especially earlier on, Chandler was often mistaken for being gay. The jokes made at any undesired and disapproved femininity the male characters showed and the ‘funny’ gay element brought out in Ross and Joey’s friendship the time they took naps together. While, some of the smaller, more provincial of the US comedy shows still stick to this style of comedy, I find it hard to imagine the more popular current comedies like The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother trying to get laughs this way.
Even jokes about promiscuity and how promiscuous men treat women are focused upon differently in present-day sitcoms. Joey’s lack of feeling towards the numerous women he sleeps with is made to seem like a loveable fault, akin to his lack of intelligence. But HIMYM’s equally promiscuous and far more devious Barney is often told off by his friends, especially proud feminist, Lily. Monica, Rachel and Phoebe might see themselves as feminists but they rarely call Joey out on how little he cares about the way his treats women, often portrayed as wanting a relationship (because the idea of a woman wanting a one-night stand is so rare). At least HIMYM shows both women who do and don’t want more.
I am not under the impression that contemporary US, or UK, comedies are completely without fault for the jokes they make. I saw a recent advert for Two and a Half Men in which Alan starts dating a trans-woman. Jokes are made about how she assumes the typical ‘male’ role in their relationship and she’s even shown punching a man to who insults Alan. In my opinion, this shows how far sitcoms and their devoted audiences still have to go. But we have at least evolved from our views and humour circa 1994-2004 and if a Friends Reunion is to go ahead, it too will have to evolve.