When one thinks of seminal, culture-changing television shows, immediately favorites such as Star Trek, All in the Family, MASH, The Honeymooners and – in more contemporary times – Seinfeld come to mind.
In that mix is a show that has stood the test of time, proving itself on the rerun circuit and amassing a mind-blowing fan base that many sitcoms that have come and gone in its wake can’t approach. The legendary Friends has been with us for over 15 years, remarkably, and continues to prove that its audience is here to stay, due in part to the Netflix’s re-release of the show and PopTV’s “behind-the-scenes” special about this cultural phenomenon (check here for listings).
But what is it about Friends that endures? Why did this story about a seemingly ordinary group of young adults who basically socialize, inter-date and live vicariously through each other’s lives take off the way it did? To answer those questions, one must first look at what has become known as “Generation X” and the way its first “grown-up sitcom” appealed to this demographic; the series immediately struck a chord with Gen X, with characters played by Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry embroiled in career difficulties, life goals and evolving notions of the ideal relationship. Indeed, they were scenarios that all of us in that generation could relate to – I know I sure could. Even the immensely catchy theme song, suggesting we’re “always stuck in second gear,” gave us a peek into the difficulties of single life in the ‘90s.
A main feature of why the series was so popular is that instead of focusing on a family or simply a duo of friends, it was instead a mix of both; a group of friends who had created their own family. As is often the case in families, this one was dysfunctional, but that only made it all the more endearing. Viewers were invited into this group to witness the trials and tribulations that so many of us have gone through or were going through. There was casual sex, accidental pregnancies, unrequited love, adoption, marriage, divorce, betrayal, birth, death, career lows and highs, and so much more than young people all across the world go through. However in this scenario most of the situations were tackled comically and in thirty minutes, giving viewers a sense of relief for their fictional friends.
Then there’s the “Seinfeld Curse” and how it relates to Friends – specifically how the cast members struggled to find work outside of their roles that so lavishly made them famous and garner millions of fans worldwide. Within this dynamic is the issue of typecasting as well, with many rabid Friends fans feeling more than a few of the cast members have been “baked into” a particular type of character; in all fairness to the cast, some of their roles since Friends have worked and some haven’t, much like any other actor in Hollywood coming off a mega-successful project.
While Lisa Kudrow, for example, starred in such features as Analyze This, Analyze That and the Gen X classic Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion during her time on the show. After the show ended, she managed to carve out a niche in cult TV series like Web Therapy and The Comeback, portraying Valerie Cherish, the show’s main character. While the show wouldn’t be renewed for a second season, Kudrow received an Emmy nomination for her work on the series, making her the first Friends cast member to receive a major award nomination since the show came to its conclusion in 2004.
Other Friends cast members would move on to experience a similar up-down-up momentum to their careers. Courteney Cox managed to find success back on TV with Cougar Town as well as Matt Leblanc who’s earned praise in his series Episodes. Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer appear to be the two who haven’t quite been able to catch that magic that they others have been able to, but have respectable careers none the less. And, of course, we all know how things have turned out for Jennifer Aniston.
But say what you will about the classic known as Friends and its sometimes cheesy 90s-esque wardrobe and dialogue: The legend and its stars are here to stay, evidenced by the Pop TV special that keeps the spirit of the show alive with an in-depth probing of its inner workings, as well as Netflix’s decision to re-release the uber-popular sitcom that is destined to keep it fresh in the minds of not only seasoned fans, but for a generation raised on a (sometimes nauseatingly so) steady diet of iPhones, texting and virtual dating.
~ guest blog written by Emma! (connect to her via @emma_bailey90)