So no one told you Friends was going to be this way.
Have you ever sat down in front of the television or computer, ready for a nostalgia-driven comfort marathon of an old sitcom, only to have your viewing experience jolted by an off-color joke? That happens a lot when it comes to all the offensive things said on Friends. No one is saying that the lucrative ’90s sitcom was perfect. Keen-eyed viewers have a lot of questions about certain plot points in the series because it wasn’t exactly politically correct throughout its decade-long run from 1994 to 2004.
Further conversation about the show’s problematic elements, especially its lack of diversity in casting, followed after the show’s reunion special aired in May 2021. Co-creator Kevin Bright told The Hollywood Reporter that the decision to have an entirely white cast “was not the goal,” but rather to find individuals that had great on-screen chemistry with one another. “There are different priorities today and so much has changed,” he said. “It’s important for today’s shows to be reflective of the ways society truly is.”
“The cast is the cast,” reunion special director Ben Winston told The Times. “It was made in 1994. I think it’s remarkable how well it does stand the test of time.” But does it really? One moment you’re watching a goofy argument between best friends or siblings on the sitcom, and suddenly you’re hit with a body-shaming joke or some glaring homophobia. It doesn’t stop there either — the show also dabbled in sexism and classism in some pretty unfortunate ways.
While we’re not saying it's impossible to watch the series and still enjoy it with a modern sensibility, you should probably be prepared to cringe at least a few times per season as you make your way through some of the show’s more contentious episodes.
Here are some of the most offensive things said on Friends.
“Ridiculously Dull Bobby”
In Season 2, Monica’s boyfriend “Fun Bobby” undergoes treatment for his alcohol addiction. After he quits drinking, the friends decide he’s no longer “fun,” with Chandler renaming him “Ridiculously Dull Bobby.” The idea that someone needs alcohol to be a good time perpetuates a harmful stereotype and is deeply insensitive to the struggles many alcoholics undergo in their journey to sobriety.
“What are you talking about, one woman?! That’s like saying there is only one flavor of ice cream for you. ... Welcome back to the world, grab a spoon!”
Joey’s “women are like ice cream” analogy in the first episode points to an ongoing problem with his womanizing character throughout the entire show. He constantly and blatantly objectifies women as something to be gained rather than actual people. And sure, his comments might’ve pulled in some laughs back when the show originally aired, but they aren’t cute in today’s society and weren’t really back then either.
“What's my boy doing with a Barbie?”
In Season 3’s “The One With the Metaphorical Tunnel,” Ross can’t get over the idea that his toddler might prefer playing with a Barbie doll instead of action figures. His frantic obsession with getting his son to stop playing with a “girl” toy not only reinforces harmful gender stereotypes, but also highlights his own prejudices. Let kids play with whatever toys they like, Ross!
“How goes the dancing? Gay yet?”
When Joey agrees to help their building’s superintendent learn how to ballroom dance in the Season 4 episode “The One With the Ballroom Dancing,” Monica immediately picks on him by uttering a jarring joke that is incredibly homophobic on multiple levels. Not only does it imply that learning to dance with someone of the same gender can change a person’s sexual orientation, but also implies that dancing is not a “masculine” activity. Not cool, Monica.
“Imagine yourself living in a supermarket and you will understand.”
Joey says this to his attractive roommate Janine in Season 6 to explain why he doesn’t think the two of them should have a flirtation. Not only is he comparing a woman to food (again), but he also doesn’t listen to her when she says that she’s not attracted to him. Instead, he refuses to believe that she’s just not into him, which is a pretty gross worldview for a man to have.
“Don’t you have a little too much penis to wear a dress like that?”
Though Chandler’s father is never referred to as transgender in the series (the term wasn’t as widely used back then), his dad (played by Kathleen Turner) works as a drag performer and prefers to present as female in all her appearances. The other characters clearly disregard her gender preferences and often don’t refer to her by her preferred name, Helena Handbasket. Chandler’s mom, Nora, says this to Helena at Chandler’s wedding in the Season 7 episode, “The One With Chandler and Monica’s Wedding.”
“So you’re just, like, a guy who’s a nanny?”
Ross can’t seem to get his head around the idea that a man can work as a child care provider in the Season 9 episode “The One With the Male Nanny.” As if his ideas of what constitutes women’s work versus men’s work aren’t sexist enough, he takes it a step further by asking the babysitter, played by Freddie Prinze Jr., if he’s gay.
“Welcome to our country!”
Rachel goes to meet Ross at the airport in the first episode of Season 2 and discovers that he’s returned home from China with his girlfriend Julie. When she offers Julie the flowers she picked up for Ross, she welcomes her to the country by speaking in a slower, exaggerated way for Julie to better comprehend. Julie replies back in a similarly slow tone: “Thank you, I’m from New York.” In a show that’s often criticized for its lack of diversity, making a racist joke at the expense of one of the few characters of color is a bad take.
“Wow, you look just like your son, Mrs. Tribbiani.”
In the season 5 episode “The One With Joey's Bag,” Joey gets excited about a unisex bag he received for an audition — he loves all the compartments and how it looks — but the other characters in the show make a point to tease him for wearing the leather satchel by calling him a woman. It‘s an attractive bag! Who cares what gender you are if you like it?
“Hey check me out, I’m a slut!”
In possibly the most cringeworthy back-to-back episodes, “The One That Could Have Been (Part 1 and 2),” the show explores an alternate universe in which Monica didn’t lose weight. Most of the offensive jokes revolve around her having an uncontrollable hunger. In it, she loses her virginity to Chandler and seems so grossly thankful that he is interested in her sexually, with an implication that men don’t normally find her desirable because she is plus-sized. She says this line after she has sex for the first time. Not only is the word “slut” not great, but in this context it also seems to be making fun of non-slim women enjoying sex for the sake of sex.
“Oh my god, where are all the men!?”
Chandler displays the most obvious example of toxic masculinity in the Season 6 episode “The One with Ross’s Teeth.” When he finds Joey and Janine knitting pot holders together for their apartment, he calls Joey “Josephine” before leaving to spend time with Ross instead. When Chandler finds Ross at home using a makeup compact, he shouts the unfunny line. Chandler’s insinuation that men can’t knit or use makeup (and if they do, they’re somehow less than a man) is the kind of sexist rhetoric that should’ve never been allowed on the show.
“Dumb, old perfect-for-the-job Hilda.”
In Season 7, Rachel is confronted with the choice of hiring for an assistant either an older woman with years of experience or a hot dude named Tag. All her friends encourage her to chose the more qualified employee, to which she makes this ageist response. Also, she goes ahead and hires Tag, objectifies him in the office, and has an affair with him. Great business role model, that Rachel.
“The rumor was that you had both male and female reproductive parts.”
In the Season 8 episode “The One With The Rumor,” Rachel discovers that Will and Ross were the founders of the “I Hate Rachel Green” club back in high school and started a rumor that she was intersex and “still had the hint of a penis.” Rachel is horrified to learn about the rumor and begins to note how the comment ruined her high school relationships. To make the offensive punchline even worse, Chandler calls her the “hermaphrodite cheerleader from Long Island” and Monica explains that she knew about the rumor but was worried Rachel would “cry and show it” to her.
“Nevermind, my girlfriend’s a lesbian.”
Ross has a terrible track record of making homophobic comments throughout the entirety of Friends. In the season 4 episode “The One With Rachel's New Dress,” he tells Phoebe, Joey, and Chandler that he’s worried that Emily will become a lesbian after spending time in the gym with Susan. When his friends rightfully call him out for believing that Emily would change her sexual orientation after hanging out with a new friend, Ross escapes the conversation by calling Emily a lesbian regardless.
“If he blows into one, does the other one get bigger?”
In Season 2, Episode 2, “The One With The Breast Milk,” Chandler and Joey are introduced to breastfeeding thanks to Carol feeding Ben in front of them. After being encouraged by Ross to ask Carol questions about breastfeeding, Joey asks, “If he [Ben] blows into one, does the other one get bigger?” Obviously a very inappropriate question, but also one that sexualizes a very natural, innocent action. I guess Chandler and Joey had never seen someone breastfeed in public. Do better, guys.
“I haven’t had sex in a very long time.”
Remember when Ross tried to kiss his cousin? Yeah, that actually happened. In Season 7, Episode 19, Ross’s cousin Cassie comes to visit unexpectedly. Cassie is undeniably beautiful, and for some incredibly wrong reason, Ross is attracted to her. While watching a movie, Ross starts to lean into Cassie for a kiss. Cassie is distraught, pulling away immediately from her cousin before he commits incest. When asked why he would ever even consider kissing his cousin, Ross says, “I haven’t had sex in a very long time,” implying that after not having sex for awhile, he’d resort to hitting on his own family members rather than remaining abstinent.
You may have missed these offensive Friends jokes the first time around, but now you’ll be able to keep an eye out for them during your next rewatch.
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