David Schwimmer is a comedic genius, but even the most well-executed joke delivery and physical comedy in the world couldn't change the fact that Ross Gellar as a character is just — to steal a Monica phrase — a buttmunch. And it's not the actor's fault at all, but Ross from Friends isn't as funny as you might remember him. He's actually kind of a nightmare.
Ross was my favorite Friend for a long time — an opinion I discovered early on was a wildly unpopular one. But "The One Where Ross Is Fine," when Ross attempts a double date with Charlie, Joey, and Rachel? That is five-star situation comedy right there, and still one of my top three favorite episodes. But as I've gotten older — and the show has too — I've realized that while Schwimmer gets a lot of funny bits to play, Ross as a person is actually kind of dreadful. Like, really dreadful.
It's no secret at this point that Ross and Rachel's relationship was far from perfect. In Season 1, Ross drops a whole barrel of cringe-worthy lines, like when he refers to asking out Rachel as "grabbing a spoon" and laments his status in the dreaded "friend zone." But arguably the least-funny running joke of the season is Ross's mounting frustration with Rachel's Italian boyfriend Paolo. Ross hates Paolo for no reason other than the fact that he is with Rachel and Ross is not. He rages and obsesses and trash talks and is blatantly rude to Paolo, even though Rachel's boyfriend has done absolutely nothing wrong (yet — I know he winds up being a perv in the end but Ross didn't know that yet). On the first few watches, it's easy to sympathize with Ross and wish that Paolo would just get out of the way so that Ross and Rachel can become Ross-And-Rachel. But on the umpteenth viewing or so, it becomes clear that Ross feels that he has some sort of right to Rachel, simply because he wants her, and thus is justified in acting like a schoolyard bully, despite the fact that he has never even asked her out on an official date.
In fact, where Ross is concerned, what at first seem like run-of-the-mill hi-jinx fairly often turn out to be worrisome social behavior that is most definitely not funny. Consider his aggressive dislike of Mark from Bloomingdales. In the iconic Season 3 episode, "The One With All The Jealousy," Ross flips his lid over the fact that Rachel is spending so much time with her new co-worker. Instead of being a supportive, caring boyfriend and being happy that Rachel is excelling in a career that she loves after years of working at the coffee house, he obsessively sends gifts to their shared office as a passive aggressive message to Mark. By the time the barbershop quartet arrives, Rachel looks noticeably uncomfortable and strained. It's not funny; it's deeply frustrating to watch Ross embarrass Rachel at her new job, and then later deny that he had any ulterior motives at all.
Fast forward to Season 6, Episode 19. Ross and Rachel have long since broken up, and Ross has transferred his damaging dating behaviors onto his former student, Elizabeth. Ross freaks out over his 20-year-old girlfriend's plans to enjoy her spring break in Florida, and he is actually so far out of line he can't even see the line (the line is a dot to him). At first he acknowledges that it's way too premature for him and Elizabeth to be planning a trip together, but once the gang teases him with the idea of Elizabeth sleeping with frat guys, he changes his mind. He follows her all the way down there, intruding where he wasn't invited, just to hover possessively over Elizabeth. If that happened in real life, Elizabeth would have been totally within her rights to report him to the proper authorities. Not funny. Creepy.
The list of women that Ross treats like punchlines is extensive. First, there's Julie, who is a perfectly nice, intelligent human being. Granted, she isn't the love of his life, but she doesn't deserve to be cheated on, either (hopefully Russ is less of a weasel than Ross). There's Mona, his Season 8 fling, who he repeatedly lies to and sometimes flat out forgets (often to copious amounts of laughter from the studio audience). Then of course, there's the most famous instance of Ross's bad behavior with women, the Incident With The Xerox Girl.
Break or no break, that wasn't fair to Rachel, or — stay with me, here — to Chloe, the Xerox girl. In "The One With The Morning After," Ross all but tosses her out of the house when he finds out that Rachel is coming over. First he cheats on Rachel, and now he's treating the girl he cheated with like hot garbage? Not OK. While him frantically looking around for her shoes and shoving her behind the door might have been semi-amusing once upon a time, now it just makes me root for him to get caught so that he can start taking some responsibility for his actions (Which, come to think of it, does he ever actually do that?)
The creme-de-la-creepy, though, comes in Season 9 Episode 6, "The One With The Male Nanny." This is perhaps one of the episodes of Friends that has aged the worst in the 16 years since it first aired, and Ross comes across looking inexplicably backward and cruel. In their search for a nanny for Emma, Ross and Rachel meet Sandy, the male nanny, played by the always-delightful Freddie Prinze Jr. Despite Emma and Rachel adoring Sandy, Ross decides they have to fire him because Ross is too uncomfortable with the idea of a guy being as sensitive as Sandy. In one of the most frustrating scenes in the show's history, Ross actually convinces Rachel to let him fire Sandy, saying, "I would never force you to hire someone you were this uncomfortable with." In the end, Ross does end up coming to terms with his own suppressed emotions (thanks to Sandy), but then he becomes the butt of the same joke himself.
I could go on — the time he wouldn't let Ben play with a Barbie ("The One With The Metaphorical Tunnel)", the time he tried to kiss his cousin ("The One With Ross and Monica's Cousin"), the time he literally assaulted two strange women on the street ("The One With Unagi")... It's not that Ross is the most vile villain ever to darken the small screen, but at the root of his character, he's selfish and immature. Once you decide to take off the rose-colored glasses, turn down the laugh track, and see Ross for what he really is, it becomes increasingly difficult to laugh at his jokes.