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The Friends Question Fans Have About The Good Place

During its four season run on NBC, The Good Place dropped plenty of pop culture references (and even more obscure philosophy references), but Lisa Kudrow's appearance in the final two episodes of the series left fans with some serious questions. After all, Michael (Ted Danson) establishes himself as a die hard Friends fan way back in season 1, and the references to the Central Perk gang just keep coming after that. At one point, he even tried to persuade the Judge (Maya Rudolph) to reconsider the morality-based points system by saying, "Are you gonna sit there and say that every single Friend belongs in hell? I mean, maybe Ross and Rachel, and Monica and Joey, and definitely Chandler...but Phoebe?" 

It turns out Phoebe did make it to the Good Place in a roundabout sort of way: Kudrow appeared as the ancient Greek philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria. Chidi (William Jackson Harper) geeks out when he gets to actually meet one of his favorite philosophers, but as Reddit user datasian_ points out, no one notices or comments on the fact that Hypatia of Alexandria looks a whole lot like Kudrow, who plays Michael's favorite Friend, Phoebe. "This wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the many references they had about Friends, so we know the show exists and I remember Michael listing all the characters, including Phoebe," they wrote. "So does someone else play Phoebe? I mean that would be an easy answer but I doubt the show would be as popular without her (Debatable)."

Another user, CherryTeri, suggested that, "Maybe avatars are repeated after so many years." But behind the scenes, how did this happen?

The lure of casting Lisa Kudrow trumped continuity for The Good Place ... and another popular sitcom

The Good Place series creator Mike Schur didn't forget about the show's many Friends references when he reached out to Kudrow, he simply knew she was the only person who could play Hypatia. In a January 2020 interview with Variety, Schur explained, "When we designed the character we knew she had to be foggy-brained and carry that comedic tone, and Lisa was the only person that made sense for this."

The Good Place isn't the only show where this exact scenario happened, either. Kudrow's talents outweighed the Friends of it all for Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, too: Over the course of the series, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) and her pals made multiple references to the classic sitcom, including Kimmy's lament that the internet is ruining everything because "it's just a bunch of Chandlers," but she's not the least bit surprised when her mom looks exactly like Phoebe from Friends.

"It was a first choice thing. Thank god she wanted to do it," showrunner Robert Carlock told The Hollywood Reporter, about casting Kudrow. "We wanted to find somebody who could tell a story where you understood where [Kimmy] came from, with this optimism and sunniness and strength. They both are very good at moving forward, grinning and bearing it, and having fun. I just think there is no actress other than Lisa who encapsulates that."

The lesson here seems to be that, sometimes, the need for a dose of Kudrow in a sitcom is more important than worrying about all those Friends references a show previously made. 

Before The Good Place, Friends was all about creating a sitcom paradox for the sake of a good guest star

For a show as detail-oriented as The Good Place, it does seem odd that a Friends cast member showed up in a different role without comment. But in actual fact, The Good Place is far from the first sitcom to make an actor or show specific pop culture reference, and later have that actor appear as a completely different character on the series. In fact, Friends is guilty of creating its share of paradoxes itself. Most famously, Ross (David Schwimmer) cracks a joke about Magnum P.I. shortly after Monica (Courtney Cox) and Richard's break up — which is weird since Richard is played is Tom Selleck, who played Magnum in the eighties classic.

Additionally, Ross also claims he's responsible for the idea behind Jurassic Park (sorry, Michael Crichton), but in season 9, Joey's (Matt LeBlanc) theater director is played by Jurassic Park star Jeff Goldblum, without anyone making a comment about the resemblance. Ross also had not one, but two famous actresses from the "freebies" list he makes with Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) show up as fictional characters on the show, in later seasons — Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder — and never once does anyone mention that they bear a striking resemblance to the movie stars in question.

Basically, all sitcoms, including one as smart as The Good Place, seem to operate under the mandate that rules are made to be broken — especially if it means landing the perfect guest star.