Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Friends Question That Still Has Fans Scratching Their Heads

Like many long-running sitcoms, "Friends" has its share of plot inconsistencies, but there's one question in particular that's still haunting fans of the show. And that question is what happened to the gang in 1996? Now, technically, we know exactly what happened to Ross, Rachel, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, and Chandler in 1996, because the back half of Season 2 and first half of Season 3 aired that year.

Still, it seems to be a fairly pivotal year for the group, because later in the series they just keep cracking jokes about it. Reddit user Karuna9627 pointed out two separate jokes with punchlines that hinge on some weirdness going down in '96. First, in Season 5, Monica snarkily tells her brother, Ross, his hair hasn't moved since 1996.

Later on in Season 9, Rachel worries she may have left the stove on after baby Emma gets locked inside the apartment alone. This time it's Ross who tosses out a well-timed '96 joke when he insists Rachel hasn't cooked since that year. (Which is 100% inaccurate since Rachel whipped up her famed shepherd's pie-dessert trifle combo during the Thanksgiving of 1999.)

So what is it about 1996 that led the friends of "Friends" to use it as a punchline in their jokes for years to come? The answer may lie in just how pivotal that particular year was for the show.

Ross and Rachel were in a serious relationship on Friends in 1996

Let's start with Ross' joke. The simple reason why he would toss out '96 as the last time Rachel cooked is because that's the year they were romantically involved. Ross is intentionally being hyperbolic, while also taking a shot at Rach's cooking skills.

It's been well-established over the years that Rachel doesn't know her way around the kitchen. In Season 4, she even enlists Monica's help to convince her date she can cook. When she later complains about Monica's meal plan for the evening, her pal says she can either have gourmet salmon or serve her date diet coke and a baked potato.

That incident combined with the infamous trifle debacle makes it clear Rachel isn't a natural cook. And it makes sense Ross would focus on the time they were together when making a crack about her cooking skills.

From Season 3 to Season 5 of Friends, Ross was stuck in a hair rut

Next up is Monica's joke about Ross' hair, which upon closer inspection is dead on. Early on in the series, Ross' hair went through a few different stages. In Season 1 and Season 2, he kept his hair closely cropped and way over-gelled. It wasn't a great look, but it was fairly appropriate for the early '90s.

By the time Season 3 rolled around, Ross adopted a slightly longer style, but he just kept on slathering his hair with gel. He kept this up straight through until the early episodes of Season 5 when he let it grow out substantially. This period coincided with his mental health struggles after Emily left him at the altar.

But once he started feeling like himself again, the gel returned — hence Monica's joke about Ross' hair not moving. While she could have easily picked a different year as an example, no one can fault the writers for defaulting back to '96. After all, '96 was the year "Friends" took off in the ratings and cemented itself as a pop culture juggernaut. 

In the end, these two highly specific jokes aren't covering up some strange hair/cooking incident that occurred in 1996. Instead, they're simply harking back to the era when "Friends" became a major hit.