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Questionable Things We Ignore In Friends

"Friends" (1994 to 2004) was a sitcom that pretty much redefined what it meant to have a popular show in the genre. The series hit the sweet spot for global domination thanks to its witty writing, a young and glamorous main cast, and a palpable chemistry between its actors that cannot be faked. Over 10 seasons of its run, "Friends" became one of the most popular shows in history not just in the United States but around the world. 

The series explored the lives of 20-somethings living in New York and trying to find love, along with fulfilling their professional dreams. While the premise can seem basic, it allowed the storylines on "Friends" to be relatable to young people around the world, who saw their own struggles — and hopes and fears — reflected in the main cast of the show. 

More than a decade since the series ended, "Friends" continues to hold sway over the imaginations of its fans. But the fact remains the show was a product of its time, and some of the storylines the writers created for "Friends" would not fly by today's standards of what is acceptable to make fun of. Here are some of the most questionable story arcs we got to see on the show. 

Ross had strict ideas about what being a man means

Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) was one of the three lead male characters of "Friends." Ross had seen a lot of ups and downs in his life ever since his college-sweetheart-turned-wife outed herself as a lesbian and moved out to live with another woman. The incident had a deep effect on Ross' psyche, but he still tried to make the relationship work for the sake of their son Ben, of whom they both shared custody. 

Ross was a loving and attentive father on most counts. But he had a real problem with Ben playing with a Barbie doll in "The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel" (Season 3, Episode 4). Suddenly all of Ross' fears over Ben becoming too "girly" due to being raised by two women bubbled up for him. For the entire episode, Ross kept coaxing and bribing Ben until his son finally gave up his Barbie and started playing with an action figure doll instead. 

Ross had an even worse reaction in "The One with the Male Nanny" (Season 9, Episode 6). He was deeply disturbed to find out his daughter Emma's new caretaker would be a guy. From bluntly asking the male nanny if he was gay, to repeatedly stating how weird it was to have a man be a babysitter, Ross really showed his out-of-date-thinking when it came to gender roles and the "acceptable" limits of masculinity. 

Joey was abused at a young age

Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) was the "cool guy" of the main group on "Friends." Joey was a real ladies man and an aspiring actor, who could manage to quickly impress most people with his charm and good looks. But Joey was also pretty dumb. His low IQ was mainly played for laughs, except that time it wasn't, in "The One with Ross's New Girlfriend" (Season 2, Episode 1).

When Chandler (Matthew Perry) needs to get new pants sewn, Joey recommends he try his family tailor who had been making Joey's clothes since he was a kid. Chandler hires the tailor, only to get the shock of his life when the tailor got too handsy with his nether regions. Deeply disturbed, Chandler came home to tell Joey what happened. Instead of sympathizing with Chandler's ordeal, Joey declared what the tailor had done was a normal part of getting measured for pants. 

It took a lot of convincing from Chandler and Ross to finally get Joey to see the tailor had been taking advantage of him from a young age. The news shocks Joey to his core, and he is shown lying curled up on the couch, trying to grapple with the fact that he had been sexually abused for so long without being aware of it. The whole incident is played for laughs, but it's clear it had a deeply negative effect on Joey.     

The notorious fat suit

Courteney Cox, who played Monica Geller on "Friends," was always acknowledged to be an extremely beautiful woman with a svelte figure. One recurring gag on the show involved dressing Cox up in a fat suit to portray Monica's teenage self when she had an eating problem. An "alternate timeline" episode also showed Monica still overweight in the present time. 

Whenever Cox showed up in the fat suit, it was the cue for the writers to inject a series of fat-phobic jokes into the script. From Joey exclaiming "Some girl ate Monica!" the first time he saw a video of Monica as a teenager, to Monica admitting she could not sit in a beanbag chair because it was difficult for her to get out of it on her own, to talking about a porch swing that broke when Monica sat on it, her extra weight was held up as an object of ridicule by everyone.

Cox was not the first or last actor to wear a fat suit for the sake of comedy, but the idea that there is something inherently funny about an overweight person has fallen into disrepute in recent times and seen as dehumanizing. Even though Cox herself has declared that she felt "free" while playing "Fat Monica."  

Rachel was a serial home wrecker

While "Friends" was an ensemble show, the breakout character of the series was Rachel Green, played by Jennifer Aniston, in a career-defining role. From her hairstyle to her love life, everything that Rachel did was considered iconic by her fans, and they rooted for her to figure out her life and career before the series ended. 

But while there was much to love about Rachel, there was also a strain of selfishness and self-centeredness that was difficult to get behind. Before moving in with Monica, Rachel had lived a spoiled and carefree life as the apple of her wealthy parents' eyes. This had made Rachel fall into the habit of looking out for her own interests even at the expense of others, particularly the men in her life. In the very first episode, Rachel comes to find Monica after having abandoned her would-be husband Barry (Mitchell Whitfield) at the altar. 

After that whole incident was swept under the rug, Rachel had another brief affair with Barry days before the latter was going to marry Rachel's best friend instead. Later on Rachel fell for Ross, and ended the latter's relationship with his then-girlfriend Bonnie (Christine Taylor) by convincing her to shave her head. That was not the last time Rachel interfered with Ross' love life, since she also flew to England on the eve of Ross' wedding to Emily (Helen Baxendale) to declare she still had feelings for Ross.   

Monica suffered emotional abuse since childhood

In later seasons of "Friends," Monica and Chandler became a couple and their pairing proved a huge hit with fans. Over the course of their relationship, Chandler was frequently depicted as the emotionally-damaged manchild who was able to mature as an adult thanks to the influence of his best friend and life partner Monica.

But the truth is, Monica had plenty of skeletons in her own closet when it came to her emotional health, particularly due to her sibling Ross. Early seasons of the show made it quite clear that Ross was the apple of their parents' eye, with Monica being a distant second. Her mother in particular did much emotional damage with her overly critical opinions, and by coining the phrase "Pulling a Monica" to describe a job badly done.

When Monica's mother uses the phrase on her daughter as an adult after a major screwup in "The One With the 'Cuffs" (Season 4, Episode 3), Monica looks heartbroken as she says, "You promised Dr. Weinberg you'd never use that phrase." Clearly, that comment from her mother formed a painful part of Monica's childhood, bad enough to require the intervention of a doctor. Due to her childhood trauma, Monica developed a majorly competitive spirit and a desperate need to please everyone.  

Phoebe desperately needed therapy

If the main cast of "Friends" could each be described in one word, Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) would inevitably be saddled with the word "Kooky." Phoebe was the closest thing to a peace-loving hippie "flower power" child you could get in the '90s. Which is remarkable considering her childhood reads like a horror story. 

At a very young age, Phoebe's mother committed suicide, while her step father was sent to prison. That left Phoebe living on the streets as a teenager, a period in which she admitted to mugging people, and living with all kinds of shady characters including a "guy named Sidney who talked to his hand." The unpleasant surprises did not end once Phoebe became an adult, as she discovered that the woman she knew as a kid was not her birth mother. Her real mother had walked away from her when Phoebe was an infant. 

It would be nigh-impossible for any person to grow up relatively normal under such circumstances. And yet, whenever Phoebe talked about her childhood trauma to her friends, they rarely expressed sympathy or shock. Instead, Phoebe's experiences became a source of comedy, with the other characters giving each other the side eye and looking awkward whenever Phoebe brought up her painful past. When it came to getting Phoebe the help she needed to cope with her childhood issues, the show's theme song lyrics "I'll be there for you" didn't seem to apply to the rest of the gang. 

Joey was a borderline addict

As mentioned earlier, Joey was the hotshot ladies' man who could get almost any girl he wanted. And boy, did he want a lot of girls. Over the course of the series, many hints are given as to the number of women Joey bedded. While a definite number is impossible to arrive at, one fan estimated that Joey had been with over 50 women that were definitely confirmed. 

Even that number, much higher than average, feels on the low side considering Joey's history. This is the guy who had so many one-night stands that he straight-up forgot whether or not he had already been with a woman he was dating. Another time he forgot the name of a woman he had been with who turned out to be a social worker in charge of Monica and Chandler's adoption request. 

While Joey has been with many women, he showed little desire to get to know them as real people and usually merely treated them as objects of desire. When asked to choose between giving up food or intercourse, Joey almost had a stroke trying to pick one option. All these signs indicate that Joey, while not a full-blown s*x-addict, toed the line pretty closely, at least until he finally developed real feelings for Rachel.    

Did Joey try to end his life?

Joey was the only one who remained single until the end of "Friends." But despite being a avowed bachelor, there was one time that Joey fell for a woman hard, and that woman was Rachel.

He developed feelings for Rachel after she moved in with him in later seasons. While Joey tried to tell himself it was just a crush, those feelings only grew over time. There came a time when Rachel started to reciprocate his feelings, and the two went on an official date. But they realized that they were too close as friends to allow themselves to be anything more. 

Despite the relationship ending, Rachel remained the woman Joey had the strongest feelings for. So much so that when it came time to bid Rachel farewell as she was moving to another country, Joey was so overwhelmed that he tried to jump off a balcony. The moment was played for laughs, but really there's nothing funny about a man wanting to kill himself due to being unable to deal with his feelings.

So many jokes about LGBTQAI+

At the time of its original airing, "Friends" took the bold step of showing prominent transgender and lesbian characters, two female partners raising a child together, and even a queer wedding. But despite its willingness to show such subjects in a positive light, the series still skewed toward its hetero-normative audience by making the queer characters walking punchlines.

Ross' entire journey of finding out his wife loved women was filled with jokes about lesbians and their lifestyles. Such lines as when Joey said, "Just seems like Ross is the kind of guy who'd marry a woman on the verge of being a lesbian and then push her over the edge," are suspect at best, with straight-couple romances never being called into question in a similar manner.

But even worse was Chandler's father, who was introduced as a transgender drag queen played by Kathleen Turner. Once again the character's very existence was used to make jokes about how uncomfortable she made the main cast of characters. With the benefit of hindsight, Turner has stated in recent times that while she enjoyed playing the character, she would turn the role down if it was offered to her in the present day.  

Everyone used Monica

In the very first episode of "Friends," Rachel shows up uninvited after running away from her marriage and basically guilts Monica into letting her stay in the latter's apartment despite not having a job or being able to contribute to the rent. What makes it worse is that it is revealed in a later episode that Rachel had cut Monica out of her life since high school, and had not even bothered to invite her to her wedding. Monica took on all of Rachel's pleas for help sportingly, just like she did with everyone else in the main cast. 

Everyone was always hanging out at Monica's apartment, but very rarely helped her with its cleaning or upkeep. Instead, they made fun of Monica's OCD habits to her face and made her feel bad about caring too much about the little things. In fact, the entire episode "The One Where Underdog Gets Away" (Season 1, Episode 9) was all about the gang manipulating Monica into making an extravagant Thanksgiving meal and ultimately being ungrateful for how much effort she had put into trying to make the holiday memorable for everyone. 

This habit of taking advantage of Monica's competitive nature and her desire to please everyone continued to be a trend in later episodes. It would have been nice if someone had taken the time to sit down with Monica and assure her they would still love her just as much even if she didn't work herself to the bone doing stuff for others all the time.  

Ross had serious rage issues

Ross Geller started out as the most reasonable member of the main group on "Friends." He was the straight man to the zany antics of Joey and Chandler. But Ross was not without his own set of quirks, which grew in both quantity and quality as more of his life fell apart after his first divorce, second divorce, and third. 

Things got really bad, and Ross started acting out at work. So much so that they had to put him on sabbatical while he got his anger issues under control with the help of medication. There was a time when Ross appeared to get better, and was offered his job back at the university. But he immediately proved he was still not all right when he spied Chandler and Monica getting intimate and had another outburst. 

Ross' anger issues were not brought up again in the last few seasons. But it was clear he was still far from all right, like when he was trying to cope with the fact that Rachel was dating Joey, and ended up severely burning his hands while trying to pretend he was unbothered. Honestly, it's a good thing he got back together with Rachel in the end, because Ross' sanity would probably not have been able to handle a fourth divorce.

Chandler never got the respect he deserved

Chandler Bing was in many ways projected as the "loser" of the main group on "Friends." Jokes were constantly made about him appearing gay, unmanly, being terrified of ending up alone, and having no success with women. Chandler's habit of using humor as a defense mechanism was also frequently described as annoying, while the rest of the gang never even bothered to learn his real job. 

But was Chandler really the perennial loser the show kept insisting he was? The dude was a good looking guy, since the actor who played him managed to date a lot of "It" girls in real life. Chandler was also easily the most charismatic guy in the main group, apart from being well-read, empathetic, and really good at his high-paying job. Even Chandler's constant jokes and quips that so annoyed the other friends on the show were usually the funniest parts of each episode.  

All in all, considering how much money Chandler spent supporting Joey in his "insolvent actor" days, how understanding he always was of Monica's many annoying quirks, and the number of times he unhesitatingly lent a shoulder of support to Ross, Rachel, and Phoebe, the guy deserved a better reputation within the group than simply being known as the annoying character who makes jokes all the time.  

Phoebe got worse with each new season

The first few seasons of "Friends" showed an endearingly sweet side to Phoebe. She believed in a magical world where music had the power to heal and taking care of her friends and family was the most important thing in the world. This Phoebe was consistently nice and self-sacrificing, like the time she became a surrogate mother for her brother.   

But gradually with later seasons, the sweet and absent-minded Phoebe started showing a more caustic side to her nature that seemed to come out of nowhere. It started with her pregnancy hormones, which made Phoebe a nightmare to be around. But even after the babies were delivered, Phoebe's personality continued to take on a much harder edge. 

She became dismissive of the other characters, especially Chandler, like the time she slammed the door in his face when Chandler was trying to say goodbye to his friends before leaving for Tulsa. Phoebe also spent a lot more time yelling at the other characters and generally being an unpleasant person, all for the sake of comedy. 

Joey took advantage of his stardom

We've already discussed how often Joey found a new girl to have a one-night stand with. The guy was charming and good-looking, and he never had to work very hard to get close to a woman. But Joey was also not above using any unfair advantage fate might throw his way on his relentless quest to sleep with every pretty girl in New York.

This habit took a discomfiting turn when Joey eventually became a popular television star. In "The One Where Rachel Goes Back to Work" (Season 9, Episode 11), Phoebe works as an extra on a set where Joey was a regular cast member. At one point, it is revealed that Joey has slept with a number of women working on the show, who were all angry that he never called them back after spending the night together. 

In today's era of #MeToo, the fact that Joey took advantage of his power on the sets of his show to sleep with women who worked under him would be seen as extremely suspect. Especially after Joey's response to the women complaining about his behavior toward them was to suggest that they should be fired and replaced with a new set of females that he would then also probably try to hit on.