The Bizarre Self-Cancellation of ‘Friends’

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It’s amazing how quickly pop culture has changed over the years. I have to admit, as a parent, I miss the 1980s when it was far easier to find shows that the whole family could watch together. In hindsight, I observed a remarkable change in the 1990s with sitcoms becoming increasingly edgy, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. At the time, it didn’t bother me. Heck, my favorite show as a teenager was Seinfeld — which, while arguably tame by today’s standards, was occasionally inappropriate for me when I first started watching it in the early 1990s — and I certainly wouldn’t attempt to watch the show now with my son in earshot.

Nowadays, Seinfeld is hardly controversial, but another NBC sitcom, which was another staple of Thursday night television viewing when it originally aired, has not been so lucky. Friends, a widely celebrated cultural phenomenon during its original run, has since become the target of the woke left for its lack of diversity because of its all-white ensemble cast — so much so that the show’s co-creator, Marta Kauffman, is apologizing for it 18 years after the show ended.

“Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy,” Kauffman said. “It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”

After years of thinking the show was unfairly targeted for criticism, Kauffman now admits that the show failed to be more “inclusive” and that this was because of her internalization of systemic racism — which she only was able to see after (wait for it) the murder of George Floyd.

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Can you hear me cringe? Look, it’s been a while since I’ve watched the show, but they certainly had minority characters. Maybe they weren’t in the main cast, but sometimes, certain groups of actors have a unique chemistry that transcends racial quotas — even in Hollywood. Does anyone really believe that the show’s creators sought to make an all-white main cast? I don’t. I know it’s hard to believe, but perhaps they simply sought to find the right actors for the characters they’d written?

Sure enough, it’s hard to imagine swapping even just one of the main characters for someone else and it feeling like the same show. Yet Kauffman not only feels she has to apologize for it but feels she has to pay reparations for it.

I’m not kidding: she has pledged $4 million to Brandeis University, her alma mater, to establish an endowed professorship in the school’s African and African American studies department. I’m not sure how that fixes anything, but hey, it’s her money.

But Friends isn’t just being criticized for being too white. The famed sitcom is also getting new criticism for how it handled trans issues — namely the “misgendering” of character Chandler Bing’s father, who was written as a gay drag show performer on the show but now falls under the large and ambiguous umbrella term “transgender,” and so, calling the character Chandler’s father and using male pronouns is problematic.

“We kept referring to her as Chandler’s father, even though Chandler’s father was trans,” Kauffman said. “Pronouns were not yet something that I understood. So, we didn’t refer to that character as she. That was a mistake.”

A mistake? Really? First of all, could anyone have predicted the current transgender craze at the time of the show’s original run? No, of course not. The transgender craze is arguably brand new, taking this country over by storm. Would anyone have had the foresight to know about preferred pronouns, misgendering, and all the other ridiculous things that have become mainstream in today’s woke culture?

Friends was undoubtedly very progressive for the time. In the show’s second season, there was an episode centering on a same-sex wedding — nearly twenty years before same-sex marriage was legal in the United States, and 15 years before it was legal in New York, where the show was set. Yet the show’s creators feel they have to apologize for not anticipating that decades later, drag queens would eventually fall under the transgender umbrella?

Call me crazy, but the real problem here is how ridiculous cancel culture has become, not that Friends was transphobic.

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