Jennifer Aniston Defends "Friends" From New Generation Who Finds It "Offensive"
The classic sitcom has been criticized for being transphobic and overwhelmingly white.
Nearly 30 years after it premiered, Friends is still hugely popular, thanks to syndication and streaming services. But, while there are fans from the original run in the 1990s and early 2000s who are rewatching episodes for the umpteenth time, there are also younger TV fans taking in the show for the first time. Not that it wasn't criticized at all at the time it was first airing, but in the years since, Friends has been reexamined and caught more flak for offensive jokes and its almost entirely white cast. In a new interview, Friends star Jennifer Aniston defended the show against what she sees as an increased "sensitivity" among a younger generation of viewers. And she's not the first Friends star to do so, either. Read on to find out what she had to say about the state of comedy today.
Friends has been accused of homophobia, sexism, and other offenses.
Look around the internet and you'll find plenty of observations and lists about Friends characters and jokes that wouldn't fly today. Elements that have been widely criticized include the treatment of the character known as "Chandler's dad," who is a transgender woman; Monica being repeatedly mocked because of her weight when she was younger; and Ross complaining that his son isn't masculine enough. The show is also lacking in diversity, with all of the main characters being white and straight, along with most of the supporting characters, as well.
Aniston said viewers are more sensitive now.
In a new interview with French news agency AFP (via Yahoo! News), Aniston, who played Rachel on the sitcom, commented on the criticism.
"There's a whole generation of people, kids, who are now going back to episodes of Friends and find them offensive," Aniston said. "There were things that were never intentional and others… well, we should have thought it through—but I don't think there was a sensitivity like there is now."
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She believes comedians are no longer "allowed to do" certain jokes.
Aniston also made her thoughts about the current state of comedy known.
"Comedy has evolved, movies have evolved," she said. "Now it's a little tricky because you have to be very careful, which makes it really hard for comedians, because the beauty of comedy is that we make fun of ourselves, make fun of life."
She said that, in the past, "you could joke about a bigot and have a laugh—that was hysterical. And it was about educating people on how ridiculous people were. And now we're not allowed to do that."
"Everybody needs funny!" the Murder Mystery 2 star went on to say. "The world needs humor! We can't take ourselves too seriously. Especially in the United States. Everyone is far too divided."
Matt LeBlanc also spoke out in defense of the sitcom.
In 2018, Aniston's co-star Matt LeBlanc referenced the reevaluation of Friends while talking about hosting the U.K. show Top Gear.
"I've heard those rumors too about people taking pot shots at Friends, but I don't want to get into that. I disagree with all that," LeBlanc said, according to the BBC. "On Top Gear we tend to steer clear of any sort of political content, nothing too topical. On Friends we steered clear of that kind of thing, too. Friends was about themes that stand the test of time—trust, love, relationships, betrayal, family and things like that."
David Schwimmer said Friends was "groundbreaking" when it aired.
David Schwimmer, who played Ross, told The Guardian in 2020, "The truth is also that show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships. The pilot of the show was my character's wife left him for a woman and there was a gay wedding, of my ex and her wife, that I attended."
He added, "I feel that a lot of the problem today in so many areas is that so little is taken in context. You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time. I'm the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time. I was already really attuned to social issues and issues of equality."
Schwimmer also claimed that he asked for more diverse casting on the show, which is why his character dated an Asian woman (Julie, played by Lauren Tom) and Black women (including Charlie, played by Aisha Tyler).