6 Things ‘Friends’ Didn’t Understand About The 90’s
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those articles that retro-blames Friends humor and storylines for not being inclusive and enlightened.
Instead, we’re going to identify the stuff that was wrong in the moment -- not morally wrong, but “young people in 1990s New York just didn’t live like that” wrong. Seriously -- we knew people who were there.
The GenX cast members were nothing like Generation X
Well, let’s be more specific.
The Friends were probably like some young people in the 1990s--just not the young people with whom we most identify as Generation X. We’re talking about the kids we see in movies like Slacker and Clerks, flannel-wearing, chain-smoking, unemployed, indie-alt types who hated anything that could be labeled “mainstream.”
The closest thing to a Gen X show was probably My So-Called Life, says Chuck Klosterman in The Nineties: A Book. It only lasted one season, unlike the Friends juggernaut.
“Friends plays against the concept of Generation X,” says Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman, choosing to appeal to viewers with a little more disposable income. “(Our characters are) mostly motivated. Their clothes are clean, unlike Ethan Hawke, who wore the dirtiest things in Reality Bites.”
That was no accident. By appearing to be of no decade, argues Klosterman, Friends could appeal to broader demographics--and get renewed for ten seasons.
We won’t belabor this but … the apartments
We’re far from the first to point this out, so we’ll keep it short. Joey was constantly out of work. Phoebe picks up odd jobs. At least for a season or two, Rachel works in a coffee shop.
You pretty much needed to be a Giuliani to afford the enormous apartments in which these guys lived.
Actually, the part about having sh***y, intermittent jobs is one of the only things Friends got right.
Despite living in Manhattan, they go to see live music once. (We’re not counting Smelly Cat.)
A bunch of cool bands formed in the New York area in the 1990s, like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Nada Surf, and the Wu-Tang Clan.
Ross, Chandler, and Monica go to see Hootie and the Blowfish.
Let’s go with it -- weirdly affluent young people in one of the greatest music cities in the world go to one concert and it’s Hootie and the Blowfish. Sure, fine, whatever. The band was super-popular.
But Friends even gets that wrong! In 1995, Hootie and the Blowfish were selling out stadiums and coliseums. Ross and the gang check out the band in the most unconvincing concert venue possible -- two aisles of seats that run six across, flanked by red velvet drapes. It looks like a nice community theater set up for a night of amateur cabaret.
Give Hootie credit -- neither he nor a single Blowfish showed up to embarrass themselves on screen, although according to the episode, one Blowfish gave Monica an offscreen hickey.
Joey seems to live in an AIDS-less time bubble.
Because someone counted, we know that Joey has sex with at least 17 partners over the course of the show. These 17, mind you, are the ones who got a few seconds of screen time. Beyond the lucky 17, there are countless examples of Joey describing the amazing sex he had with women we never meet. Let’s put the over/under at 50.
All of this sex occurs during one of the scariest times for sex in American history. We’re not saying Joey was totally irresponsible -- on at least two occasions, we learn that he uses condoms though he’s not exactly aware of how they work -- but the risks of sleeping with randos are never mentioned.
1990s New York has an amazing lack of diversity.
Check out the Hootie video above -- there are almost more people of color in the band (1) than in the entire NYC crowd watching the show (we count 2). How about Central Perk -- sure, white people love them some coffee but only white people?
Have you ever walked down a sidewalk in New York?
We can only think of two people of color with more than a couple of lines on the show, and both of them dated Ross.
Not only did no one smoke weed, it barely exists.
Like President Bill Clinton, pot was something that Ross tried in college. Once. Out of the six friends, apparently not one had gotten high as an adult.
This is … extraordinary behavior for young people in 1990s New York. Trust us -- we know people who were there.
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Top image: Warner Bros.