Why do so many people still love Friends? Because it reminds them of a time when life was joyful

 

In 2004, author Damian Barr published Get It Together: Surviving Your Quartlerlife Crisis. Barr would go on to write profound and beautiful books (including the memoir Maggie and Me) but this is not one of them. It’s a more interesting generational howl: how will this thing work? How can you become an adult under these conditions? The dream of life in your 20s – struggling to know what to do, bouncing from dead end job to dead end job but still managing to buy a huge, lovely apartment in the center of everything, failure in love, humor, while things are turning around try your best, never feel unreasonably anxious or as if you are passing through the filter of polite society, too small and weightless to be in a crowd – well, that dream cracked a little. As Barr put it in a radio interview, the question was essentially: what if Friends, then in its 10th and final season, wasn’t so true to life? living?

To be sure, the economic winds were changing: UK wages began to stagnate in 2003; in the US, graduate salaries have been falling since 2000 and health insurance has been cut for young employees, both graduate and undergraduate, since 2002. All of this, plus Student debt is growing, having shrunk after the 2007-2008 financial crisis, after which everyone was affected. become much poorer, much faster. But the conventional distinction between “young” and “carefree” of the 90s no longer held true in the mid-00s.

Like everyone, I’ve been thinking about Friends because of Matthew Perry’s early death. He’s more than the guy from Friends; His death raises deeper questions about sitcom culture, primarily about the opioid crisis and the rapacious pharmaceutical industry that created it.

It’s hard not to mourn the actor’s spirit of the ’90s, with its relentless optimism and comically low stakes. It feels like a time when nothing can go wrong, and everything that happens is worth the anecdote. Is it just about economics, you idiot? Or are there other things going on? Okay, I came of age in the 90s and I can say that everyone remembers the decade of their youth with glee, but I look at my kids now and my whole life I can’t imagine get them in 30 years, “Ah, the 2020s — crazy, stupid times.”

The funny thing about Friends is that its characters really worry about money, health care, and jobs, but they definitely don’t worry about geopolitics. Okay, that’s not the point of a sitcom – but try to imagine Ross, a scientist, now never thinking about climate change. Today, Phoebe will be a member of Extinction Rebellion; Rachel will be interested in sustainable fashion; Monica will have seven different recycling bins rather than 11 types of towels; Joey… well, Joey would be the same. Now you can have characters who don’t worry about the future, but they’re not everyone’s characters: they’re in space, or the past, or heaven, or maybe hell.

We stopped worrying about nuclear annihilation in the ’90s – cold war and all that – and that alone gave this decade the intense hedonism that Friends seemed to reflect. reflected from the beginning, with a tighter script. Its identity politics are everywhere. The show’s unbelievable whiteness is a major flaw — what conceivable myopia would make you set a comedy in Manhattan without a major black character until Charlie arrives in season nine? And Kathleen Turner’s transgender character is a kind of piñata, a bright, colorful bag of goodies that people hit with sticks until the candy oozes out. But there is no hate in it. The two lesbian moms have created a kind, beautiful family and Ross just needs to make it work. There’s always a hint that, if no one was an idiot, everything would probably be okay.

The three factors that marked the 1990s – the economic boom, respite from all existential threats, and a general assumption of good will – are difficult to separate and can They all boil down to the economy, which is stupid. As chimeric and debt-ridden as the good old days were, it’s hard not to miss them.

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