13 ‘Friends’ Storylines That Wouldn’t Fly Today

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This article contains discussions of homophobia, transphobia, suicide, and sexual assault.


Created by Davin Crane and Marta Kauffman, Friends is one of the most iconic sitcoms in television history, airing on NBC for 10 seasons from 1994 through 2004. Praised for its humor and the chemistry between its cast, the show became an icon of ’90s television and remains beloved by millions of fans worldwide. However, like any show that goes on for too long, Friends became susceptible to telling jokes that would not fly in 2024.

From the abundance of homophobia and transphobia to the unbelievably tone-deaf gender stereotypes and jokes surrounding people’s looks, Friends is full of content that a modern sitcom would not be able to get away with today. These things might make audiences cringe while they watch all those reruns on TBS or binge-watch the entire series on HBO Max.

Friends

Ross Geller, Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Joey Tribbiani, Chandler Bing, and Phoebe Buffay are six twenty-somethings living in New York City. Over the course of 10 years and seasons, these friends go through life lessons, family, love, drama, friendship, and comedy.

Release Date
September 22, 1994

Seasons
10


13 Joey’s Dating Habits

“How you doin’?”

Joey from friends asking his classic pick up line
Image via Warner Bros. Television

Played by the incredibly talented Matt LeBlanc, Joey Tribbiani was one of the show’s undeniable stars. Joey was at the heart of many memorable aspects of this beloved sitcom; he often got the funniest lines and made one of the best duos in Friends with his bestie, Chandler. However, Joey’s dating habits have not aged well, to the point where they sometimes seem cringe and even offensive.

Like many other sitcom lotharios, including Barney Stinson and Charlie Harper, Joey’s treatment of women seems off by today’s standards. From treating women as disposable one-night stands to objectifying them, Joey can be genuinely awful to his dates. And while he isn’t as bad as Barney or Charlie—in fact, Joey is more often than not a sweet guy, especially to his female friends—his careless and one-sided treatment of women is still awkward to watch.

12 Monica’s Questionable Romance With Ethan

Yes, young Ethan was really that young

Young Ethan talking to Monica in Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

Just how young was Young Ethan? That’s the question Monica’s friends ask her when she starts dating the youthful guy who claims to be a senior in college. She treats their question as nothing more than banter and continues dating the dubiously young yet sweet guy. However, his deceit comes to life after he sleeps with Monica, confessing he is a senior in high school; thus, he’s seventeen.

The storyline gets resolved with an amiable break-up and some teasing toward Monica. However, it remains a creepy and problematic development, especially because Monica acknowledges sleeping with him makes her “a felon in forty-eight states.” At least he only appears in one episode, but that’s more than enough to raise an eyebrow at the show for even attempting this storyline.

11 Phoebe’s Past

“How have you never been on Oprah?”

Phoebe Buffay smiling at a cat in Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

Phoebe is the best character in Friends, and it’s pretty undeniable. Thanks to Lisa Kudrow‘s comedic timing and natural ability to deliver a well-timed joke, Phoebe is the show’s beating heart, a quirky and spontaneous breath of fresh air in a group of mostly straight-laced young adults. Phoebe’s early life was complicated and full of trauma, spending years homeless after her father left and her mother died by suicide.

The show usually uses Phoebe’s tragic past to make a joke. Furthermore, her friends make light of her situation, usually expressing shock or discomfort whenever she discusses her upbringing. At times, they even make snarky comments about her past, like when Monica attributes Phoebe’s supposed stint in porn to her “terrible childhood.” Phoebe has a sense of humor about it, but her friends should support her, not judge her behind her back.

10 Rachel and Tag’s Relationship

Workplace romance never ends well

Rachel and Tag at the office in Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

Rachel and Tag are among the most famous couples in Friends. However, their romance is incredibly creepy; for starters, she’s his boss, so there is an imbalance of power in their dynamic. She also hires him only because she is attracted to him, sending him to fire the more qualified candidate she had previously chosen.

Furthermore, Rachel behaves incredibly inappropriately toward Tag before they get together. She lies about him being gay to prevent other women from approaching him, convinces Joey to befriend him to try and talk him out of dating, and goes through his stuff while he’s not around—she even smells his clothes. Rachel and Tag were sweet together, but her behavior before the relationship was creepy and borderline stalker; no one could’ve blamed him if he got a restraining order against her.

9 Ross’ Behavior Towards His Cousin

The single worst storyline on Friends by far!

Cousin Cassie smiling at Ross in Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

No storyline in Friends is more disturbing and outright reprehensible than the time Ross made a pass at his cousin, Cassie. Played by Denise Richards, Cassie is Ross and Monica’s cousin who stays with them during a visit to New York. Chandler keeps staring and making her uncomfortable, prompting her to stay with Ross, obviously expecting her blood relative to behave better. He doesn’t.

During the episode’s climax, Ross deludes himself into thinking Cassie is actually interested in him because she put on a movie and dimmed the lights. He then tries to kiss her, not caring that she is his cousin; naturally, she pulls away and storms out, leaving Ross feeling embarrassed and guilty, as he should. Simply put, the storyline is puzzling and gross; it was wrong in the early 2000s and is still wrong today. Ross is one of television’s most questionable characters, but his behavior toward his cousin remains his worst moment.

8 “I Married A Lesbian!”

Carol and Susan were much more than a punchline

Carol And Susan at their wedding turning back to see something off-camera in Friends'
Image via Warner Bros. Television

It’s hard to think of Ross and forget that he was once married to a lesbian. That’s because Friends relentlessly reminds the audience of it, making his ex-wife, Carol, and her new partner, Susan, the butt of several jokes throughout the series. Most of them revolve around Ross’ discomfort with the situation, but the punchline always seems to be, “Lol. Lesbians.” Chandler and Joey also fetishize their relationship, adding an uncomfortable layer to this already questionable storyline.

This blatant homophobia would definitely not be seen on television today, especially when television has made much progress in representing many LGBTQ+ characters and couples in recent years. To Friends‘ credit, it was among the first major shows to even include a major LGBTQ+ storyline in a somewhat positive light. Still, it could’ve done so much better by simply treating Carol and Susan like real characters rather than ideas.

7 Chandler’s Transphobia

Justice for Helena Handbasket!

Chandler and his parents walking down the aisle in Friends.
Image via Warner Bros. Television

The 90s made a very bad habit of making jokes at the expense of the LGBTQ+, Friends notwithstanding. Chandler’s parents’ divorce was a running gag in Friends, with the show revealing one of his parents was a trans woman who worked as an entertainer in Las Vegas under the name Helena Handbasket.

Not only was the transgender character – played by iconic 80s actress Kathleen Turner – joked about at every opportunity, but Chandler never even attempted to hide his transphobia. The show’s resident funny man often misgendered his parent and cringed at the sight of her in a dress & makeup at his wedding. It’s one of the show’s ugliest storylines, one fans wish could stay buried in the early 2000s.

6 Fat-shaming

Monica’s weight should’ve never been treated as a joke

Monica dancing while eating a donut in Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

It was always a strange trend in sitcoms to fat-shame overweight characters and joke about their size. How I Met Your Mother did this often with the character Patrice. Friends did the same thing throughout most of its run, using one of its lead characters to tell a painful storyline of fat-shaming.

It’s no secret Monica used to be overweight in her teenage years; flashbacks throughout the series reveal as much. But when the sole purpose of making a character overweight is to insult them or joke about it, it’s not exactly funny or something any reputable television show would do today. Every time Monica’s weight was mentioned, it was either as an insult or as a “look how far you’ve come!” moment as if her previous weight had been some kind of punishment she rightfully overcame. Monica’s weight remains one of Friends‘ most contentious storylines, to the point it might ruin the fun for some fans.

5 The Male Nanny

Yes, Ross, men can be nannies

Ross and Rachel interviewing Sandy on Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

Who doesn’t remember “The One with the Male Nanny” from Season 9? The episode centers around Ross and Rachel’s search for a nanny to watch Emma. After many interviews, they finally find Sandy, a male nanny played by Freddie Prinze Jr., who Rachel loves but Ross despises for no other reason than being a man in a so-called “girly” profession.

Ross makes clear his dislike of having a male nanny, going so far as asking Sandy his sexual preferences, assuming he must be gay or “at least bi.” Ignoring the blatant ignorance in Ross’ statement, the episode plays on tired tropes on gender roles, an issue Friends was decidedly not equipped to tackle. “The One with the Male Nanny” is problematic on Ross’ end from start to finish, at least Rachel was well with the times.

4 Ugly Naked Guy

Leave the man be!

Ross talking to Ugly Naked Guy in Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

Despite being an off-screen character, Ugly Naked Guy is among Friends‘ most memorable recurring figures. He lives in the building across from Monica and Rachel’s apartment and often walks around unclothed for all the friends to see from the big bay window. The group often comments on his body dismissively; after all, they call him “Ugly Naked Guy.”

The issue isn’t the character but the show’s treatment of him. This verges on more fat-shaming, as Phoebe once admitted that Ugly Naked Guy used to be cute before gaining weight. Even using the word “ugly” to describe anyone in bad taste. The fact the friends got so much glee out of doing so is just damaging and mean-spirited behavior, especially when the poor guy was bothering no one.

3 The Immaturity Surrounding Breastfeeding

Grow up, won’t you, fellas?

Chandler and Joey looking in the same direciton with confused expressions in Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

In a world full of breastfeeding freedoms and “Free the Nipple” campaigns, it’s hard to imagine a time when something as beautiful and natural as breastfeeding was ever a thing of disgust or discomfort. Yet, the subject was still taboo in the 90s, and mainstream attempts to include it in the conversation were usually through a narrow and mocking approach.

Friends certainly didn’t help the cause when Joey and Chandler couldn’t handle seeing Carol breastfeeding Ben. Confronted by Ross on their childish behavior, they retort with sheepish and eventually mature remarks that reduce the conversation to another of the show’s jokes. It may have been slightly understandable for the 90s, but their immature reactions would certainly not bode well on television today. And it’s unfortunate because Chandler and Joey were great together, even if their childishness often got the best of them.

2 Ben’s Dolls

Everyone wants to live in Barbieland!

Ross showing a G.I. Joe to baby Ben in Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

As if Ross couldn’t be any more sexist, he had to go and whine about his toddler son playing with Barbies. His masculinity issues aren’t just implied when he attempts to switch out Ben’s Barbie for an action figure. Ross even straight up says to Rachel, “Why is my boy playing with a Barbie?” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with playing with dolls; Ross himself used to embrace his feminine side by dressing as a woman and hosting tea parties. However, he seems unable to process such behavior as an adult.

Between not being allowed to play with dolls and the male nanny fiasco, the amount of damage Ross probably did to Ben is enough to send Cole Sprouse‘s character to therapy for the rest of his life. Friends did a decent job exploring Ross’ flawed psyche and explaining where his masculinity issues came from – however, it also went out of its way to show how little he learned over the years.

1 Workplace Sexual Assault

Come on, Friends, do better!

Phoebe Buffay with her guitar in Friends
Image via Warner Bros. Television

Any sexual misconduct in the workplace is no laughing matter… unless it’s on Friends. While working as a masseuse, Phoebe gets assaulted by Paolo, who also happens to be Rachel’s boyfriend at the time. Rather than being treated with the seriousness it warrants, the scene is played for laughs and used as a plot point in the ever-evolving Ross/Rachel romance.

Friends never even acknowledges that Phoebe got sexually assaulted; all it cares about is that it was Paolo who did it. Indeed, the attention immediately goes to Rachel; even Phoebe cares more about her friend than herself. It’s a very clumsy, misguided, and reprehensible choice, one that, luckily, would never fly today. These storylines did considerable damage to how sexual assault is depicted on television, and unfortunately, the industry is still dealing with the consequences.

Friends is available to stream on Max.

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