For many of us, "Friends" has become the ultimate comfort show. Even though it ended in 2004, the beloved sitcom has managed to stay relevant decades later because of the number of people who continue to rewatch it. Many older shows age well upon revisiting because their themes still feel fresh and relatable. But for "Friends" the neverending re-runs bring with them a sad realization that the show was much more problematic than we remember. "Friends" had a glaring lack of diversity, with only a handful of people of color appearing in prominent roles throughout its 10 seasons.
It features homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic, and sexist jokes that would be completely unacceptable today. And, of course, there's the infamous episode where Ross tries to make a move on his cousin. Given all this, the cast commonly gets asked about their views on "Friends" in the present day. Jennifer Aniston answered this question during a New York Post interview by acknowledging that the younger generation of fans finds the show problematic.
As for the controversial bits, she 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." Aniston added that comedy has changed to adapt to this, noting, "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."
Jennifer Aniston told the New York Post that "Friends" originated at a time when people didn't take themselves so seriously and could have a laugh at some serious world issues. She said, "That was hysterical, and it was about educating people on how ridiculous people were, and now we're not allowed to do that." Overall, she wishes people would ease up a little bit and take a joke. As you can imagine, these comments weren't well-received on social media.
Many argued that they refused to watch the show because it was more unfunny than offensive. Some joked that they weren't aware that "Friends" was supposed to be funny. Others pointed out that they had a right to feel offended by the show's themes. Very few agreed with Aniston's belief that people are overly sensitive now. In fact, her "Friends" co-stars had some interesting things to say about the sitcom. When The Times asked Lisa Kudrow how the show would differ in the present day, she said the casting would be more inclusive.
Interestingly, Kudrow felt that the sitcom's themes were progressive for the '90s. She alluded to moments like Phoebe's surrogacy and Ross' unconventional family life. The actor also told the Daily Beast the show's lack of diversity might be because of the creators' backgrounds. As Kudrow asserted, "You write what you know. They have no business writing stories about the experiences of being a person of color."
During a "Friends" reunion interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the show's three creators briefly discussed what they would've done differently in the present day. Kevin Bright proudly stood behind his casting choices, confirming, "I don't have any regrets other than hindsight. I would have been insane not to hire those six actors. What can I say? I wish Lisa was Black?" But he noted that co-creator Marta Kauffman shared a different sentiment.
Over the years, Kauffman has expressed deep regret about some of the show's creative choices and vowed to do better. In 2022, she donated $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University, hoping to fund an endowed professorship in the university's African American department. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, she chalked up the lack of inclusivity on "Friends" to her internalized systematic racism. Although Kauffman initially believed the sitcom was punished too harshly for its mistake because most shows from the '90s suffered from similar issues, she now believes the criticism is well-deserved.
Kauffman explained that she was forced to confront her prejudices after George Floyd's murder. "I've learned a lot in the last 20 years," she said. "Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It's painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know better 25 years ago." Kauffman stressed that admitting her shame wasn't enough for her because her words wouldn't change anything. So, she promised to seek diverse actors and creators for future projects.