Meredith dives into the popularity of the TV show Friends, and explains how it has managed to stay popular long after its final episode.
Over a quarter of a century since the original release, Friends is one of the most-watched sitcoms of all time. From 1994 to 2004 there have been 10 seasons and 236 episodes; to say Friends was a hit would be an understatement. When the show premiered in 1994, it was everywhere pretty much instantly. Coffee shops became people’s second homes, the theme song played on every speaker, and more and more hairdressers were frequently asked to do “The Rachel” hairstyle. USA Today reported in 2015 that Warner Bros earns around $1 billion every year from Friends. Of that one billion, 2% (or 20 million) goes to each of the six main stars every single year. Of course, Friends concluded before the boom of streaming services and the mass commodification of online entertainment. So, how is Friends still relevant to 21st century viewers, when all you could do when it aired was channel surf?
Sitcoms are some of the easiest shows to watch; a continuous cast and a familiar set make for an extremely bingeable TV programme. Such predictability is what creates a safe environment for viewers. Furthermore, Friends was able to create the perfect balance between the “sit” and the “com” – where there’s enough humour to compliment the familiar characters. Friends is a compellingly easy and hopeful show: the title should hopefully at least give that away. In addition, the life portrayed by the characters seems a lot easier and carefree than in our digital age. Not only does the show have an element of nostalgia, but it also takes place in a universe almost completely shielded from the horrors of the outside world, which is sadly all too rare among TV shows nowadays.
It is important to note that Friends’ success cannot be fully attributed to nostalgic adults in their 30s and 40s. The popularity of the show is in part due to the accessibility and ease that comes with the new binge-watching era we now live in. Thanks to this, many Gen Zers around the whole world, born long after the show premiered, are now devoted fans and binge-watchers of the show. Friends manages to appeal to almost any viewer: from teenagers to married people, there’s something for everyone to relate to. All of the central characters are unique and layered, yet they maintain a sense of global relatability which keeps them from being overly specific in characterisation. The show is escapism at its best, but also realistic enough that it doesn’t feel entirely out of reach. You are bound to relate to different characters at different points, and at some point in the show, you will find yourself connecting with the entire cast.
The show has perhaps become dated by contemporary standards, but for some this almost makes it more appealing. For new viewers, the show harkens back to a simpler time – before social media, smartphones, and all things digital dominated our attention and time, dictating how we perceive ourselves and our friendships. In an age dominated by the loneliness of city living and social media, it’s good to have a show that gives young people hope, reinforcing the idea that human relationships are key to our lives, thus making the challenges of everyday life easier to face. The pervasiveness of dark media entertainment, from daily news to true crime documentaries, makes it all the more important for shows like Friends to exist to provide a space for laughter and safety.Putting it simply, yes, Friends is an easy watch due to its iconic 90s style, iconic theme song and opening credits. But beyond the show’s infamous humour and sarcasm, every episode ended with a life lesson: the most prominent being that you can always count on your friends.