Is Friends the Vision of A Perfect Life?

It's the 20th anniversary of the legendary Friends, which is probably quite a scary realisation for its legion of fans. It has embedded itself in our popular culture and many people still tune into reruns and syndicated episodes having seen them hundreds of times before. What makes it so popular and iconic? For centuries, philosophers have agonised over what we should do as humans to make our existence fulfilling. In its own way, Friends offers a vision of a perfect life.

For the generation that grew up with it, it represented a cultural awakening. It showed that characters could center their lives around friends and have a chosen family better than the one into which they were born. That solid group of six friends, despite the many fallouts and rivalries over the years, always stuck together . This resonates with the modern audience even more. These days we are highly mobile and busy people with increasingly fragmented social circles.

The solidity and certainty of that group is enviable, such as the yearly Thanksgiving episodes where they were all together. As a show dated before social media, it represents the rose-tinted good old days with substantial human interaction. Indeed, there is even a childishness to their friendships that the audience identifies with. For example, the episodes where Chandler, Ross and Joey build a fort and the one where they get face masks together.

Human relationships are the key to a happy life, and the friendships anchor the show and give it its name. Many of my other favourite classic American sitcoms focus on ensemble casts such as Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond with their portrayal of dysfunctional family and Seinfeld with dysfunctional friends. But Friends focuses on the power and happiness of a functional group acting as a surrogate family in New York City.

These people stay friends because they embrace rather than dislike each other's flaws. Joey is a less intelligent than the others, Monica is obsessive, Phoebe is overwhelmingly kooky, Ross is geeky and flits between morose and angry, Chandler is sarcastic and insecure and Rachel starts off spoilt. Yet the show presents a positive view of human nature. People are able to accept the flaws of others and support each other in relative harmony.

Romance is a key part to the perfect life painted by the show. It tells us that we will always end up with the person of our dreams and that we will find our soul mate - our lobster. Ross and Rachel have the most famous off and on again relationship in sitcom history that has been shamelessly repeated in The Big Bang Theory.

Monica and Chandler end up together, which was inconceivable when they first met when Monica was fat and Chandler had the strangest hairdo in television history. Even Phoebe manages to find someone to match her delightful quirkiness in the form of Mike. These idyllic, destined relationships created some of the most memorable wedding episodes, which delight us with their sweetness. People watching at home are given the gift of hope that life will find a way of giving us what we deserve. A few simple words conjure up the intensity of those feelings. I got off the plane.

Another key aspect to Friends is the balance between work and leisure. People scoffed at the show by saying that in the real world we don't all have time to sit around in coffee shops. Infographics get carted out showing that Monica would not be able to afford the apartment. Yet Friends teaches us two important lessons.

Work is most rewarding when it fulfills our dreams. Every single character ends up with a job they enjoy. Ross grew up playing with dinosaurs and became a palaeontologist, Joey gets to become a successful actor on Days of Our Lives and Monica turned her love of food into a Head Chef job. Rachel escaped the clutches of Daddy's credit card to become a fashion buyer, Phoebe escaped homelessness and her mother's suicide to become a masseuse and Chandler gave up whatever job he did to go into advertising. It inspires us to follow our passions rather than chase cash. As Phoebe and Joey remark when they are in the restaurant with the others, they don't earn as much as the others. Yet they are also immensely happy with their lives.

This leads on to the second lesson. We overlook the importance of leisure in our lives. This means not succumbing to overwork and ensuring that the time we spend outside of jobs is valuable and meaningful. We should all write a song like Smelly Cat or take an impulsive trip to Barbados or invent games to play like Bamboozle or Cups. Basically, the message is that we should connect with our friends and lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. Idealistic visions of romance and employment are embraced without question. These are the keys to happiness. Perhaps that is why 20 years later we still watch and fall in love with the show. We watched this group of friends grow up together, find love and get married. It is the vision of a perfect life.
Is Friends the Vision of A Perfect Life? Is Friends the Vision of A Perfect Life? Reviewed by Ciaran McCormick on 13:55 Rating: 5

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