This past Monday, September 22, was the 20th anniversary of a little sitcom you may have heard of called Friends. Can you believe that? Twenty years since the world was introduced to Chandler, Joey, Ross, Rachel, Monica and… whatever Lisa Kudrow’s character was called. I’m afraid I was never much of a fan of this show.
In fact, I recall being pretty hostile toward Friends for much of its run, mostly because everyone else was fawning about it all the time. I’m contrary that way; I tend to reject whatever seems to be the big flavor of the moment, whether it’s grunge music or In ‘n’ Out Burger or all the grim-n-gritty made-for-cable-TV dramas today, simply on basic principles. In the case of Friends, I remember getting my nose out of joint early on because I’d seen so many articles praising the show for capturing the personality and challenges of Generation X. At the time, I was very conscious of my identity as a member of that beleaguered demographic, and I simply couldn’t see it. I didn’t relate to the characters on the show, who as far as I could tell spent a lot of time talking about their struggles but didn’t really seem to have any. How could they, when they obviously had so much leisure time to burn hanging out in a coffee shop while living beyond their means in unrealistically spacious Manhattan apartments? Meanwhile, my real-life friend who lived in Manhattan at the time was crammed into a studio the size of walk-in closet, for which he paid more per month than I earned in two. In other words, Friends struck me as an offensive fantasy, and it angered me that the people who assess such things for a living (no doubt a better living than I had!) believed it was in any way representative of my experience as a Gen-Xer.
Yes, I was taking a mere sitcom far too seriously. What can I say, I was a very serious-minded young man, and very touchy about my own difficulties getting started in life. But time has a way of softening one’s perspective, or broadening it, or both, and when I’m channel-surfing late at night and stumble across a re-run of Friends, sometimes I will stop and watch. I still don’t think it’s especially funny, although I often find myself chuckling at Joey, who reminds me of another big cheerful lug I know. But it does remind me of a time in my life that, despite being hard to get through while I was actually living it, now seems a lot more innocent than it did then. Nostalgia is a curious thing, isn’t it?
The funny thing is, whether or not the show actually captured what Gen X was then, it wove itself into the fabric of what we are now. It’s one of those shows that define an era by dint of running so long in the background of our lives, and by being so popular that even people who don’t watch it come to know it, at least to one degree or another. And as a student of popular culture, I have to acknowledge and respect its significance in that regard. Also, the theme song, at least, really did get at the essence of what I was going through in my twenties, if only I hadn’t been so reactionary that I refused to see it.
Incidentally, our colleague Jaquandor, who is a tremendous fan of the show and quite good at analyzing why things do or do not work, posted a few thoughts the other day that are worth a read. It was his post, actually, that got me thinking about doing one of my own…