Why people relate to "Friends"

BY mandira banerjee| IN Media Practice | 06/02/2004
‘Friendsø which will end this summer after eight years, has been one of the few serials young American women truly identify with.
                                                                                               

 


Mandira Banerjee              
Women`s Feature Service

Washington, (WFS) - Jennifer Aniston, whom people have come to know and love as the ditsy Rachel in the TV serial `Friends`, told the press recently that for the entire cast of `Friends`, the end of the serial is going to cause a lot of pain, similar to "very delicate china speeding towards a brick wall".

`Friends`, a comedy about the lives
of six young friends (three women and three men) living in New York, has been the last decade`s most popular serial in the US. Created by the Emmy Award-winning writing team of Marta Kauffman and David Crane, `Friends` was first telecast on National Broadcast Corporation (NBC) in 1994-95. For the first five years it remained the number one comedy show watched by the 18-49 age group.

While the audience always enjoyed the comic situations the characters got into, `Friends` has been one of the few serials young American women truly identify with. The three principal women characters in the serial are in no way perfect. Monica Geller (Courtney Cox Arquette) is a chef with an obsession for neatness and order in her life. Rachel Green (Aniston) is smart but still insecure; and Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) is an eccentric singer who promotes aura healing and vegetarianism.

All the same, `Friends` became a rage after the first season and as Diane Sawyer, the famous television personality once said, "Every girl in America wanted to be the quirky, fresh-faced girl named Rachel". Countless young women on college campuses still reserve their Thursday night for Monica, Phoebe and Rachel. "I regularly watch `Friends` because I am just like Monica," says Michelle McNatt, an undergraduate in journalism.
                
For more than 50 years, television situation comedies (sitcoms) have inspired laughter, and reflected American culture in a fascinating way. According to Lynn Spangler, author of the new book, `Television Women from Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sitcoms and Feminism`, "the depiction of females in this genre has evolved as interestingly and surprisingly as the women`s movement itself".

During the 1970s, when women`s activists demanded equal opportunities, reproductive rights, and egalitarian partnerships, television offered `Mary Richards` - a show about a single, working woman carving out a place for herself in society. On `The Mary Tyler Moore Show`, she was a woman in a man`s world competing with her boss and demanding equal pay. Unlike her best friend Rhoda, she wasn`t hung up about marriage.

Today, network television has Rachel of `Friends` - a young woman who chooses to remain single, but moves in with Ross, her friend and the father of their baby Emma. Although Ross and she are no longer lovers, they live in the same house because Rachel wants it so for her child. And she continues to juggle with the pressures of competition at work, especially after her long maternity leave and as a woman who doesn`t want a conventional family life.

Social analysts see Rachel as the average young woman today struggling not so much with public issues, but with intensely private problems that are, nonetheless, political in many ways. Some US scholars consider Rachel as part of the `Third Wave of Feminism`, which is more about individuals and their personal choices rather than an all-encompassing focus on social equity.

Bonnie Dow, a Professor at University of Georgia, Athens, and author of the book `Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women`s Movement Since 1970` argues that serials like `Friends` have collectively offered a "powerful and popular vision of liberated women...a journey through phases of popular consciousness over the past quarter century".

In some ways, `Friends` has succeeded where several other small screen ventures have failed - for instance, showing the men changing, mostly for the better. Despite their male egos, the three male characters are often shown very receptive to the women`s need for space and liberation.
 
Interestingly, the on-screen lives of the women characters of `Friends` are not too different from their real lives. Arquette, whose character has struggled to have a child, has suffered miscarriages in real life and is now expecting her first child. Aniston is as mysterious and shy as Rachel is. And Kudrow loves enacting favourite movie scenes for family and friends, something she does very often on `Friends`.
 
In 10 years, the popularity of `Friends` has made all the six actors mega stars, with each getting $1 million per episode and some exciting roles in Hollywood. Producers of `Friends` have often claimed that creating the series has been like a dream come true, again and again. Aniston is a hot star after acting in `Good Girl` and `Along Came Polly` while one of the male leads, Matt LeBlanc, has starred in blockbusters like `Charlie`s Angels`.

But after another 16 episodes, sometime in May, these friends will say goodbye. Arquette and Aniston want to start a family. The men want to do some meaty roles in movies. And even the writers want to end the serial in a natural way, rather than extending it for mere ratings.

 

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