“Friends” is a show I would love to hate. It’s such… television. In the world of “Friends” struggling actors and waitresses never run out of money and live in apartments where the rent would be twice their salaries. And Phoebe even has her own place! She pays for it by playing songs that sound like a cross between Ani Difranco and Wesley Willis. Songs only the other Friends listen to. In real life, Phoebe would be living on dented cans of Fancy Feast. But not on “Friends,” where everything is suited for easy consumption and nobody ever reads, talks about politics or behaves despicably.
I think the character of the show is pretty well captured by this story from imdb.com
Friends bosses have decided to add a little diversity to their cast – by bringing in a love interest from an ethnic minority. The hit American TV show has long been criticized for the fact its cast lacks diversity – despite being set in the New York, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, all six lead stars are white. Now the sitcom’s bosses are set to include a new paleontologist character for several episodes – and she’ll be a potential love interest for David Schwimmer’s character Ross and Matt LeBlanc’s Joey. The show’s bosses are making it clear that they want an ethnic minority actress for the role and are currently looking at “all races and ethnicities” say casting sources, particularly African American, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern and/or American Indian women.
What astounds me about this piece is not the fact that “Friend’s” producers are so calculating in determining the racial makeup of the show, it’s that they are so open about being so calculating. They’re basically saying “yeah, we’ve ignored minorities for eight or nine years. We thought it might be good for ratings and PR to bring in a non-white for a couple of episodes.” “Friends” doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s a product of market research, calculated to bring in just the right demographic. If you’re young, white and middle class, you can’t help but feel a little bit too predictable for watching.
So, why not hate the show? Because it’s pretty entertaining sometimes. Over the years I’ve laughed at “Friends” no fewer than a twenty times. That’s twenty more times than I’ve laughed at the other dreck that’s being passed off as entertainment by the networks. So, I’ll give credit where it’s due. “Friends” may be pablum, but it’s pretty well done. The show has pretty good writers and the actors know how to deliver jokes.
Here’s how I think of “Friends,” then. It’s not even in the same category as “The Simpsons” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Those shows are art. “Friends” is mere television. However, it is better than other mere television, to the extent that I can’t honestly claim to hate it. Shit.