10 Controversial Episodes of “Friends”

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While many TV shows and movies have aged like a fine wine, the hit show Friends has aged more like that rancid milk that you left open in the back of your fridge for way too long without realizing it. If it were released today, there is a good chance that it would not last long on the air, due to the controversy it would have caused, and all the regular in-jokes that would not have been acceptable in today’s environment.

10. Joey’s Tailor And The Strange Reason He’s So Messed Up

In the episode The One With Ross’s New Girlfriend, Chandler needs new pants and so he decides to go make use of Joey’s tailor — the same tailor that Joey’s whole family has used for generations. While there, Chandler is very upset that the tailor took a grab of his crotch while measuring, to which Joey shocks both him and Ross by laughing it off as a totally normal thing to do. He is very surprised when they explain to him that it is not at all normal to grab someone’s family jewel’s while you are measuring them for suit pants.

This causes Joey to start thinking about past situations with his tailor, and he comes to a realization that this could have changed him over the years without him realizing it. As an audience, we start to realize that this sexually harassing tailor is supposed to be the main reason both Joey, and his family, are kind of freaky and messed up when it comes to dealing with sex. As you might imagine, the entire thing is handled with the sensitivity of a bludgeon, and would likely struggle to be accepted as a plotline today.

9. Monica Is Haunted By Her Past As A Fat Girl

In The One That Could Have Been, Part 1, it starts out as it often does with the whole gang hanging out. In this episode, they are talking about their past lives, and how they might have ended up if their lives had continued more as they had been when they were younger, instead of taking the turns they did. One of the things they talk about during these flashbacks are Monica’s previous life as a fat girl, and whether she would have the boyfriend she does now.

To his credit, Chandler seems rather offended that everyone thinks he would not have been with Monica simply because of her size, but it is also made clear that everyone believes that Monica not only was a fat girl, but was an extremely fat girl. In the alternate reality she is shown as being grotesquely overweight, and part of the plotline is that Monica’s biggest struggle in her past is getting over being “the fat girl.” Nowadays, with all the furor against fat shaming, this episode would probably be extremely controversial.

8. Joey Manipulates Heat In His Apartment To Get Girls Naked

This part is only a very small throwaway in an otherwise normal thanksgiving episode called The One Where Ross Got High; however, most people would probably be very bothered by this, as well as by Joey’s creepy behavior in general. Joey, if anything, was Quagmire from Family Guy before he was even conceived as a character. In this episode Joey admits to turning up the heat to his apartment in order to attempt to get the girl currently sharing rent in his apartment to go without clothes, or at least as few clothes as possible.

He has also used peepholes in other episodes, and seems particularly shameless about his behavior. Joey is clearly a sexual predator who arguably needs to be locked up, and certainly needs serious therapy, but his sick behavior is played for laughs and his so called “friends” never go to any real trouble to get him the help he so obviously needs. The behaviors Joey exhibits towards women are simply not normal or healthy. While sometimes any publicity can be good publicity, during our current age, trying to air such predatory behavior for casual laughs would probably cause more harm than good for their ratings.

7. Chandler’s Dad The Transvestite, A Different Controversy Depending On Your View

This episode is called The One With Chandler’s Dad and could be seen as controversial by two very different sides of a debate, depending on how you look at the situation. In this episode, we learn that Chandler’s dad is a transvestite and eventually his marriage ended because of it. We learn that Chandler feels embarrassed by his dad and wouldn’t even tell Monica about him or invite him to their upcoming wedding at all. It turns out that Chandler’s dad would dress up as various female stars from movies, and show up to cheer at any sports event that Chandler was a part of.

Monica disagreed with Chandler’s assessment, arguing that at least his dad was supportive of him and always showed up to be there for his son. She tells Chandler he needs to meet his dad, and they fly across the country to see him. Upon going to a club where Chandler’s dad is performing in full costume, he recognizes his son, as well as the wedding ring. Realizing he needs to make up with his dad, who is only being who he is, Chandler invites him to the wedding and the story arc ends with a sweet moment. In some ways it seems like a fairly nicely done episode, but many would object, as we said, for opposite reasons. Some would simply feel that the episode is too accepting of transexuals, and others would feel that it was a ham-fisted attempt that only reinforced stereotypes and didn’t properly address such a weighty issue.

6. Phoebe Flashes Her Boobs At The Guys To Win A Football Game

In The One With The Football, the gang is watching football on Thanksgiving and gets inspired to play their own game. Of course, as you might imagine, things go south pretty quickly. Before long it ends up pretty much the guys against the girls, and the girls decide to try to make sure they win by having Phoebe distract the guys by flashing her breasts at them. In the same football game, Monica is also criticized for her competitive instinct, continuing to reinforce the stereotype from back in the ’90s that women wanting to win, especially at sports, was just weird and out of place.

It is hard to imagine a current television show getting away with that kind of plotline today, with how people currently feel about sexual harassment and crude stereotypes about women. This plotline, as well as the criticisms about Monica, reinforce the stereotypes that women are seductresses who simply use their sex in order to get what they want, and aren’t good at winning at anything unless it involves flaunting their sex. Like many Friends episodes, if it were made today, it would probably be quickly shelved, and never aired again — after the ensuing PR nightmare, of course.

5. Ross Goes Absolutely Nuts At The Idea Of A Male Nanny

In The One With The Male Nanny, Rachel and Ross are looking for a nanny and a male nanny named Sandy applies. He seems like an amazing candidate and Rachel convinces Ross to hire him despite his reservations. However, he is very uncomfortable with the idea of a guy being a nanny because he thinks it is a female’s job. To make matters worse, the male nanny is sensitive, cries a lot, plays the flute and does puppet shows — this makes Ross even more uncomfortable about the entire thing.

Near the end, he actually fires the nanny because he is too sensitive. In order to redeem Ross, the writers have him later confide in the male nanny that he has some serious issues about what is expected out of a man. He tells Sandy that his father wouldn’t let him play with anything that wasn’t manly, and was always rather hard on him about it. While this seems like a learning moment for Ross, the episode itself still reinforces a lot of rather crude stereotypes. The idea that a male cannot be a good nanny, or that males who babysit or watch children are feminine or overly sensitive is simply not true. While men still sometimes face discrimination in that kind of position, there is no evidence that suggests the type of man who is interested in that kind of work is overly feminine or sensitive.

4. Gunther, The Sad Man Ou

Gunther is the manager at the coffee shop, Central Perk, where the friends hang out on a regular basis. For some reason, they are rather unkind to him throughout the show. Despite allowing them to have a permanent couch setup on reserve in an area where space and real estate comes at an incredible premium, he seems to be more of the butt of jokes or insults than anything else. In the episode The One With The Worst Best Man Ever, Ross shows just how little they know or care about Gunther, even after all of these years.

At a party, Ross is struggling to find who his best man should be, and he throws out Gunther’s name, saying that he will be his best man. To his credit, Gunther does not take what is basically a casual insult — Ross throwing his name out of desperation — lying down. He fires back asking Ross what his last name is, to which Ross guesses, rather lamely, that it is Central Perk, the name of the coffee shop he manages. Gunther leaves shortly afterwards, disgusted with the fact that even after all of this time, none of them have even bothered to learn his last name. With the internet so much more active today, it would likely be much harder to get away with a character who is constantly taking flack, with no real reason to deserve it whatsoever.

3. Phoebe’s Clearly Has Mental Issues, But It Is Played For Laughs

Phoebe is easily one of the oddest characters in Friends, and fits a stereotype that was often used in older sitcoms — the crazy person. There are many episodes where Phoebe’s strange quirks or other oddities are played for laughs, and to reinforce the fact that her character is crazy, but in a “funny” way. However, the one that easily stands out the most as the one that seems like a cry for help from a very damaged woman, is The One With The Cat. In this episode, Phoebe finds a cat in a guitar case and instantly bonds with it.

After that, things start getting weird. Phoebe becomes convinced that the cat is actually a reincarnation of her deceased mother, and for a while is absolutely adamant about this. The others, especially Ross, want to convince her that she is wrong, especially considering the cat is obviously male. In order to prove her wrong, Ross even looks for missing cat posters until he finds where the cat’s proper home is. While this episode is supposed to be funny, it is actually rather sad that despite her clearly needing some serious therapy, none of the friends make any real effort to convince her to get the help she so clearly needs. A woman who becomes convinced a cat is her dead mother is not a healthy woman, and should be encouraged to talk to a mental health professional. In general, it has become much less acceptable to have a crazy character just for laughs, so Phoebe as a character might not work on a show that was premiering in today’s atmosphere.

2. An Alcoholic Is Dragged Down For Being “No Fun Anymore” When He Tries To Quit

In The One With Russ, Monica is dating a recurring character known as Fun Bobby. Now, Fun Bobby is supposed to be fun because he drinks a lot, is a good partier, and has lots of funny stories to tell while drinking. After a long night with everyone drinking away tons of booze, Monica realizes that Bobby is drinking way more than anyone else, and actually has a very serious problem. She informs Bobby of this and, struck by his own failings, he decides it is time for him to quit alcohol altogether.

Unfortunately, Monica quickly realizes that Bobby is kind of… not so interesting, or funny… when he is stone cold sober, but she doesn’t want to break up with him and send him back to the bottle, so she starts drinking heavily in order to deal with the fact that she no longer finds him interesting. Bobby is now mocked by others for being not fun anymore, and quickly realizes that now Monica has a serious drinking problem, and actually breaks up with her. This episode does not handle alcoholism well, as it makes it look like you cannot have fun without drinking, and that if you quit, your friends will not think you are fun anymore, will make fun of you, and will not even want to hang out with you at all.

1 The Time One Of Them Broke Up At A Wedding Reception

In The One With Barry And Mindy’s Wedding, the gang attend a wedding for Rachel’s ex-fiance, a guy named Barry. For some reason, Rachel decides to be the Maid of Honor, but does everything she can to flaunt her body and upstage the bride as she takes her turn to walk down the aisle first. To make matters worse, it turns out later at the reception that Barry had bet that Rachel would leave early, and so she stays just to spite him, despite not wanting to be there at all in the first place. This part of the plot is odd and awkward, as it implies most of the adults involved are basically children. Barry invites her to his wedding and wants her to be involved, and she agrees to be involved. However, both really seem more interested in making the other look bad than anything else.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the second arc in this episode involves Monica and her boyfriend Richard, and their struggles over their relationship. Richard doesn’t want to have kids, but Monica does. While dancing at the wedding reception, Monica brings it up again and they are once again struggling to agree. Richard wants to be with Monica regardless so he says he would have kids if it was truly that important to her, but then Monica breaks up with him right there at the wedding reception, because she wants to be with someone who truly wants to have their own children.

In real life, it would be considered quite a faux pas for a maid of honor to come to a wedding she doesn’t want to be at and try to upstage the bride, not to mention the lack of social grace in publicly breaking up with your significant other in the middle of the reception — she could have at least waited until they got home, or for a more private and appropriate occasion. This episode reinforces the selfishness of many of the friends, who appear to be mostly incapable of understanding the feelings of people who are not themselves.


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