Friends: A Pop Culture Phenomenon

The phrase “pop culture” refers to items of entertainment that are popular during the current time, normally a recent TV show, movie, music album, or fashion style. Yet the TV show Friends remains an item of pop culture, over 25 years since it first aired. So how exactly does a show from the 90’s with outdated references and controversial jokes remain so popular for so long?

The Friends pilot aired on September 22, 1994, and the show ran for 10 incredibly successful seasons. It portrayed six characters as they navigated the ups and downs of life in their early 20’s and 30’s while living in Manhattan. Little did the cast and crew know that the show would become an almost instant sensation that would leave a lasting impact on sitcoms forever.

There’s something relaxing about the show; it’s like the best type of comfort food. Perhaps the comforting factor is what makes the show continue to be so popular. Friends depicts the perfect example of what so many people would love; having a group of friends who are close and supportive of each other through issues and struggles. They are young and fresh out in the world, still discovering who they all are. Most people can relate to that feeling at some point, and in an ideal reality, we would also have our group who feel like a family to help us thrive.

Sure, there are many unrealistic components to the lives of the characters, for instance everything about Monica’s apartment, the idea that the couch was always available, and the fact that the gang spends so much time chilling at the coffee house when they have jobs (well most of the time). Still, the idea of having a group of friends who is there for you through thick and thin is something we would love to be able to relate to. On the other hand, the show is still a go to for people for the opposite reason. Rather than being able to relate to it, they watch it because it’s an escape from reality. For a 22 minute episode, which most likely turns to an hour or two of binge watching, Friends is a way to ignore the stresses brought on by real life.

I was first introduced to Friends when I was 14; my mom and I watched the entire series on Netflix from start to finish, and I fell in love with the show. Four and a half years later, and I’m never tired of watching it, even though I can recite all of my favorite scenes by heart. Friends was the show that I returned to after a bad day at school, a long day of work, or even in the middle of the night when my anxiety was keeping me up. I was one of the outraged fans when it was taken off of Netflix at the beginning of 2020, which turned out to be the year we probably needed it most. I later rejoiced when I discovered that reruns play on TBS for six hours straight on weekdays, which is perfect to turn on in between online college classes.

There’s other elements of pop culture within the show as well, specifically fashion. Outfits and hairstyles from the 90’s are making a huge comeback in current fashion trends, so many of Monica and Rachel’s looks are being recreated. You see them with the shaggy haircuts and curtain bangs that are currently trending on Tik Tok in the earlier seasons. Rachel Green was a fashion icon in the 90’s, and her outfits including slips dresses, blazers, denim, and turtlenecks are still considered inspirational. If the show was set in 2021, Monica would probably be wearing Chandler’s sweater vests, which would be perfectly oversized, over her button up shirts!

Then, there’s the coffee. In 1994, coffee shops were not quite yet a widely popular trend. Today however, going out for coffee is a common practice. Influencers on social media promote their go to drinks from places like Starbucks, people stop at drive-thrus for a morning cup of coffee before work, and some people just go buy the overpriced drinks because they’re trending. Friends might have been part of what started the coffee shop craze, but in 2021, it’s mainstream.

So we have a show that’s relatable to some, escapism to some, and comforting to all. It’s popular with both the generation that watched it when it first aired, as well as the generation that discovered it on streaming services or reruns on TV. It exhibits the idealistic version of becoming real adults along with a group of best friends, as well as pop culture topics like fashion, hairstyles, and coffee. There may be some unrealistic expectations and dated storylines, but the bottom line is, Friends is a pop culture phenomenon as a show that has been in high demand for close to 27 years, and does not appear to be declining in popularity any time soon. Reruns continue to play on TV, every episode is available to stream on HBO Max, and the episodes can even be found on DVD. One thing’s for certain, Friends will always be there for you.

SOU ‘23