There is a unwavering hype behind current and past prime-time shows such as Friends and Grey’s Anatomy. Friends, with 10 seasons, focuses on the friendship of six young-adults while navigating life in New York. Grey’s Anatomy is the longest running prime-time medical drama and continues follows the lives of surgeons in Seattle, Washington. Both shows’ plots are more in-depth and interesting that I just explained, but the basic content is there.
These shows have been popular since their release, but their popularity has increased throughout the years due to reruns, availability on streaming services, and the undeniable timelessness of the content. Despite the way society has grown with and through these characters, these shows are incredibly problematic at times. Hearing the automated audience laughter at moments that weren’t funny.
I am and avid Grey’s Anatomy fan and have seen the entire series (in order) at least three times, however, it wasn’t until recently that I binge-watched Friends. This is when I began realizing how troubling some of the content is. As someone who becomes emotionally attached to characters, analyzing the narratives and interactions in these shows and identifying how harmful some are was hard.
But as heartbreaking as it may be to accept, some of our favorite shows have characters with misogynistic, homophobic, or downright inhumane tendencies that we tend to overlook or dismiss.
Here are some of those examples that bother me most and that occur most frequently:
- “Fat Monica”
A running joke in Friends is that Monica, one of the main characters, was considered plus-sized until after college. Constant critiques of her size, old eating habits, and praise of her current weight loss contribute to the notion that “beauty” is attached to a size. At some points, she even participates in self-depricating humor, but the level of body shaming amongst these friends was never funny or necessary in my opinion. They claim to love Monica, so, I am not entirely sure of why her change in size was the root of every conversation involving food.
- Chandler’s Dad being a transgender woman
Chandler, the nonchalant, dry-humored friend, disclosed that his father is transgendered woman. Throughout the show he speaks to his childhood and of the traumas that continuously haunt him, which is very beneficial. However, he often makes fun of his dad’s sexuality, acts embarrassed when in the same space as her, and critiques having a LGBTQ+ identifying parent. This attitude was challenged and changed eventually, but it was extremely uncomfortable to watch in the beginning. The harsh reality of hiding who you are to please your family or to be accepted is hell on Earth. It is so disheartening to know that it is THIS common.
- Carol/Susan’s relationship
In this show, Ross’ ex-wife identifies as a lesbian and is in a same-sex marriage. Ross’ friends continuously make fun of him for “losing” his wife to a woman. This has many issues, but in all, finding yourself and exploring your sexual identity does not have a deadline. Everyone discovers new things about themselves at different places in life and achieving the level of comfort to express and own that identity is rightfully deserved, regardless of when it happens. Ross did not “lose” his wife to anyone; Carol realized that she was not attracted to men and adjusted her lifestyle accordingly. That is no one’s fault and she was entitled to that freedom.
- Constantly critiquing George’s interests and behaviors
Grey’s Anatomy began with a group of interns navigating their new occupation and getting to know each other. In this process, George’s sexuality was oftentimes questioned because of his interest in watching babies in the nursery or simply caring about others’ feelings. His masculinity was invalidated non-stop and I think that is harmful to persons of all identities because it insinuates that there is one set way to be something. However, as you can see in the show, that is never the case (as it shouldn’t be).
- The constant objectification of women.
In both shows, there seems to be an uncomfortable, yet common obsession with women’s bodies and sexual intercourse. Sexual autonomy is real and deserved by everyone, but these shows definitely reflected society in its execution. In Friends, a woman’s worth was often determined by how soon or often sexual intercourse occurred. Men were praised for high sexual activity and women were condemned for expressing this same physical interest. In Grey’s Anatomy, sex was made to be more regular and belonging in everyday life, but the importance of emotional health was undermined by orgasms in many cases. Sex is fine, but, as a coping mechanism, it can do more harm than good.
There were only FIVE examples, but I promise there are more. These just stuck out because they remain true as I navigate my own life. Despite these examples, it would be negligent of me to not acknowledge either shows attempts to defy these previous examples or to teach positive lessons to its viewers.
I will never forget the moment I heard Sandra Oh’s character, Cristina Yang, say “Oh, screw beautiful, I’m brilliant. If you want to appease me, compliment my brain.” In my opinion, she was constantly reminding her friends (and viewers) that it is perfectly normal, acceptable, and valid for women to have dreams and commit to following them above anything else.
Following her dreams oftentimes had consequences, but she never stopped fighting to be the best. Up until her final episode with the series, when she moved to the other side of the world to run her own cardiothorasic research agency, “Yang” was determined to be known for her talent and ability. With this, she was perfectly content with her accomplishments being separate from her relationship or connection to someone else. Of course, she had lapses in judgement or problematic approaches, but she was undeniably different from the other characters.
I do not think either show set out to promote negative ideals to the public, but we could have done without the hypercritical, homophobic, misogynistic behaviors. They were unnecessary in every regard and its important that we realize that when watching the show.
2 thoughts on “How Our Favorite Shows Defy Our Real Concerns”
I grew up watching re runs of friends so naturally when I got older I watched it all the way through. I never realized the hurtful things deemed as comedy until I was educated on those topics. It can be a funny show but a lot of the things meant to be funny are very distasteful!
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I personally have only watched a few episodes of each of these famous shows here and there when I was younger with friends. I didn’t really see the hype around Friends specifically because almost immediately, I noticed the laugh tracks were laughing at things I found not funny or down-right rude in some cases. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy some episodes of Friends, but as you point out, there are definitely problematic tendencies that passed in the 90s but its 20 years later and some things said and done are no longer accepted by women, THANK GOD! I haven’t really watched Grey’s Anatomy but growing up I always connected that show with my mom drinking wine and watching some scandalous scenes or conversations about sex on TV. Thank you for bringing this into light, I don’t think many people realize how influential famous TV shows have on people’s sense of reality of what is right and wrong.