Friends might be a television show that’s been off the air for years, but it’s been really popular lately. Ever since it arrived on Netflix, a new generation of fans have started to love the show. Many people have noticed that there are many things about the series that don’t hold up that well with age as some things are definitely outdated. There are also many storylines from the show that actually deal with rather deep, serious, or complex issues. The show might not have always handled these issues in the best way, but it did address them.
Here are the ten episodes of Friends that tackled some dependent issues.
10 “CHANDLER’S DAD”
This is definitely one of the most controversial and problematic episodes of the series. This episode is where fans learn that Chandler’s dad is actually a transgender woman, although they use a rather outdated term instead.
Chandler lashes out against his father because he believes that his fathers' transition ruined his childhood. And while Chandler’s treatment of his dad and how he's joked about is definitely not okay, Monica insisting that Chandler meet him was positive. She felt that Chandler’s dad was supportive and that Chandler should give him a chance. There is at least some sweetness to the reunion of Chandler and his parents. She helps him heal that past pain and move on as an accepting and mature adult.
9 “THE ONE WITH THE MALE NANNY”
One of the most noticeable things about Friends upon rewatching is how problematic and annoying Ross can be at times. He definitely is a funny character, but he also treats people, especially the women he dates, rather poorly. He is also rather prejudiced at times.
When Rachel finds a male nanny for their daughter Emma, Ross can’t handle it because of his sexist ideas of what men and women can and can't do. The way Ross handled this was not cool, but the way people are perceived in jobs based on gender is definitely a real issue that needs to be discussed.
8 “THE CAT, PART 1”
One unfortunate thing about Friends is how it never addresses problems with grief and mental illness very well. There were many episodes that touched on the hard things that Phoebe went through such as her mother’s suicide and her grandma's death, but sadly these weren’t addressed in a super thoughtful way.
One episode that highlights another problem Phoebe faces is “The Cat.” In this episode, it becomes more clear that she probably has some mental health issues that are not addressed when she decides that a random lost cat she encounters contains the spirit of her lost mother. She refuses to give the cat back to its rightful owners because of this and everyone (except Ross) just goes along with it. Though bizarre, this episode does highlight ideas of the lingering effects of childhood trauma.
7 "THE ONE WITH RUSS"
Friends is definitely a comedic show, but just because something is comedic doesn't mean it can’t handle sensitive topics in a mature, nuanced way.
There are many shows that do this, but Friends isn’t always the best at balancing the comedy and the heart. In one particular episode, Monica’s boyfriend "Fun Bobby" is confronted about his alcoholism by the gang and vows to quit drinking. But, when he does, she finds him too dull. This is definitely a pretty problematic way to address alcoholism as it implies that his addiction was the best thing about him.
6 "THE PILOT"
Surprisingly, even the first episode of Friends deals with a rather serious issue. In this episode, Rachel breaks off her marriage to Barry and shows up at Monica’s. Leaving someone at the altar is a pretty intense thing to do, but the real, deep issue focused on in this episode is about someone leaving a life that was planned and expected for them in order to pursue their own path and dreams.
Rachel starts on a journey to become her own person and works hard over the shows 10 season run to build a life that she actually wants.
5 “THE ONE WITH THE METAPHORICAL TUNNEL”
This is another episode that deals with Ross and his rather outdated and sexist perceptions. When Ben’s mothers buy him a Barbie to play with and he really likes the toy, Ross freaks out about it. He definitely isn’t all right in how he handles this.
While this is a bad look for Ross, there are many people who struggle with gender stereotypes and how to raise their kids. So, in that sense, it was tackling a deep issue. Many other shows, including Full House, tackled topics on gendered toys and whether or not we should let our children play with them in the end of the 20th century. Luckily, the rest of the gang points out how rude and archaic Ross is being.
4 “THE ONE WHERE ROSS DATES A STUDENT”
This is another one of those episodes that has aged rather poorly but has ended up providing a wonderful jumping off point for a serious discuss. Ross is a professor at a major university in New York, and in the sixth season of the series, there’s a series of episodes where he dates one of his students.
Though the rest of the gang, as well as the students father and the other professors at the university, do point out how wrong their relationship is; the fact that this is technically considered an abuse of power due to their roles at the school is never really addressed. However, it did bring the conversation on whether or not it is okay to date adult students into the mainstream.
3 “THE ONE HUNDREDTH”
One way that Friends tackles dependent issues in a bit better way is when it comes to starting families. One may notice that the three main female characters on the show, all bring children into the world in non-traditional ways (Rachel's daughter comes from a one-night-stand, Monica adopts, and Phoebe acts as a surrogate.)
Phoebe is willing to help her brother and his wife out by being their surrogate. This is a very real and powerful thing, and it definitely shows Phoebe’s giving nature. The birth episode where she has the triplets is definitely a very emotional one and shows the journey that Phoebe goes through after having carried the babies for nine months.
2 “THE ONE WITH THE DONOR”
This is another episode about starting a family that Friends dealt with in a beautiful and mature way. Monica and Chandler decide they want to start a family, but they aren’t able to conceive.
When they find out about their infertility issues, it’s definitely one of the most emotional and real moments of the show. This is a real problem that many couples face, and the way the show handled this moment in a serious and respectful manner. The series continues to explore this by following their journey to start a family through adoption (which was also a wonderfully progressive and well-handled storyline.)
1 “THE ONE WITH THE LESBIAN WEDDING”
This episode is one that is often cited as both problematic and progressive. On the one hand, the fact that Ross’ ex-wife Carol left him for a woman became a punchline and, to modern audiences, that is just not something that is considered funny.
However, the normal and healthy way in which Carol and Susan's relationship was portrayed, the wonderful childhood they provided Ben, and their marriage (which occurred on screen) were truly groundbreaking things for the time. This was years before same-sex marriage was even legalized in the state of New York in 2011. So, showing their wedding was a way to legitimate them as a couple.