If you’ve ever considered yourself an avid fan of Friends, then you are probably quite aware of some of the show’s long-running controversial debates: Was Ross in the clear for sleeping with the "hot girl from the Xerox place" Chloe, or was Rachel justified in being upset? Were Ross and Rachel truly on a break? Did you like the Rachel and Joey relationship or absolutely detest it?
It’s also important to remember that the show first aired in 1994— and times have changed since then. What may once have been considered scandalous is now something we don’t think twice about, like how a lesbian wedding depicted on television back in the day was considered somewhat cutting edge and drew debates regarding censorship, or how Ross and Monica’s first kiss was with each other— although, it is true that is still considered taboo.
Then, on the other hand, now when we re-watch the show, it’s hard not to cringe at the many things that were said and done that would not be okay nowadays, like the constant gender stereotyping or the often-misogynistic tone of the show with regards to its view of women.
Read on for the 15 Most Controversial Friends Episodes, Ranked.
15 The One With All The Haste
If you’re a loyal Ross and Rachel fan, in spite of Ross’s somewhat irritating personality, then you might have trouble watching the events unfold in episode 19 of season 4, “The One With All The Haste.”
In this episode, we watch, horrified, as Ross proposes to Emily. We don’t believe that the writers can take their relationship this far until they do, and at the time of the episode’s release, fans did not know Ross would later mess it up.
For many, this episode was controversial because it meant the end of Ross and Rachel. At the time, it gave their relationship some closure, which was heartbreaking for those of us who truly believed they would eventually get together. A proposal to another woman felt so final.
14 The One Where Ross And Rachel Take A Break
The question of what in the heck a "break" means in relationships, and the rules that one must still abide by within the constraints of that break, will forever remain unknown— and perhaps more so due to episode 15 of season 3 of Friends, “The One Where Ross And Rachel Take A Break.”
Indeed, we are talking about one of the show’s most iconic episodes for determining— or perhaps more accurately put, not determining— what a break means.
Ross and Rachel go on a break, Ross immediately sleeps with Chloe, the "hot girl from the Xerox place." Is it a break or isn’t it? What does a break mean? Was Ross technically allowed to do this? Does Rachel have the right to be mad?
And so began one of television’s great debates, still unresolved to this day.
13 The One With The Secret Closet
This may seem like small potatoes to some, but episode 14 of season 8, where we find out that Monica isn’t really all that neat after all— in fact, she hides her mess in one big closet— is a shocker to many fans who followed show since the beginning.
For the writers to put this in was indeed a questionable move. Many attribute the storyline to the writers simply running out of ideas. By season 8, it had to have been tough. Still, to secretly make Monica messy was unnecessary.
Sure, maybe it’s funny if we believe it to be true. But what’s truly controversial about this episode is how unbelievable it is, and how it makes fans question everything we thought to be true with regards to the character. Sure, if the idea had been introduced in one of the earlier seasons, maybe we could have been fine with it. But by season 8? It was too far.
12 The One With The Male Nanny
We realize very early on with this list that Ross centers in most entries pertaining to controversial or offensive episodes.
This once again proves to be the case in episode 6 of season 9, “The One With The Male Nanny,” where Ross and Rachel hire a male nanny to take care of their daughter Emma. Sandy, the nanny, is very sensitive and cries a lot.
Although Rachel adores him (as does Joey), and he’s great with Emma, Ross fires him because he’s too sensitive. Ross assumes that only a gay male could be so sensitive, and openly asks Sandy if he is gay.
Nowadays, if we are to reflect on this episode, it’s obvious that Ross was not only being sexist and homophobic, but he was also guilty of wrongful and discriminatory, dismissal.
11 The One Where Ross Dates A Student
You would think that by the year 2000, the age-old storyline of a teacher dating their student would have been worn out.
Not for Ross, of course. In episode 18 of season 6, “The One Where Ross Dates A Student”, Ross is at it again, causing controversies and sparking debates amongst the Friends fan base.
Was it okay for Ross to date his student, Elizabeth? Although she was not a minor, Elizabeth was still dramatically younger than Ross. Moreover, she was also his student, which means he was in a position of power over her, and could easily have abused that power.
This episode not only sparks debate among fans as to whether it was OK for Ross to date his student, but also about how much of an age different is appropriate in a relationship? For Ross and Elizabeth, the age difference was 12 years.
10 The One Where The Stripper Cries
There’s no question that Ross and Monica’s relationship has always been… close. Despite their strange wrestling habits and their rather touchy behavior with one another, we always just assumed they were close siblings, and perhaps just a bit alternative.
All these convincing arguments were finally shattered, however, in episode 11 of season 10: “The One Where The Stripper Cries.”
In this episode, it is revealed that while Ross believes he first kissed Rachel at a party in college, and Monica also believed she had her first kiss at that same party in college, it turns out Ross and Monica actually shared that kiss together.
And so, this episode marks the acknowledgment by the show’s producers that even they thought Ross and Monica seemed just a bit too close for comfort.
9 The One With Ross And Monica's Cousin
But the incestuous vibes don’t stop there. In episode 19 of season 7, “The One With Ross And Monica’s Cousin”, we learn that Ross is infatuated with his cousin.
To be fair to Ross: she is very attractive - after all, his cousin is played by the totally stunning Denise Richards.
From there, however, Ross takes it just a step too far. While watching a movie together, he thinks that she is coming on to him— or, more like, convinces himself that she is coming on to him. Finally, he’s so convinced she likes him back, and is so infatuated with her, he goes in for a kiss.
Of course, she rejects him, which ends the incest streak for Ross. And thank goodness for that, as otherwise this episode may have been far more controversial than it already was!
8 The One With The Metaphorical Tunnel
As always, this episode 4 of season 3, “The One With The Metaphorical Tunnel”, features Ross being a jerk.
By this point, Ross’s son, Ben, has been born, and lives with Ross’s ex-wife, Carol, and her wife, Susan. Although it’s understandable of course that Ross might have a complex when it comes to relationships, it’s hard to sympathize with him when he totally loses his cool because Ben is playing with a Barbie doll.
Ross attributes what he perceives as Ben’s femininity to the fact that Ben is being raised by two lesbians, and proceeds to try to bring more masculinity into Ben’s life, by tempting him with more "masculine" toys like a G.I. Joe, dinosaurs, and monster trucks.
Granted, this was the 1990s. But if it were 2017? Well, it would be nice to think that these sorts of harmful gender stereotypes are history.
7 The One With The Breastmilk
The dated jokes and story lines of some Friends episodes certainly stirred controversy back and the day— usually for being too sexual. Nowadays, the show stirs controversy for being dated.
For instance, in episode 2 of season 2, what was probably considered too sexual back in the day would now be considered not too sexual but totally offensive. This episode features Carol breast-feeding Ben in front of Joey and Chandler, and Joey and Chandler totally freaking out yet also becoming aroused watching it.
What was likely considered controversial back in the day for showing so much of Carol’s breast, would, is now controversial for sexualizing a naturally human function, although the show has received praise for not being afraid to cover the subject.
And then, of course, there’s the part where everyone tastes some of Carol’s breast milk, even Ross. This takes the show from being controversial to just plain weird.
6 The One With The List
Episode 8 of season 2, “The One With The List”, is not only an early episode where we catch wind that Ross is sort of a jerk because of his rude and shallow list of Rachel’s bad traits, but also an episode that later garnered much controversy after the whole series ended.
In terms of iconic Friends episodes, there is nothing more iconic than a Thanksgiving episode. And in every season, apart from season 2, episode 8 has served as that iconic Thanksgiving episode. But in season 2 we are deprived of family drama, Monica’s fabulous cooking, Geller football matches, and the gang’s meal particularities.
The fact that there is no Thanksgiving episode for season 2 has been a spot of contention since fans began to catch wind that episode 8 as a Thanksgiving episode was going to be a recurring thing. Fortunately, the season 3 Thanksgiving episode featuring the football scenes is so good that we can let it go.
5 The One In Barbados, Part II
Despite Ross being probably one of the most annoying characters on the show, as Friends fans we obviously still love Ross and Rachel.
This is why episode 24 of season 9, “The One In Barbados, Part II”, was one of Friends’ most controversial episode with one of Friends’ most controversial storylines.
We were already very aware of Joey’s infatuation with Rachel for about a season by now, when Rachel finally reciprocates his feelings. Indeed, it is this episode where Joey and Rachel kiss for the first time, which consequently brought turmoil to the Friends fan base and began an age old debate on which couple everyone preferred, and if it was right for the story writers to couple up two of our favorite friends.
4 The One With The Football
Although most Friends’ Thanksgiving stories usually occur in the eighth episode of a season, season 3's Thanksgiving storyline unfolds in episode 9, “The One With The Football”.
Arguably one of the show’s most popular episodes, for everything from the charming New York run down ball park ambience to the cozy Thanksgiving feels, this episode has also been heavily criticized for its unfortunate and unnecessary portrayal of women playing sports.
In this episode, both Phoebe and Rachel are portrayed as totally terrible sports players, while Monica is portrayed as nothing but completely shrill.
Although we obviously love this iconic Thanksgiving episode, it’s still hard to come to terms with the gender stereotypes it enforces. After all, how much interesting and funny would the episode have been if they had just made Phoebe or Rachel secretly be football powerhouses?!
3 The One With Chandler's Dad
Chandler’s dad, Helena Handbasket, is first introduced to us in episode 22 of season 7— the last parent of the core six that we meet on the show. In “The One With Chandler’s Dad”, we learn exactly why Chandler has an estranged dad— because as a child Chandler was embarrassed by her a lot.
From this point on, Chandler’s dad is portrayed as someone of a comedic character, although the show has been praised for being so progressive at the same time.
The real reason why the episode is controversial is because of Chandler’s feelings and treatment towards his dad. Chandler tells Monica about all the sports games that she used to go see him at, and about how now his dad is estranged because she was so embarrassing. Sure, Chandler’s also mad at his dad for leaving him and his mom, but it does seem like Chandler is super transphobic. Even in the 1990s, this was not okay!
2 The One Where Ross Tells Rachel
Episode 3 of season 8, “The One Where Ross Tells Rachel”, aired on October 11, 2001— this was exactly one month after the terrorist attack on the twin towers on September 11, 2001.
The episode was filled before the event occurred, and in the original filming, there is a scene where Chandler and Monica are at the airport and Chandler makes a poorly timed bomb joke, resulting in his getting pulled aside and questioned by airport security.
The episode is available to watch now on a variety of websites, but at the time the scene was deleted and replaced with a slightly different storyline.
As funny as the scene is, we are happy that the show’s producers decided to hold off on airing it— otherwise it could have been the show’s most controversial episode.
1 The One With The Lesbian Wedding
We love the Carol and Susan storyline, despite Ross’s homophobic complex about lesbians becoming somewhat annoying by the end of the show.
In episode 11 of season 2, "The One With The Lesbian Wedding”, Carol, Ross’s ex-wife, marries Susan, whom she began a relationship with while still married to Ross.
The episode was aired really not that long ago— 1996— yet views on same-sex marriage were very different than they were now. In 1996, same-sex marriage was still uncommon, and especially in the United States.
For Friends to portray it so openly was pretty progressive, but also brought a ton of controversy. Networks in Texas and Ohio actually refused to air the episode, which led to debates surrounding censorship.
What other Friends episodes stirred controversy? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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