Friends was groundbreaking upon its 1994 premiere. We fell for the six friends and became involved in each of their lives, sitting on the edges of our seats as we watched them make mistakes, triumph and everything in between. Life is no easy feat, and between the six friends there was something for everyone to relate to.
It's no question as to why or how the show became as popular as it did. Not only was it relatable, but some of its storylines were modern. Modern enough to be considered avant-garde, which brings us to today's topic: here are 10 storylines to come from the show that were way ahead of their time.
10 Ross' Son Played With A Barbie
In Season 3's "The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel", Ross (David Schwimmer) is disturbed to find his son carrying around a Barbie doll. In 1996 when this episode aired, this was definitely a step forward in progressive parenting. Ross essentially spends the whole episode trying to convince Ben to play with other toys like a monster truck or a G.I. Joe, albeit forcefully so.
By the episode's end, Ben has switched to a G.I. Joe, but Monica (Courteney Cox) brings up a rather embarrassing childhood story pertaining to Ross that is karma in its sweetest form--turns out, Ross used to dress up like a woman and even made up a song to go with his routine, much to the delight of his ex-wife Carol and Susan, her significant other. Turns out the Barbie doll wasn't such a big deal after all.
9 Chandler's Mom Kissing Ross
Season 1 started off strong, and this storyline is featured mid-season. When Chandler's (Matthew Perry) erotic novelist mother comes to town, she kisses Ross, who returns the gesture, only to be caught by Joey (Matt LeBlanc). Ross has broken a code among friends to never kiss a friend's mother, and Chandler's mother has crossed the line by playing cougar to one of her son's closest friends.
Cougars are a more prominent topic among society now than they were in the 1990s, so this definitely makes the list. Luckily for Chandler, Ross and his mother weren't meant to be (really, Ross was just sad over Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) being with her Italian boyfriend).
8 "We Were On A Break!"
If you think about it, this massive debate to come out of Friends concerning Ross and Rachel's relationship is something of a trendsetter. Currently, it's more accepted among society for all kinds of relationships: same-sex, relationships without marriage, casual hook-ups, you name it, society gets it.
In the 1990s, things weren't quite played so fast and loose, so no wonder it was a scandal for Ross to move on so quickly following his break-up with Rachel--and the debate has existed ever since. What is and isn't okay in a relationship? That's up to you. In Ross and Rachel's case, they established a new kind of relationship code of conduct...and we're still wondering who was right.
7 Monica's Identity Crisis
When Monica's identity is stolen, she realizes the thief is living the life she wants to live and desperately tries to change who she is. She struggles with who she is and who she wants to be; this is something more of us can relate to now than ever before considering how tough times are alongside the anxiety and pressures we all face daily.
We all have an identity crisis at one point or another; some of us have multiple ones and that's okay. Monica may have been one of the first among fictional television characters that showed us that it's okay to have these moments--and that you can come out of it being true to yourself, being open to self-discovery and feeling proud of who you really are.
6 Rachel's Estranged Parents At Her Birthday Party
Unfortunately, in today's world, divorce is not as uncommon as it once was. Rachel's parents' divorce when she is an adult and she struggles to make sense of this new version of her family. In this particular instance, Rachel's parents have been fighting constantly, so her friends go to outrageous lengths to keep her parents apart to prevent any fighting at Rachel's birthday party, turning one surprise party into two.
Rachel flits back and forth between parties listening to her parents complain about one another, and miraculously neither are aware the other is nearby, but it takes a toll on Rachel. In which case, Rachel's situation is a step forward in a modernized life lesson about divorce for adults: sometimes you have to be the adult while your parents take on the roles of children.
5 Chandler's Parents
Chandler's parents were trendsetters in their own right. His mother was something of a cougar playing the field while simultaneously writing erotic novels, and his father became a transsexual woman working in Las Vegas. Chandler has professed time and again his issues with his backstory, but Chandler is more progressive in a sense because of his parents' history.
It's no secret that Chandler had an unusual and somewhat disturbing upbringing (like practicing his father's musical acts), but at the end of the day, it made Chandler a more worldly individual (once he gets past his commitment issues and marries Monica, anyway).
4 Carol And Susan
One of the biggest storylines is Ross's first wife, who turns out to be a lesbian. She and Susan are major trailblazers in the series as they get married and raise Ben together as a successful and happy couple. They are teaching Ben that love comes in all forms and that they are still a family despite their untraditional lifestyle.
Ross and Susan consistently bicker but form something of a friendship along the way, and Ross has always maintained a healthy friendship with Carol, thus further asserting to Ben that family works in all kinds of formats. Featuring Carol and Susan's relationship on the series was a good (and progressive) call on the part of the Friends writers.
3 Rachel's Career Struggle
In a world where anyone, be it college graduates, someone looking for a new career venture or otherwise, finds it incredibly hard to land any kind of job, this struggle is more relatable and real than ever before. Rachel's dream is to work in fashion, which she does achieve down the line, but she didn't get to start out there.
She was in her late twenties, working in a coffee house before snagging a job at a small fashion company where she kept moving on until she got to Ralph Lauren's offices. Considering her journey and her hard work, we praise her for her accomplishments and find inspiration to go and achieve our own dreams. It's like Friends knew we'd be needing to see this story play out in the future just as much, if not more, than we needed to see it play out when the show was still airing.
2 Rachel's Me Too Movement Moment
In a Season 5 episode, Rachel is interviewing for a job at Ralph Lauren. She accidentally kisses her job interviewer, and everything spirals out of control from there. She is fortunately called in for a second interview, but is hesitant, believing her kiss has led her interviewer to believe she'd be willing to sleep with him to get the job.
When another misunderstanding occurs due to ink on her lip, Rachel freaks out entirely and storms out of the office, but it's not without some self-dignity as she stands up for her beliefs, morals, and rights. As we all know, she goes back and apologizes, listing the reasons why she should be hired anyway, and she lands the job. Yet, Rachel was ahead of the Me Too Movement by having this moment, giving women then and now the inspiration to do the same should anything inappropriate ever occur, especially in the workplace.
1 Phoebe Saving Earl
In Season 7, Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) takes a job as a telemarketer to earn some extra cash and her first call is to the suicidal Earl (Jason Alexander). Phoebe insists Earl talk to her, but when he hangs up, she goes the extra mile and shows up at his workplace. Phoebe tells Earl about her own mother's suicide and makes up facts to compare her mother to Earl to save his life, insisting the universe has decreed that Earl needs to live. It works, and while the storyline made a serious matter lighthearted in nature, it still left a massive impact, especially for today's society where mental health and suicide are a more widely discussed topic. The importance of addressing mental health is portrayed here, and that's why it's number one on our list.
Friends made us laugh, made us cry and made us want to pull our hair out in the ten years that it was on. We're still waiting for a revival but in the meantime, we're occupied with binge-watching what's already in existence. The thing is, while Friends is primarily a comedy show, it has its serious moments and its storylines that are more important than sometimes initially realized upon face value. You just have to dive in for the deeper meaning and the bigger picture.