One of the most popular television sitcoms of all-time, Friends was such a huge hit that it made international superstars out of its 6 main stars. On top of that, at the height of the show’s popularity, Friends was such a huge sensation that for loads of viewers it was the definition of must-see television. It is still beloved by millions of people to this day, and in recent years a whole new generation of fans discovered Friends and fell in love with it too.
While it is easy to look back on Friends' massive success with rose-colored glasses, it should be noted that some of the show’s storylines actually were pretty big missteps. On the other hand, of course, it can’t be ignored that there also were many storylines that were integral to the overall success of the series. With all of that in mind, it is time to look at this list of 10 storylines that hurt Friends and 10 that saved it.
In order for a Friends storyline to be considered for possible inclusion on this list, it first and foremost needs to stand out among all of the rest. From there, it either needs to have made the show significantly better or taken away from what viewers loved so much about the series. Finally, it should be noted that even single-episode storylines were in the running, as long as they were memorable enough to have made a large impact on the show’s legacy.
Here are 10 Storylines That Hurt Friends (And 10 That Saved It).
20 Saved: The "I Hate Rachel Club" is Revealed
A perfect example of the celebrity cameo at its best, Brad Pitt appeared on Friends as a former friend of Ross’ who co-founded the "I Hate Rachel" club with his pal. This was especially funny when it first aired, since Pitt was married to Jennifer Aniston in real life at the time. They have been divorced for years now, but this storyline still is fantastic.
Pitt’s hilarious work as a man barely able to hold in his disdain for Rachel made the moment he finally unleashed his rage incredibly cathartic. On top of that, it was very revealing to learn that in his youth Ross was so hopeless that he pretended to himself that he disliked the girl of his dreams.
19 Hurt: Joey’s Identical Hand Twin
One of a select few Friends storyline that feels like it must have been dreamt up in a feverish state, Joey’s one-time obsession with his so-called identical hand twin was nonsensical, at best.
The very definition of a B-plot that served no purpose, Joey’s attempts to convince his hand twin to work should've at least led to some funny moments. Instead, viewers watched with boredom as it became crystal clear that, at least for this episode, Joey had become cartoonishly buffoonish. In fact, we easily could envision Homer spending the first few moments of a Simpsons episode focused on something this foolish-- but even he would move on before long.
18 Saved: Ross’ Attempts at Self-Improvement
Speaking of a character becoming somewhat cartoonish over time, during the later seasons of Friends it is pretty hard to deny that Ross was pretty out there at times. For instance, when you compare him pretending to watch TV in front of his window to anything he got up to in the show’s first season, the differences are pretty stark. However, unlike Joey’s whole hand twin thing, a lot of the wacky stuff that Ross got up to ended up being pretty uproarious.
Ross’ attempts at self-improvement, for example, had a lot of fans laughing hysterically. Actually, all of these years later we still smile when we think of how badly his spray tan, teeth whitening, and leather pants escapades went for him.
17 Hurt: Monica Thinking Chandler Was Into Sharks
Friends was its best when it was focused on relatable storylines. Almost everybody has experienced an unrequited crush, so they understood Ross’ longing for Rachel. Of course, Friends’ main characters often reacted to everyday issues in outrageous ways, like Chandler flying to Yemen instead of breaking up with Janice. However, when the show introduced downright dumb storylines, like Monica thinking that Chandler was into sharks, no matter how she reacted, it seemed really off.
For that reason, even though it was heartwarming that Monica tried to support what she thought was her husband’s odd attraction, this storyline is still a Friends lowlight.
16 Saved: Phoebe’s Surrogacy
Most often played for comedic relief, Phoebe was the subject of many Friends storylines that focused on how strange she can be. With that in mind, it was really great when she was given one of the most crowd-pleasing storylines in the show’s history.
When Phoebe was asked to carry her brother and his wife’s children to term inside of her womb, this storyline led to many great moments, like Joey giving up meat for her. That said, all of it paled in comparison to how bittersweet and touching it was when Phoebe coped with giving up the babies she had carried to term to their rightful parents.
15 Hurt: Pete and the UFC
Introduced as nothing more than your average guy, Pete got romantically involved with Monica and it didn’t take long for viewers to learn his character was extremely wealthy. Though this was already gimmicky enough, at first it seemed like Pete was a great character since he was just a regular guy with a bunch of money who really liked Monica.
Sadly, the series decided to make Pete ridiculous as his character became obsessed with fighting in the UFC. At the time a sport that was a lot more brutal and ridiculed by the masses, so this storyline ruined what could have been an interesting character.
14 Saved: Phoebe and Chandler Play Chicken
Monica and Chandler are probably the healthiest relationship in the history of Friends, so it seems silly that they were once so concerned about the rest of the gang finding out they were together. That said, their attempts to keep their relationship under wraps led to some hilarious moments, including Joey taking the fall for them when they were almost caught many times.
By far the best moment of the early stages of their relationship were when Chandler and Phoebe played a game of chicken in which they pretended to like one another. It was obvious Chandler and Phoebe had zero romantic feelings for one another, which made things hilarious, and their game also ended on a heartwarming note when he professed his love for Monica.
13 Hurt: Rachel Thinking Joey Has Proposed
This unnecessary obstacle in Ross and Rachel's romance occurred when Rachel was pregnant with Ross’ daughter. When Ross revealed that he intended to propose to her many fan’s felt their hearts leap. Of course, their hopes were quickly dashed as a convoluted series of events led to Rachel accepting when she thought Joey that was proposing to her.
It was ridiculous when Joey ended up in front of Rachel with an engagement ring in hand and one knee. When she said yes, things went from bad to worse. Of course, once Ross found out what happened he didn’t propose and was mad at Joey to boot.
12 Saved: Monica and Richard
Despite the fact that Tom Selleck was already famous when he was cast as Monica’s boyfriend Richard, it was no stunt. In fact, because Selleck is effortlessly charismatic and likable, fans instantly hoped he would stick around. This was easily the second most important romance Monica was involved in over Friends '10 seasons becaus eit was easy to understand why she adored Richard.
On top of that, aside from an unfortunate situation with Richard’s son, their relationship was handled beautifully. T heir breakup made all the sense in the world and was heartbreaking. The fact that he still cared deeply about her years later meant a lot to fans of their relationship.
11 Hurt: The Pros and Cons List
When Ross found out that Rachel finally had feelings for him, it seemed like he would be over the moon. Still, he was involved with Julie at the time so he clearly had a problem to grapple with. However, when he claimed to not be sure if he wanted to break up with Julie for Rachel, even though he seemed happy enough in his relationship, it was difficult to believe.
It got downright ludicrous from there, when this storyline led to him creating a pros and cons list for someone he’d fantasized about being with for years. As a result, when she discovered it and their budding relationship was decimated, it seemed obvious that the writesr didn’t want to give up their "will they or won’t they" golden goose.
10 Saved: Susan and Carol
Later on, we are going to look at the disrespectful ways that Friends treated whole groups of people. That said, it should be noted that in some ways the show could be pretty progressive, most significantly when it comes to Susan and Carol’s relationship.
Things were far from perfect, since this lesbian couple was the butt of distasteful jokes and they sometimes dismissed Ross’ importance in his son’s life-- though, in their defense, he was not an attentive dad. More importantly, it was great to see a mainstream show feature a loving relationship between two women, and could have been the first such relationship some viewers had seen in the '90s.
9 Hurt: Ross’ Jealousy
One of the earliest examples of why a lot of Friends fans consider Ross to be the worst, the way he was so over the top jealous of Rachel’s friendship with Mark became pretty gross. Of course, Ross was totally on the mark when it came to Mark’s desire for Rachel but his lack of trust in his girlfriend got old really fast. It would be one thing if she had ever given him a reason to believe she was untrustworthy but that simply wasn’t the case.
On top of that, when he sent her a gift shop’s worth of flowers, candy, and other romantic trinkets, it was an annoying and pitiful attempt to mark his territory.
8 Saved: Phoebe and Mike
Phoebe dated some memorable character over Friends’ 10 seasons, but fans were so happy that she ended up marrying Paul Rudd’s Mike. He was her best boyfriend-- although Hank Azaria’s character David was pretty great too.
Mike and Phoebe were perfect together since he not only accepted, but adored Phoebe’s more unique side. Mike showed how much he loved his future wife when he dressed down his parents for rejecting her. If that didn’t prove to fans they were great together, their love was so strong that their marriage on a New York city street was envied by many viewers. Not to mention, if Phoebe hadn't gotten involved with Mike we wouldn’t have seen Paul Rudd play air piano.
7 Hurt: Emily Trying to Put an End to Ross and Rachel’s Friendship
In yet another example of Friends building up and then destroying fans' hopes of Ross and Rachel getting together again, the outcome of his wedding to Emily was awful. After opting to fly all the way to England to profess her love for Ross, it was noble of Rachel to keep quiet since he seemed excited about his upcoming nuptials. However, when Ross said Rachel's instead of Emily's during the ceremony it seemed like only a matter of time before they would rekindle things. Instead, before long Emily forced Ross to even give up his friendship with Rachel, which he agreed to.
This was a storyline that made many fans angry with Emily and served no purpose but to again tease us with the outcome we wanted without following through. It was hugely disappointing.
6 Saved: The Bet
When Joey and Chandler competed with Monica and Rachel to see which duo knew the other pair better, it created many great moments. Two examples of the episode’s funny moments were finding out the men’s TV Guide was addressed to "Mrs. Chanandler Bong" and Rachel thinking Chandler was a “transponster” was hilarious. More than that, the women’s horror at losing their apartment and the men’s elation while riding their ceramic dog into their new place were both equally fantastic.
When a single storyline is chocked full of that many classic moments, it is bound to be one of a series' best.
5 Hurt: "Fat Monica"
At the end of the day, people did not tune into Friends in order to learn lessons. However, that doesn’t mean there is any excuse for the way the show consistently drove home the idea that overweight people should be mocked at every turn.
It may have made some sense that during their teen years Ross made fun of his sister’s weight, since people in their youth can be cruel. However, even as adults, the gang only ever referred to Monica’s overweight years with mocking derision. Worse yet, the show made it very clear that Ross and Monica’s parents like him a lot more than her and, though it was never explicitly tied to her weight, they too took consistent shots at her "fat" history.
4 Saved: Ross is Rachel’s Lobster
While many people seem to believe that the best moment of Ross and Rachel’s relationship was the revelation that she got off the plane, we would instead point to a moment that took place seasons earlier, after Rachel watched old footage of Ross’ attempt to save the day after her prom date seemed to stand her up.
While Ross was embarrassed that the gang saw how disappointed he was to not take her to prom, Rachel saw the video as proof of how deeply Ross had always cared for her. When Rachel then reacted by passionately kissing Ross as Phoebe proclaimed he was her lobster, it was a perfectly executed moment that actually gave most viewers what they always wanted. It doesn’t get much better than that.
3 Hurt: The Treatment of Chandler’s Father
Though it was meant to be a show about a group of 6 likable people that viewers would love to spend their time with, the Friends gang could be outright awful at times. By far the best example of that is the way that all of the main characters spoke about Chandler’s father.
A trans woman who solely was the butt of jokes and embarrassment on Chandler’s behalf during the first several seasons, Helena was only seen onscreen because Chandler invited her to his wedding. Previously portrayed as someone that was totally out of control, when we finally meet Chandler’s dad she comes across a caring parent who misses her son. Yet, she was dehumanized by the show at almost every turn.
2 Saved: Chandler and Monica Falling For One Another
If you thought Monica and Chandler were never going to last as a couple you were not the only one. After all, how many times were viewers teased with Ross and Rachel ending up together? Despite that, Chandler and Monica were so great together that their love quickly became one of the best storylines in the show’s history.
For instance, Chandler saying he loved Monica for the first time while she had a turkey on her head is a quintessential Friends moment .However, the single most heartwarming moment in the history of Friends was the tear-drenched scene in which Monica and Chandler got engaged.
1 Hurt: Joey and Rachel Dating
This is easily the most baffling storyline in Friends history. It is hard to fathom how anyone involved with the show ever thought having Joey and Rachel date was a good idea. This was a huge misstep for so many reasons.
Firstly, they should have known that most fans wanted her to end up with Ross. Secondly, the way that Joey took care of Rachel during her pregnancy gave his character more depth than ever before and their botched romance put it all in a negative light. Finally, Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc were great at interacting as pals onscreen but in terms of romantic chemistry, things were ice cold between them.
What other storylines had a big impact on Friends? Share your thoughts in the comments!