Now that we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of Friends, a lot of us are doing “what-ifs” on whether the show might have stayed successful had it gone on, and even what it would be like if running today. The latter scenario is definitely an intriguing thought. Many watching the reruns on streaming may think the ’90s plots seem a universe away from where we are nowadays.
Then again, let’s remember how inclusive Friends was already 20 years ago. They managed to be one of the groundbreaking shows bringing LGBTQ characters into the fray, plots about in vitro fertilization, plus dating older and younger people.
All of this was still taboo on TV. Regardless, let’s look at an alt-reality scenario where Friends is just debuting now. Here are four storylines the show would have to include to find a similar audience.
1. More explorations of mental health
Dealing with mental illness was seldom addressed on TV back in 1994. Plots about depression, anxiety, and even more serious mental conditions were thought too dark of a subject to tackle, especially in a sitcom. Many other shows that did tackle mental illness usually never dealt with them in the proper way.
If Friends existed now, mental illness would have to be an issue included in some capacity, whether it being a main cast member living with a mental health issue or one of their loved ones.
2. Rape culture and sexual harassment
All the frank sex jokes Friends had was nothing unusual for TV by then, outside of ramping it up for the times. All the realities of dating around and having quick affairs didn’t deal with the realities of rape and sexual harassment going on under the surface.
Not only would dating on a modernized version of Friends be different with the introduction of dating apps and online dating, but we’d imagine the conversations around sex would be more direct. And, with that, the show would touch upon rape culture, sexual harassment, and consent.
3. More diversity in the cast
As we look back, we still have to wonder what the producers were thinking by casting an all-white group of friends living together. Maybe this wasn’t so unusual in those days. O
n the other hand, those living in New York City were usually more apt to live and work together in a diverse culture. No way can we imagine Friends being made today without bringing more racial diversity to the cast. We’re already seeing that recently in other sitcoms without the same writing luster of Friends.
If the show managed to get away with being all white now, they’d likely be dating others who don’t look like them.
4. LGBTQ primary cast members
Friends included LGBTQ characters, just not primary members. You might remember Chandler’s father was trans and Ross’s ex-wife came out of the closet, leading to their divorce. In 2019, one of the six leads — at the very least — would be a member of the LGBTQ community.
As for how the storylines are handled, we’d imagine more sensitivity. The jokes made about Ross’s ex-wife and Chandler’s trans parent wouldn’t pass. Chandler often had a “poor me” attitude about his father transitioning and we’d like to think woke Chandler would better handle his father’s life decision.