I have always been someone who hated reboots. I’m young enough not to have lived through too many, but the mere mention of the new 90210, Charmed, Full House or Roswell is enough to get my blood boiling. Why ruin a good thing by pushing it further? As a writer, I just couldn’t understand why you’d risk spoiling the original, and not come up with a new storyline instead.
But then I recently wrote an article on a Friends episode placed in the time of COVID 19, and it was such a fun thought experiment. It led me to wonder all the things that would be different about my favourite show if it were made now. If the writers and actors had all been magically transported to this fresh decade and began now. And whilst I am an adamant Friends fan and think so much of the relatability would still be present, it was fun to consider what would either not work in 2020, or be changed to suit the world we live in.
I think it is vital to remember that Friends is a show of its time, and I’m not suggesting these to be errors in the show, as you need the light of 2020 to view them as such. I’m merely playing a fun what if with a show rooted deep in our hearts.
So, what if Friends were situated in 2020?
1. At Least One POC
Let’s get the most obvious one right out of the way. Already when the show aired in 1994, there was disappointment regarding the lack of any racial diversity. The six main characters were white, although three were Jewish and Joey had Italian heritage. Furthermore, no one in their immediate surroundings who played a significant role was a person of colour. This included the majority of their relationships, one of the few exceptions is Aisha Tyler who plays Joey and then Ross’ love interest in season 9/10. The role was not written to be a woman of colour specifically.
Whilst this was already unrealistic for Manhattan in 1994, it would simply not work in 2020. People would boycott the show and it would marginalize a huge percentage of viewers. If I were to cast it, I would consider having Chandler played by a person of colour, as I feel this could really contribute to his storylines. His sarcastic humour could be further channelled into jokes about “how white” his friends act sometimes.
Alternatively, I could definitely imagine Phoebe to be from the Middle East or southern Asia, as those cultures could blend well with her unique outfits and interests. I feel like it could be incorporated into her passion for being a masseuse, and also her love for aromatherapy. Not that she can’t have those things without being a person of colour, but it could just further fuel those areas and add depth to them!
Alternatively, Rachel being played by a person of colour would allow her to be less stereotypical, instead of being the cliche of a spoilt Jewish princess. I adore Rachel, and she was my favourite character growing up, but rewatching I can see that it took too long for her to become a person rather than a caricature
2. Phoebe would be vegan
Phoebe’s vegetarianism is quite a small aspect of the show, I think it is only ever presented in a storyline (rather than an offhand comment) when she has cravings to eat meat while pregnant. If the show were to be in 2020, I think it would be more realistic and humorous for the audience if Phoebe was a vegan, and she would certainly discuss this more often! Perhaps having an ongoing feud with Joey on the matter. I’d love to know more about why Phoebe doesn’t eat meat, and for how long she hasn’t, but the writers used it more as a character quirk than a belief and story.
3. It would be far less heterosexual
For its time in 1994, Friends was further along than other shows in this department. It was the first television show to feature a lesbian wedding. The wedding of Susan and Carol in Season 2 was not shown by NBC in the states of Ohio and Texas. And while I applaud the showrunners for pushing this boundary, the minimal non-heterosexuality in the show would not work in 2020.
Firstly, the wedding was wonderful, and a beautiful sight, but the two brides didn’t kiss. This was an attempt to ensure the episode could air in a few places. And in a later episode (The One with the Ski Trip) there is a sly reference to their sexual activity. But in 2020, we would have a nice big smooch at the wedding. Furthermore they would be given a larger role, perhaps being involved in more storylines, and not lost in the final seasons once Emma is born.
Women being intimate with other women wouldn’t be presented as an object for men’s desire, as it indirectly is throughout the show. This can be seen in The One with Rachel’s Big Kiss and The One with All The Haste (Monica and Rachel kiss so that the guys will give back their apartment). You would be able to have the female characters experiment, or perhaps one of them even be comfortably bisexual or discovering that side of themselves, without the male characters responding in such an erotic manner. In 2020, we don’t accept that girls kiss girls for the boys.
One of the six would be homosexual, there’s no way around it! Studies vary, but it seems at least 5.4% of the US population identifies themselves as LGBT, and so we won’t accept a cast without at least one character being bisexual or homosexual. It also would bring in some fascinating storylines and break up the continuous heterosexual cycle of relationships. Maybe they discover it during the show, Phoebe starts dating women and is unsure how she feels about it or how her friends will react. She initially worries that she is “the man” of the relationship, only to learn that neither of them has to be that. Or maybe Chandler is gay, as it’s always used as a joke around him, so why not have his character be into men? Or to be less sterotypical, let’s have Joey be homosexual or bisexual! It would spice up a cliche and ignite the group dynamics.
I think there could also be a great episode where Ross learns that Rachel is seeing a woman or so, and is confronted for seeming ‘judgmental’. He then goes on a date with a guy, convincing himself that he wants to experiment with men. But finally perhaps admits that it isn’t for him, and that he is simply struggling with Rachel seeing a woman because it ignites his insecurities about what he meant to her.
4. Let’s Talk About Sex
While the women of the show do discuss sex (7! 7! 7!), I think in 2020 the audience would want a bit more. The writers were already concerned about Monica being disliked for sleeping with someone on the first date, and this caution is applied throughout the show. They never talk about it to the extent that their male co-stars do, and I think it would be really interesting and perhaps beneficial for the young adult audience. There’s a movement towards desensitizing sex and masturbation for women, and this is where you start.
I think in 2020 we would definitely see an episode where the women discuss sex toys, perhaps Phoebe buys Rachel one for her birthday and she is initially alarmed, only for Monica to mention how much she adores her own vibrator! Instead of Joey finding Rachel’s erotic novel in The One with Rachel’s Book, we could have The One with Rachel’s Dildo or The One with Rachel’s Porn. I feel like while many women do appreciate erotic novels, it shouldn’t be the only sexual tool we’re permitted.
Furthermore, I think there would be an episode where the women would discuss orgasms in a greater depth, perhaps one character also mentioning her difficulty in having them, showing audiences this is natural and worth talking about. Not all sex is good sex, so they should mention this without shaming the guy in question.
Hey, maybe we can even have one episode where a guy admits to struggles with getting or keeping it up. Maybe they can be real human beings and be accepted for it instead of only Joey’s incredible sexual exploits being discussed.
5. Body types
Somehow during the initial run of the show, Lisa Kudrow became the topic of body-related comments. A journalist claimed she was dressed in more frumpy clothing as she was larger than her two female co-stars, despite the costume designer confirming that this is completely false.
But in the scope of 2020, we’ve moved past the 90’s skeletal chic and body positivity is the way forward. Whilst a lot of shows have yet to accommodate this, a beloved show like Friends, whose aim was to resonate with the real 20 somethings of the world, would. So they would ensure that everyone can relate to someone within the cast, also in body type.
But with this comes the dilemma of Monica’s youth. Whilst “Fat Monica” has hilarious scenes, she is also quite a tired trope by now. She is mocked mercilessly, when from her descriptions it is apparent that she had quite a binge eating issue. It’s a recurring joke, and made uncomfortable by just how skinny Courtney Cox is in later seasons, almost suggesting she went to the other extreme. I feel like a bit more compassion would be approached to Monica’s weight issues and difficult childhood, and maybe a focus on Monica uncomfortable joking about her old figure instead of others shaming her. Her body is hers to mention, and doesn’t deserve to be the butt of someone else’s joke. This could also lead well into my next point…
6. Mental Illness
We are finally discussing mental health and illness more openly. While we still have far to go, the beginnings can be seen in shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (BPD), Bojack Horseman (Depression) and Homeland (Bipolar Disorder). And as mentioned previously, a show for the people would include the people, and how they feel, and what they cope with.
I think the two most obvious approaches for this would be through Monica. Perhaps Monica’s fixation on her weight, the result of her previous binge-eating struggles. We could see her sometimes struggle to enjoy food as it should be, something her friends find hard to understand but learn to. Especially given her profession as a chef, this could be a fascinating storyline to include. Made humorous by her talking to the meal perhaps.
Alternatively, Monica seems to struggle with OCD tendencies quite frequently, such as when she is explaining to Richard the exact way her bed needs to be made, or her reaction when Chandler moves furniture around their apartment. The show made it more of a neat freak vibe, but toyed with the true obsession of it — e.g. when she arrives at Ross’s “Dirty Girl” apartment and says she couldn’t sleep thinking about it. Why not have some of these hilarious scenes finally cultivate in her going to therapy? Maybe therapy will show it is linked to her strained relationship with her mother, and it could also incorporate a scene of her fixating on something untidy in the therapist’s office, sneaking in at night to finally clean it.
This could tie in with Monica pushing Ross to go to therapy after his third divorce, or after his sandwich related meltdown at work (MY SANDWICH!).
Also, a fun episode could include Joey learning about mental health and mental illness, and then thinking that every symptom applies to him, and that he has a wide array of mental illnesses. So eager to be accepting of them, that he embodies them all for an episode.
7. The Apps
I would love to see Friends with all the new technology brought in! I think it could breed so many funny storylines and possibilities for our favourite characters. Here were a few possibilities.
Joey would definitely be using Tinder, and maybe he could even be catfished one episode! Or the characters check out his profile and find out he’s been lying on it just like on his resume. Maybe Ross is swiping one day and finds Rachel, and is then infuriated to see she didn’t swipe for him, and struggles not to mention it.
I discuss this further in my own episode, “ The One with COVID-19 “, but I think that Rachel would be crazy for Instagram! I think she’d often be asking characters to take photos for her, and trying to come up with captions. She would be determined to become an Instagram influencer, and hope to one day leave her job and live off that. We could have a great episode where she asks Chandler to take a photo for her and he accidentally takes a really good one, leading her to constantly bother him to take photos of her, arriving in his apartment at all times. There could also be an episode where another Instagrammer starts a ‘war’ with her, only for it to turn out to be Ross’s new girlfriend! Hopefully, they would never use calorie-counting apps.
8. New York Prices
Their apartments were already unrealistic in 1994, especially given their professions. But now in the New York of 2020, it is even harder to believe. I feel like some more money-related episodes would need to shine, and it would show their struggles further. Perhaps we would see them thrift shopping a bit more, or an episode where Monica and Rachel try to sell old clothes. Phoebe and Joey could sign up for Fiverr one episode and then start a competition of who can earn the most.
9. Chandler’s Father
The first few times I watched Friends, I honestly didn’t even consider that there was an issue in the character of Chandler’s Father. I laughed along with everyone else. But in recent years, watching the episodes with that character have made me slightly more uncomfortable. Charles Bing, professionally known as Helena Handbasket, is mentioned to be gay (leaving Chandler’s mother for the pool boy) and is shown to be a drag artist in Vegas. The character is never discussed as transgender, but we only ever see them in female attire, including at Chandler’s wedding. There are endless jokes directed towards this, and whilst Chandler’s discomfort is realistic, there is also no movement towards acceptance or understanding. Particularly uncomfortable moments include Jack Geller looking forward to meet Charles and saying “I’ve never seen one before!” and Chandler’s Mum telling saying “Don’t you have a little too much penis to be wearing a dress like that?”.
Nowadays, with shows like Pose and Rupauls Drag Race, we are past the low-effort jokes regarding drag queens or people who identify as transgender. I would hope in the 2020 version, that Chandler’s father would be approached with more respect and attention, and used as a learning moment for viewers.
10. Would Monica End up with Richard?
Whilst I do adore Chandler and Monica together, I am also very pro-Monica and Richard — Mochard? Rinica? I loved the patience, humility and gentle nature of Richard. He made such an effort with her friends, and never let the age gap change what she means to him or the respect he provides her. He had this way of simply looking at her with such adoration.
The reason I question if their relationship would end differently in Friends 2020, is that I feel like we’re more considerate of age gaps in relationships — though I could be wrong! This wouldn’t change the fact that he is friends with her parents, yikes.
Also in today’s climate it is more normal to not want children, so perhaps Monica would feel less pressured to procreate. But she was written from the start to have a maternal nature and care for the group, so this is unlikely. However, nowadays there is less pressure for women to get pregnant so young, so Monica would not feel so inclined to break up with Richard and find someone who wants children. This extra time together could likely convince Richard that he wants kids with Monica, and that they have a future together. But don’t worry about Chandler guys, this would only happen in the version where he’s gay, and he would also find his Happily Ever After!
11. The One with Monica’s Netflix
I could have added this under Apps, but I just love the idea too much! We see a lot of the characters watching TV throughout the show (I’ve only just realised what a mind boggle that is, to watch people watching other people…), but nowadays it is less likely that 20-somethings would be watching TV, flicking through the channels. So we would need a few references to Netflix. Such as The One with Monica’s Netflix.
Chandler and Joey have been using Monica’s Netflix for months undetected, but one day Richard is setting up a film on said Netflix when he spots several less savoury titles in the “Continue Watching” section. Joey had clicked on titles such as “Hot Girls Wanted” “Porn Discovered”, mistaking them for actual porn instead of Netflix documentaries. Five minutes in, when people just kept talking and staying clothed, Joey grew bored and clicked off. But Richard believes Monica to have been watching these, and tries to raise the topic with her, gauging her interest in other women/porn featuring them, in case this is something she wants to further explore. Monica realises the boys have been using her account and confronts them, but they refuse to log off. Rachel helps Monica to reset the password, and the boys are frustrated when they realise. But they quickly guess the password and start using it again. Monica and Rachel brainstorm passwords that the guys could never guess, but that they’ll still be able to remember. Anyone familiar with the “Forgot password” button, as I am, will understand the struggle. The boys are locked out of the account again, and cannot guess the password this time. Richard asks Monica what the new password is and she admits she changed it to Howyoudoin?
12. The Meme King
When you consider Chandler’s humour throughout the show and try to place this carefully crafted blend of sarcasm, wit and mockery within the context of 2020, one thing is painfully clear. Chandler would be into memes. He would be flicking through them, showing Joey the best ones to chuckle over (many would require an explanation to Joey naturally). And I think we would have an episode devoted to Chandler creating a meme that goes viral. Perhaps one using a photo of one of his friends to which he cleverly crafts a quote.
- Ross in his leather pants (particularly with the white ‘paste’)
- Monica with her cornrows
- Rachel in her cheerleading costume
- Ross with his disastrous fake tan
- Phoebe in her “maternity” Santa pants
- A still of Joey’s blue lipstick commercial
What do you think would make a great Friends meme?
This one is less generalisable, and more of a personal hunch. I think something really missing from the show is the presence of a pet. Ross rescues a monkey for several episodes, something the writers quickly regretted when he proved to be the most difficult co-star. The discussion was then raised as to how they could remove Marcel, as he had quickly become a fan favourite. Finally, Marcel was sent to a zoo, and made a final guest appearance in Season 2, Episode 13. This was the end of pets for the characters, the only exceptions involving an episode with Phoebe’s mother reincarnated into a cat, Rachel’s sphynx cat for an episode (yikes) and when Phoebe babysat Plonkers for a friend.
I think there would be an episode where Rachel either brings home a stray dog she can’t resist, or agrees to adopt her Boss’ dog to try and make them like her more. Monica would be initially furious, resenting the mess and hair of the dog, who proceeds to scratch their furniture, chew Rachel’s shoes and relieve himself inside. But the dog would grow to be almost a guest star of the show, a beloved furry Friend. It could lead to plenty of storylines, e.g. Rachel dating a fellow dog owner only to realise he is too obsessed with his pet to have time for her, Monica trying to train the dog, hiding the dog from Treeger and trying to raise money for his vet bill when he becomes sick. And this would further the discussion when Rachel moves out, for who gets to keep Paws? (Unoriginal name, I know, but I feel like Rachel wouldn’t come up with much better, unless she named it after a fashion brand. Come here Louis! Good boy, Ralph. Gucci, what do you have now?)
Things That Wouldn’t Change
Friends is an incredible show that not only takes us across ten years of the characters lives, but also the actors that dedicated everything to it. We watched Rachel transform from a spoiled runaway bride to an independent single mother. And with it we saw Jennifer transform from an unknown actor to a household name, star of countless romantic comedies. It is a great show, and this article doesn’t intend to diminish that, but simply suggest what would change if the climate around the show did, if it emerged in 2020 instead of 1994.
But some things wouldn’t need to change as they were already so ahead of their time. As mentioned, they had the first televised lesbian wedding! Carol and Susan raised Ben with the help of Ross, and were never shown to be anything less than incredible parents. Monica was ambitious in a male-dominated career, and perfectly comfortable as Head Chef leading a dozen staff members. And Monica proposing to Chandler was an awesome feminist move that we see far more of thankfully. Rachel hiring a male nanny, and Ross finally realising that he is the most qualified person and his gender does not matter. Because characters don’t need to be perfect or woke, as the conflict is what tells the viewer more, and helps everyone to understand where the issue lies.
And some things wouldn’t change simply because there is no need to. The boys would definitely still watch Baywatch, as we don’t really have a modern equivalent. But they’d be streaming it from some dodgy website, which could get them into trouble one episode. Their friendships, the core value of the show, wouldn’t change. And the feeling that we’re right there in the Central Perk with them, that wouldn’t change either. Because you’re the seventh member of the show, and no matter when it is filmed, who’s dating who, or what they look like, the creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman would always make sure of that.