The One About Friends

Seventeen years after its finale, Friends is as popular as ever. Everywhere you go there are people wearing shirts featuring the show’s logo or holding “Central Perk” mugs. The show is so popular that it spawned a reunion show, which aired on HBO Max in May 2021, featuring the show’s original actors, as well as guest stars such as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. With an abundance of newer series across various television channels and streaming services, why is this quintessential nineties show still so popular?

Friends’ Cultural Impact
Friends certainly had a great cultural influence during its initial airing, from the popularity of Rachel’s haircut (named simply, “The Rachel”) to catch phrases, such as Joey’s flirtatious, “How you doin’?” While the show may seem relatively tame by today’s standards, some of its topics were truly ahead of their time back in the 1990s. Friends featured a same-sex wedding and a transgender character (Chandler’s dad) nearly twenty years before Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn and the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage across America (which occurred a mere weeks apart). One cannot stress enough the influence that television and movies have on popular culture and society at large.

While Friends reruns have always been available on traditional television, the show has reached a new generation of viewers through Netflix and HBO Max. But why is this dated show so popular among young people? It could simply be faux nostalgia for a time in which Gen Z never actually lived, the same way that youth of the nineties, Gen X, were nostalgic for the fashion and music of the sixties. Perhaps there is a deeper, more meaningful reason for the popularity of Friends.

I’ll Be There for You

 

The show is set in “simpler” times—before the ubiquity of cell phones and the Internet, when people spent time together without the constant distraction of handheld screens and incessant app notifications. The six friends do mundane things like hanging out in a coffee shop and playing football on Thanksgiving. They engage with each other in the real world, not virtual or mediated realities. This highlights something the current generation desperately needs: true human interaction. We need more than just personal interaction, though, we need friends.

A recent survey shows that adults, especially men, have fewer friends than adults did in the era which birthed Friends. Now, ten percent of men and fifteen percent of women claim to have no close friends at all. This is also a problem with Millennials, with three out of ten claiming they always or often feel lonely, and nearly one in five claiming to have no friends at all. As we’ve noted in previous articles loneliness is not simply a problem; it is a modern epidemic. Social media is intended to make personal connections easier, yet it is making us lonelier instead. Having friends does more than eliminate loneliness, however. There are many benefits of friendship, such as increased happiness and reduced stress, improved confidence and self-worth, and encouragement for positive lifestyle changes.

The positives of friendship and dangers of loneliness should be all the more evident to Christians. In the creation account, before sin had entered God’s bountiful world, God nevertheless proclaimed there was something that was not good: for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). When Jesus began his ministry, he assembled a group of men who would not only be his most intimate followers, but also his friends (John 15:15). He also taught that there is no greater show of love than “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Prior to his arrest, Jesus lamented that his friends fell asleep and left him alone in his time of distress (Mark 14:37). And no one has ever felt a loneliness greater than Jesus, who was forsaken even by God the Father, while bearing our sins on the cross (Matt. 27:46).

The Bible also teaches us of the wisdom of having faithful friends:

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. —Proverbs 17:7
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. —Proverbs 27:17
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not
quickly broken. —Ecclesiastes 4:12

As Christians, we have access to friendship and community through the Church. From the beginning, the Church provided help to believers in need and encouraged those facing trials and persecution for their faith. While the Church is certainly more than just a gathering of friends, it provides us an assembly of people who can celebrate with us during the good times and mourn with us during the bad. We can be a beacon of light for those struggling with loneliness and in need of friends.

Conclusion
The chorus of Friends’ iconic theme perfectly sums up the role of friends in our lives:

I’ll be there for you (When the rain starts to pour)
I’ll be there for you (Like I’ve been there before)
I’ll be there for you (‘Cause you’re there for me too)

When you are in trouble or need a shoulder to cry on, a casual social media connection from across the country most likely won’t be there for you. We need a local community of friends and family. Virtual connections cannot replace true, personal relationships, which the popularity of Friends amongst the current generation illustrates. Like most television shows and movies, there are certainly aspects of the show that should concern Christians, such as the casual attitude about sex. While we definitely must be mindful of the messages we are subconsciously absorbing from various media sources, we also witness the basic things that everyone needs, believer and non-believer alike: compassion, confrontation, encouragement, truth, and faithfulness. Through Friends, we see the importance of having a committed group of friends who will be there for us through the ups and downs of life. How much more should we as Christians be the sort of friends who image the love and truth of Jesus to those in our own lives?

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Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at freethinkingministries.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @TimothyDFox.