While we self-quarantine ourselves during the times of the novel coronavirus, one of my favourite things to do is watching the famous American sitcom for the 51436384th time. Yes, I am talking about F.R.I.E.N.D.S.
In addition to re-defining wit, sarcasm, and the very ideas of friendship, there are some other things the sitcom showed subtly (or not), which we seldom notice. In my opinion, F.R.I.E.N.D.S was way ahead of its time – progressive and liberal, something that India in 2020 is still struggling to achieve. It is imperative that we have a long way to go, but we can at least start by seeking inspiration from the sitcom and try normalising what they did some two decades ago.
At several points in the show, female protagonists have prioritised their career over their relationships. In my opinion, it is absolutely necessary for women to do that. Even today, a woman’s career circles around the idea of ‘settling down’ and ‘marriage’. Even transferable jobs are not okay in many cases, let alone women stepping out of the house to work.
In the third episode of the ninth season, when Monica is almost ready to move to Tulsa because Chandler gets transferred, she finds out that she’s received an offer from a famous restaurant Javu. The fact that Monica chooses her job and career over moving to Tulsa with Chandler only goes on to show how much it means to her. In India, today, how many women are really ‘allowed’ to make a choice for themselves and work, let alone be willing to?
Episode 15 of season 3 had Ross and Rachel taking a break, which broke all our hearts too (sobbing). However, did we notice how Rachel chooses her work over their anniversary? We all fantasise about celebrating on our special days and anniversaries, but how many of us can actually tell our partners that we would be working on those special days, and justify putting work first?
There are several other episodes where the female protagonists in the show prioritise their work, and do not let their jobs affect their personal lives either. Maybe we should embrace and learn from this.
2. Homosexual Relationships
You probably saw this one coming. F.R.I.E.N.D.S normalised same-sex relationships and marriage long ago, something that is still a distant dream for India. Homosexuality is still not prevalent in the public discourse. I mean, we saw the first movie that dared to show gay protagonists in 2020! And I don’t know how well received that was. Even though we are starting to normalise same-sex relationships, with Kerala being one step ahead and adding it to their school textbooks. Maybe there is some hope after all.
3. Going Beyond ‘Normal’ Childbirth
From Monica and Chandler’s adoption plan to Phoebe’s agreement to become a surrogate for her brother, the idea of childbirth was redefined in the TV show. The Surrogacy Bill 2016 restricts surrogacy to a huge extent, with only female relatives being able to become surrogates. And of course, adoption is an option, but it has a long and tedious process. Henceforth, in India, both these options are not very pragmatic or easy.
Again, showing that surrogacy and adoption are just as normal as regular childbirth gives us a perspective we want as a liberal society.
On one hand, F.R.I.E.N.D.S indeed had several flaws, such as fat-shaming Monica and dropping abhorrent sexist jokes. However, on the other, the sitcom also paved a way into the future, being years ahead of its time. India needs to see the show from not just an entertainment perspective, but also as a learning point.