How Friends Created a Generation of Neurotic, Self-Obsessed Idiots
Twenty years ago last month, a new sitcom debuted. Originally titled Insomnia Cafe, it was supposed to catch some of the heat that Seinfeld had generated, some of that post-Woody Allen, New York-y neurotic humor about relationships and everyday life. But the original pitch that was sent to NBC revealed it to be a very different kind of show:
"This show is about six people in their 20s who hang out at this coffee house. An after hours insomnia café. It’s about sex, love, relationship, careers… a time in your life when everything is possible, which is really exciting and really scary. It’s about searching for love and commitment and security… and a fear of love and commitment and security. And it’s about friendship, because when you’re young and single and in the city, your friends are your family."
Unlike Seinfeld and just about every other sitcom before it, with their misfit ensembles of slob dads, nagging moms, drunk priests, stoner sons, and pervert neighbors, Friends was to be the first aspirational sitcom. A comedy where the primary cast were young, good-looking metropolitans without drinking problems or STDs.
Playing on our desires to be just like those kinds of people, it was a resounding success. In the resulting years, Friends became an international phenomenon. The characters’ New York dating language entered the 90s pop-lexicon in a way that Bart Simpson’s “eat my shorts” never could. In fact, could the strange syntax of Chandler’s jokes BE any more subtly woven into the natural speech patterns of almost every Westerner aged 20 to 40? Everyone knew about “the Rachel,” and Matt LeBlanc was in a really great movie about abaseball-playing monkey. It’s ridiculous how much influence this decade-long romantic comedy had.