Chicken Skin: They Said They'd Be There For Me


By Gabriela Kalter

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Chicken Skin is a new pop culture column to BreakThru Radio that contemplates the deeper meaning, if any, to what is, or was ever, popular. For our inaugural edition, Gabriela Kalter discusses her miseducation in adulthood via the ’90s smash sitcom.

It’s been almost 10 years since the series finale of Friends aired on NBC, but thanks to my kickass DVD collection and broadcast syndication on the likes of Nick at Night and TBS, I get to hang out with these besties pretty regularly. Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, and Joey have always been very reliable friends, showing up on my TV screen with the simple click of a remote. They’re always around, always hanging out, making jokes, drinking coffee, and sitting in Central Perk on their favorite brown velour couch, right where I always need them to be.

Of course, I know they aren’t real. They’re fictionalized sitcom characters that were created with a strategically developed dynamic to ensure good ratings and continued support from the network. And while I’m able to intellectually acknowledge this fact, the gang always seemed so real to me, like I was hanging out with my own best friends and cracking up alone in the living room as the laugh track blared between jokes.

Friends created this world of comfort for not only the characters to live in, but for the audience to lose themselves in as well. The six friends were each other’s family in a big scary world where it’s so easy to feel alone. And maybe the six twenty somethings living in the Big Apple wouldn’t have really been friends with 12-year-old me sitting in New Jersey snacking on Gushers and Fruit Roll Ups, but there was no way for them to ever actually reject me and that was a good enough criterion for me to somehow feel like I was part of that world.

Yet subscribing to these fictionalized ideas of friendship has proven to be colossally idiotic. The reality of the world that Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, and Joey live in requires a significant suspension of disbelief on the viewers’ part, and if you are going to successfully separate that cozy Friends world from real life, there are some very important differences to keep in mind.

If you want to enter someone else’s apartment, you have to knock. This is a big one. Since the premiere of the pilot in 1994, Friends seemed to operate under the obscure notion that if you want to visit a friend’s apartment, whether it’s across the hall or across the street, no one had to knock. Monica definitely suffered the brunt of such misguided social behavior as her apartment became the headquarters of sorts. Across the hall from Joey and Chandler (and later, Joey and Rachel), Monica’s apartment easily saw the most foot traffic and visitors who almost never seemed to knock.

The barge-through-the-door move was such a staple and a true cementation of the comfort that the friends felt with each other. It’s a beautiful homage to the loving bond between the six of them, (blah, blah, blah).

But, real life doesn’t work like that. Real life has boundaries. Real life people love their boundaries, especially New Yorkers. So, don’t be fooled like I was. It’s not okay to open people’s doors at your leisure. I don’t care if you’re bored or lonely or what, and neither do the people on the other side of that door that you’re barging into. Take my real life experience for example.

My freshman year of college in NYC saw me attempting to navigate a more adult and independent existence where I lived in a large building with peers and hallways and dorm rooms. I thought of the six New Yorkers that I had always looked up to and wanted to emulate. I implemented social norms that I had grown up watching on Friends, sure that this was the way adults functioned in the big city. Needless to say, my fellow students weren’t too keen on my misguided definition of boundaries, and barging into dorm rooms unannounced without a knock didn’t fly the way that Friends had me believe. Even if a door is open, still make a conscious effort to announce yourself, give a little knock and the door, and hope that no one is too naked.

This brings me to my next unrealistic social practice gleaned from Friends. It’s weird to take naps at other people’s apartments while they aren’t there.

Say that somehow you did barge into your friend’s place successfully, but it seems that no one is home. First of all, this wouldn’t happen because the door would be locked. People in NYC lock their doors. This isn’t Canada.

But, say you got in somehow and felt tired and hungry. Friends would have us believe that it’s okay to open the fridge, grab a snack, and then sprawl out on the couch for a delicious nap. Not the case. This is not okay, this is actually a really weird thing to do. Sure, maybe all six of the friends had keys to each other’s apartments, but they also had their own beds and couches to nap on.

It was (again) during my freshman year of college when I discovered that people don’t do this in real life. If you eat someone else’s food, they get mad because they paid for it and were maybe planning to cook dinner with that snack you just inhaled. Monica never got angry enough about the amount of food Joey ate from her fridge. So, naturally I believed that eating your friend’s food was simply an indication of a strong bond and everlasting friendship.

I also believed that napping in someone else’s common room was perhaps a symbol of how close and comfortable I felt to these people who I’d hoped would reciprocate and finally round out my group of friends into a very Friends-esque existence. This never happened because it’s weird to take naps in someone else’s space and to eat their food when you aren’t as close as your delusions would have you believe.

Grown ups have to show up to work. If you’re living in the village in a spacious apartment, there’s no way you’re not going to show up at work as much as it seemed the Friends gang didn’t have to. Monica was a chef, Ross was a Professor of Paleontology, Rachel worked at Bloomingdale’s, Chandler computed numbers or something, Phoebe was a massage therapist and street guitarist, and Joey was an untalented actor with a short run on Days of Our Lives and some shitty parts in small plays.

Despite the periodic mention of Monica’s apartment being rent controlled, there’s just no way that she (or the rest of them) would have gotten by considering the amount of time they spent hanging out at Central Perk compared to the amount of time they spent at work.

Real adults who can afford to live a comfortable NYC lifestyle are at their jobs working most of the time rather than chatting with their friends at 11am on a Tuesday at the local coffee shop. And sure, we would see the friends at their respective jobs in various episodes, but the fact is, there were just too many weekday afternoons that were spent playing hooky from work and drinking coffee.

You will never get to sit on the same couch every time you enter your local coffee shop, especially if that couch is seemingly the largest, most spacious, most comfortable couch in the entire joint. I mean literally every time? They always got that couch and there was always at least one of them sitting in Central Perk just under the assumption that the others would soon arrive. Did they ever call each other and plan to meet there? Or was it always coincidental that they all showed up to hang out together? And I know that Gunther was in love with Rachel, but does that mean he reserved the big comfy couch for her and her friends to occupy every single time they entered the cafe? Also, I feel like there are a lot more bars and uncomfortable dark club situations in your twenties than Friends would have us believe.

There is also no way in hell that Monica was once an overweight chubster. I mean, she was literally a heifer during the flashback episodes and we are supposed to somehow believe that Courtney Cox (one of the skinniest people in the history of the world, ever) was once an overeating fatty? It’s just a bit of a stretch. On top of it all, we’re supposed to believe that she dropped all of that weight in one year, between the Thanksgiving where Chandler said she was fat and the next Thanksgiving where she sought out revenge and in an effort to embarrass Chandler like he embarrassed her, she ends up chopping off one of his toes. (That’s a great episode by the way.)

But seriously, in one year? Maybe this is why my impression of weight loss and the time line of seeing actual results in severely skewed. Thanks Monica. Not only will I never think I’m skinny enough, but I will feel even worse knowing how far you’ve come in comparison.

With ten consistently entertaining seasons, (quiet to all you Friends haters, I will never quite understand where you’re coming from) there was never a dull moment. Despite the laugh tracks, the sometimes intrusive popularity of the show, and the fact the Matt LeBlanc’s spinoff Joey was a total disaster, Friends holds a very special place in my heart.

The world of the sitcom is understandably skewed, I guess it’s up to us as the viewers to accept that and make a very clear distinction between the world of the show and the world we actually live in. To leave you with even more to think about, here are some additional observations regarding the unrealistic behaviors and social interactions of our beloved (fictional) pals on Friends.

If you are an out of work actor like Joey, you probably won’t score a two bedroom apartment in the village. Also, I felt like Joey was almost too dumb sometimes. Like, how had he gotten this far in life being this stupid?

– If you don’t have a friend who’s a chef like Monica, you should probably learn to cook for yourself. Also, Monica totally spoiled her friends by always cleaning and hosting and taking in Rachel when she ran out on her wedding even though they hadn’t spoken in years. I don’t think that these people actually exist.

– If you’re a weirdo, ex-convict like Phoebe who used to live on the streets after her mother committed suicide, and once had a pimp spit in her mouth, it’s probably going to be a lot harder to find a normal group of friends than the show would have you believe.

– If you and your sibling don’t have a relationship like Monica and Ross, don’t think you aren’t as close. In fact, at times it may be for the best to maintain a separate group of friends. As a kid, I would endlessly make my brother promise me that we would grow up to be like Monica and Ross, but I don’t quite think they’re who we should be aspiring towards.

If you can see ugly naked guy in his apartment all of the time, then he can also see you. Knowing that he is naked most of the time with the ability to see into your apartment should be more alarming and uncomfortable than portrayed on the show.

Life is way messier and more uncomfortable than these friends make it seem. Sometimes we are going to feel super alone and we won’t have Monica across the hall to make us a lasagna or homemade jam or truffles. We just have to lift our heads and be our own best friend sometimes.