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Why 'Friends' Is Still So Popular

The hugely popular sitcom Friends ran for 236 episodes from September 1994 to May 2004. I have watched five episodes in my life.When it premiered in 1994, the show was everywhere. The theme song was everywhere, “The Rachel” haircut was everywhere. I was in middle school then and thought I was very punk rock. Battle lines were drawn. In the US, some kids were into Friends and Gap cargo pants, and some of us were into Buffy the Vampire Slayer , and wearing all black and writing unfortunate poetry. It was the ‘90s. Things were weird.Twenty five years later, the show hasn’t just endured, it’s exploded, reportedly earning $1 billion in syndication revenue for Warner Bros a year. Along with The Office and Grey’s Anatomy , it’s one of the most watched shows on Netflix, with viewers around the world spending 54.3 million hours (the equivalent of 62,000 years) watching it in 2018. With numbers like that, it’s not hard to see why the streaming service reportedly paid $80 million to keep it throughout 2019. Last month, WarnerMedia announced the show will be moving to HBO Max, its upcoming streaming service, next year.The show’s enduring popularity isn’t just down to a devoted fan base of nostalgic 30 and 40-somethings. It’s also due to a new crop of binge-watching Gen Z-ers around the world who see themselves in its characters and situations, even though Friends premiered before some of them were even born.Twenty-six-year-old Kristobel Ochuba of Nigeria is a Friends superfan who says she has streamed the entire series maybe ten times—as a teenager, a college student, and now as a married person. She says she’s found something relatable about the show at each point. “All the characters are unique and pretty layered. Depending on the situation, you’ll find yourself relating with all the different characters at different points,” Ochuba says. “In the end, you connect with the entire cast.”Given how dated the show has become by contemporary standards, its enduring appeal can be a little surprising. But for new viewers, however, Friends harkens back to a simpler time—before apps, social media, and smartphones dominated our attention, time, and friendships. For some, that’s enough to forgive its flaws.“How you doin’?” pre-smartphoneTo its fans, Friends is an easy, hopeful show, one in which life is significantly more carefree than it is now or was then. It takes place in a universe completely insulated from the horrors of the dark outside world, a rarity for a TV show these days.Joey, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Monica, and Ross didn’t have to live through 9/11 (the show only hinted at the terrorist attack taking place) and the Iraq War then anymore than they have to live through Trump or bi-weekly mass shootings now. They could afford big apartments in New York City on barista money, and they had plenty of time to just hang. Their lives and looks also weren’t overproduced, another hallmark of modern day TV.American viewer Claire Morey says Friends feels “pure and funny, while nowadays many sitcoms are frankly fake and annoying.” The 14-year-old says “the idea of living in a big city surrounded by friends is my idea of a great post-college life.”“Having time for coffee and living at each other’s apartments all the time, it’s not a realistic dynamic between friendship circles nowadays,” says Jessica Teixeira, 21, from South Africa. Still, “it is something we probably all aspire for.”Simply hanging out with friends was a thing Gen X-ers really did, though it was probably less a factor of having the time to do it, than that being at home at the time was extremely boring. The Friends gang is also not so perfect individually a ...Read more

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