Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Why TV show 'Friends' is extremely popular among Generation Z

It seems the 1990s New York comedy will always be there for you

The cast of 'Friends' back in the day. Courtesy Warner Bros. Television
The cast of 'Friends' back in the day. Courtesy Warner Bros. Television

The massively popular American sitcom Friends may have ended nearly 15 years ago, but its popularity still lives on in 2019.

The show, which follows six 20-something New Yorkers in the '90s and early Noughties, was still the most binge-watched TV programme of 2018, according to a study from TV Time. And another recent report from Childwise Monitor shows it's extremely popular with children under the age of 16, ever since it started streaming on Netflix at the beginning of last year.

Few of those 2,000 young people surveyed in the UK were even alive when the show aired, between 1994 to 2004.

Millennial outrage

It's a very different story to the one we heard in early 2018, when Netflix first aired the show on its streaming platform. At the time, it was reported that millennials, who had never seen it before, were shocked by the sitcom's storylines, describing them as transphobic, homophobic and sexist.

Although it was progressive for its time, it appeared Friends just hadn't aged well.

But that, apparently, was a "moo point", as in December Netflix then paid WarnerMedia $100 million to keep it on its platform for another year.

Earlier in 2018, in May, it was also reported that Chinese Friends fans were heartbroken after a video site pulled it, proving the show's appeal also transcends international borders.

'Friends' display on a table at the 'Central Perk' coffee shop in Shanghai. AFP PHOTO
'Friends' display on a table at the 'Central Perk' coffee shop in Shanghai. AFP PHOTO

Why do we all still love it so?

Childwise believes there are a few reasons why its popularity has endured with a younger audience, and it's not just because we've seen a resurgence in '90s nostalgia. The agency's research director, Simon Leggett, said it may also be because the on-screen relationships between the six friends are still "relatable" and "aspirational". Particularly in an age when face-to-face interactions are often replaced with digital communication.

Somewhat paradoxically, however, Leggett also said he believes it's exactly because of the access we have to these digital platforms that the show lives on. He told ITV News: "Children are all over Netflix – they can watch it virtually whenever and wherever they like, from beginning to end in order and with ease, in a way that they couldn't before it was on Netflix (when it was previously only on Comedy Central) unless they broke out their parents' old DVD boxsets."

When Rachel Green, Phoebe Buffay, Monica Geller, Joey Tribbiani, Chandler Bing and Ross Geller first hit our screens, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Matt Le Blanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer were all unknown actors. As these are now all household names, however, this star-studded cast may also be a part of the appeal.

When 'Friends' first aired, the cast were previously unknown actors. NBC via Getty Images
When 'Friends' first aired, the cast were previously unknown actors. NBC via Getty Images

Leggett also added: "[The characters] seemingly almost never worry about 'adult' things like rent, bills, and jobs (and when they do, it's rarely in a serious way and they have each other for support)." Another reason why it would resonate with tweens and teens?

A rise in loneliness

Interestingly, the Childwise report also showed young people are feeling increasingly lonely. And, although it found five- to seven-year-olds spend an average of an hour-and-a-half a day online, with older children spending nearly three hours on digital platforms, the more they age the more time they wish they could spend unplugged.

So, perhaps watching a bunch of 20-somethings in the pre-digital age, with rarely a mobile phone in sight – back when Chandler's laptop's 12mb of Ram, 500mb hard drive and "built in spreadsheet capabilities" were a thing of excitement – is actually therapeutic.

That might also explain why the report reveals children still love playing traditional card and board games, such as Snap, Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders. Nine in 10 of the five- to seven-year-olds surveyed also said they continue to read books for pleasure.

So, despite any politically incorrect storylines and gaping plot holes (of which there are many), clearly no one's on a break from Friends.

Updated: February 7, 2019 12:49 PM

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