You know that feeling when you have three essays plus a dissertation to write, so to cope with stress you binge watch Friends? That’s where I am right now. Usually, the show is relaxing background noise. Though some of the jokes are dated, it’s easy enough to ignore the gay jokes or fat jokes, putting them down to it just being of its time, knowing they wouldn’t get aired now. But Friends; it’s iconic and it’s everyone’s favourite show, and even since its launch on Netflix, it gets away with a lot. One episode, however, made me uncomfortable at every turn. Season three’s episode eleven: The One Where Chandler Can’t Remember Which Sister.
The titular storyline involves Chandler getting drunk at Joey’s birthday party, kissing Joey’s sister and then not remembering which one. At the same party, Chandler also tells a sister ‘Those are some huge breasts you have.’ And, while trying to remember which sister he kissed, he says, ‘Veronica, the girl in the red skirt, I definitely stuck my tongue down her throat.’ And Monica replies, ‘That was me.’ He apologizes for being ‘over-friendly’ and Monica, Phoebe, Rachel and Ross all say it’s okay, implying he did it to them, too. Chandler finds out from Joey that he kissed Mary-Angela and later goes to the Tribbiani house to apologize to her. He ends up kissing another sister, thinking she was Mary-Angela. Then, when asked to apologize to Mary-Angela, he still can’t identify her.
Phoebe doesn’t have a great time this episode, either. Monica and Rachel have a loud upstairs neighbour, who charms them every time they ask him to be quiet. Phoebe goes to tell him off and ends up dating him, sleeping with him, only to hear him sleep with somebody else later in the episode. A few other gems of the episode include Chandler’s suicide joke about seeing Janice and her ex-husband together, Joey telling a story of how he bumped into a girl he used to be seeing and ended up having sex with her and her friend, and Rachel saying she doesn’t want to work a demeaning job just because it is related to her chosen field, to Monica who has to wear fake breasts at work.
Of course, Friends is a sitcom from the 90s, we can excuse the slightly questionable storylines. There is little to no point in getting offended by a show that first aired over twenty years ago. Thankfully, things have changed; their casual sexism and homophobia, as well as body shaming and racism, would no longer be accepted on contemporary TV. There is one storyline I found hard to ignore, however. That is Ross and Rachel, and the infamous Mark Situation.
So, Rachel is finally working in a fashion-related job where her only duty is making coffee and sorting out clothes hangers. She meets a man called Mark who offers to get her an interview at Bloomingdales. Naturally, Rachel is thrilled. However, Ross tells Rachel it is only because he wants to have sex with her, and asks her if she told Mark about him. Ross immediately gets jealous and possessive, to the point of trying to control Rachel. Ross is even happy when Mark hasn’t called and tries discouraging Rachel from phoning him. When Mark tells Rachel he got her the interview, and will meet with her for lunch to prepare, instead of being happy for her, Ross freaks out, tells her what to wear, and says, ‘This ‘dreamy’ guy is taking MY girlfriend out for a meal,’ and asks Monica, ‘Am I out of my mind? Am I losing my senses?’ Yes Ross, yes you are.
Monica attempts to calm him down by asking him, ‘Even if he wants to sleep with her, does that mean he gets to?’ It took Monica saying this to make Ross realize that Rachel has free will over who she sleeps with, it is not up to a man who would like to. (Until this point, did Ross really think any guy who likes Rachel has the right to be with her?) Ross’ behavior in this episode is disturbing, and what’s worse is that it only escalates as the season progresses. (The next episode is called ‘The One With All the Jealousy.’) Thinking about it, almost nothing about the way Ross treats Rachel is healthy; from the jealousy early on, to trying to lose her her dream job in Paris so she would stay in New York in the last few episodes of season 10. (Don’t even get me started on the ‘we were on a break’ thing.)
Watching Friends back, it is disturbing how much Ross gets away with, under the pretense of being ‘a nice guy.’ (He even tells her, ‘I’m sorry I’ve been so crazy and jealous, it’s just I like you a lot, so.’) So much of his behavior is creepy and borderline abusive; it is surprising it went unchecked even back then. Hopefully, now we’re are more able to notice signs of manipulation or abuse, not only in romantic relationships but in all kinds. Though we can ignore most of Friends errors, Ross’ behavior will leave an ugly scar on its legacy. If we learn anything from this episode, it’s that jealousy in relationships is toxic and unhealthy, and should never, ever be tolerated.
That, and that Rachel should have stayed on the plane.
(For further reading, Buzzfeed have listed every reason why Ross Geller is the worst character to ever grace our screens.)