As far as timelessly popular sitcoms go, NBC’s Friends is easily one of the strongest contenders.
Having aired in the late ’90s and early ’00s, Friends — which follows a lovable group of twentysomethings living in New York — is still undeniably a huge hit amongst fans today, especially ever since it was added to Netflix in 2015.
But, in recent years, certain aspects of Friends have been reexamined and criticized by viewers — namely the lack of diversity within its all-white main cast, which includes Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer.
And some of the main cast themselves have addressed the heaps of criticism Friends has faced over its casting, with David — who played Ross Geller over the show’s ten seasons — even revealing a couple of years ago that he’d made a “conscious push” for the show to hire more diverse actors.
“I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color,” he said. “One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian American woman, and later I dated African American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.”
Well, now, another of Friends’s main cast members, Lisa, has addressed the lack of diversity, seemingly justifying the writers’ decisions as she claimed it was based on their personal experiences.
Lisa, who portrayed fan-favorite Phoebe Buffay, sat down with The Daily Beast on Wednesday for a wide-ranging interview, during which she was asked how she feels about the diversity on the show.
“I feel like it was a show created by two people who went to Brandeis [University] and wrote about their lives after college,” she said. “And for shows especially, when it’s going to be a comedy that’s character-driven, you write what you know.”
“They have no business writing stories about the experiences of being a person of color. I think at that time, the big problem that I was seeing was, ‘Where’s the apprenticeship?’” she added.
However, Lisa went on to note that if Friends were to be remade today, it would need to include a “different” and “more diverse” cast.
“I think if there would ever be anything like [a Friends movie], if Marta [Kauffman] and David [Crane] ever signed off on anything like that, it would have to be a different cast at that age,” she said, referring to the show's cocreators. “I think it would need to be more current — and more diverse representation is not a bad idea, you know?”
In a similar vein, Lisa explained a couple of years ago that a Friends reboot would be “completely different” from the original series. “It would not be an all-white cast, for sure,” she said, before clarifying that she feels the show “should be looked at as a time capsule, not for what [it] did wrong.”
What’s more, cocreator Marta recently expressed regret over the writers’ decision to include an all-white main cast. So much so, in fact, that just a couple of months ago, she pledged $4 million to Brandeis University’s African and African American studies department.
“I’ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,” she said. “Admitting and accepting guilt is not easy. It’s painful looking at yourself in the mirror. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know better 25 years ago.”
Marta’s pledge came just over a year after Friends executive producer Kevin Bright addressed criticism of the show’s “all-white, heteronormative” main casting.
Echoing Lisa’s latest remarks about sticking to writing “what you know,” Kevin explained that he and the other writers based their casting on their own experiences when they were “young and in New York.”
“We didn't intend to have an all-white cast,” he said. “That was not the goal, either. Obviously, the chemistry between these six actors speaks for itself.”
Kevin went on to note that it’s “important for today’s shows to be reflective of the ways society truly is,” though swiftly maintained that he had no regrets over his casting choices.
“I don’t have any regrets other than hindsight,” he said. “I would have been insane not to hire those six actors. What can I say? I wish Lisa was Black? I’ve loved this cast. I loved the show and I loved the experience. I know Marta has a different feeling about it. I think it affects us all.”
Interestingly, Marta also recently admitted to feeling regret over the show's handling of another subject surrounding one of the main character’s transgender parents.
Fans will likely remember that Chandler Bing, portrayed by Matthew Perry, had a transgender parent whose stage name was “Helena Handbasket.” However, the characters would always misgender her, referring to her as “Chandler's dad.”
Speaking about the subject to BBC News last month, Marta addressed the fact that the show “kept referring to [Helena] as ‘Chandler’s father,’ even though Chandler's father was trans.”
“Pronouns were not yet something that I understood, so we didn't refer to that character as ‘she,’” she admitted. “That was a mistake.”