A wedding-dress-clad Jennifer Aniston burst into a Manhattan coffee shop 25 years ago, catapulting the cultural powerhouse “Friends” onto television screens across the nation.
The sitcom, which first premiered on Sept. 22, 1994, follows a gang of six young professionals as they navigate the wild uncertainty of their mid-20s in the city that never sleeps. Audiences watched as they found and lost love, sang jingles about odorous cats, had lots of intimate moments and, above all, were there for each other.
After airing on NBC, “Friends” enjoyed immediate and incredible success. In addition to kick-starting the acting careers of its six core cast members, the series was nominated for a total of 62 prime-time emmy awards throughout its decadelong run, and the 2004 season finale was the most watched television episode of the decade.
Despite its list of accolades, members of the UT community have mixed opinions about the show’s legacy.
“It’s good, but it’s not something that I think is all that special,” said Miller Filla, psychology and sociology junior. “It’s a mindless TV show for me. It’s kind of stupid humor.”
Filla named “The Office” as his preferred sitcom and said he generally doesn’t watch that much TV, choosing instead to put on an episode in the background while doing other things.
Government freshman Nikki Dubey, on the other hand, said “Friends” still appeals to her in large part because it’s a low-maintenance watch.
“You can do other things while you watch it so it’s a really easy show to watch,” Dubey said.
She said more contemporary shows, such as character-heavy and plot-driven “Game of Thrones,” demand much more attention.
Because of its age, Dubey said another major draw of “Friends” is its intergenerational appeal.
“I watch it with my mom because she loves it, since it was around when she was a little bit younger too,” Dubey said.
Anthropology senior Reilly Shaffer said she also watched “Friends” with her mom, but felt the comedy hadn’t aged well now that her sense of humor has evolved.
“‘Friends’ definitely had a lot of jokes that were funny to me at the time,” Shaffer said. “But now it’s hard to go back.”
Alisa Perren, radio-television-film associate professor, said at the time it was airing, “Friends” effectively resonated with what it meant to be young and make a way in life with with the help of support network.
She said the show was hugely influential in a variety of ways. It was one of the anchors of NBC’s nightly programing and had great influence in terms of storytelling structure.
“You sort of see this pattern in sitcoms where they move increasingly away from the purely self-contained episodic to the more seralized storylines and this sort of soap opera dimension,” Perren said, citing the will-they-won’t-they swing of Ross and Rachel’s character arcs.
Perren said that the show’s enduring appeal might stem from the nostalgia it creates for an idealized version of that time.
“I think it’s a comforting kind of show,” Perren said. “Obviously in this climate, economically and culturally, it presents this sort of vision of how a community of people can make their way and support themselves, in an idealized kind of state.”