Friends characters from bad to worse

Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe is an award-winning author, editor and publisher from Leeds, now based in Manchester. He runs Dog Horn Publishing and is Director and Writing Coordinator for Young Enigma, a writer development programme for LGBT young people.
Adam Lowe

Netflix has just renewed its contract to stream Friends in 2019. The end of the year was marked by a flurry of people binge-watching the series before – so they thought – it was going to get removed. As such, we’ve been having a lot of debates about the show again – including the infamous ending and whether it was the right or the wrong way to end the show.

Everyone has their favourite Friends character. And I bet you know which one you are: Chandler, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, Rachel or Ross? But have you ever sat down to consider how bad some of the characters behaved – and which ones are worst of all?

This article is sure to see me flamed from here to kingdom come, but it has to be said: some of our best Friends weren’t really very friendly.

Phoebe

Phoebe is the least bad of the bunch. She’s usually happy and pragmatic, but with a deliciously dark edge. She’s lived through some trauma, but she’s come out with a cheery attitude and lots of confidence.

Phoebe brings great comic moments with her songs and her increasingly ridiculous tales of her past exploits. She’s also either a compulsive liar or a truly free spirit, doing whatever she wants, when she wants to. Sometimes this gets her into trouble but it’s small fry compared to what her friends get up to.

The worst she’s done, probably, is steal a cat (for a while, before she gives it back).

Phoebe also manages to save Earl, the officer manager, from suicide by concocting a story of fatalistic intervention that proves his importance to the universe. You go, Phoebe!

Rachel

Rachel is perhaps the most interesting character in Friends. Most articles focus on her on-again/off-again relationship with Ross, but I think she’s way more than this.

Rachel starts off a spoiled rich girl who nevertheless sacrifices comfort and her lifestyle to find her dream career. She shows the most growth over the show and I, personally, daydream that she never got off that plane – that she had a life in Paris where she could fulfil her potential away from her manipulative, man-baby ex.

Rachel gets almost as much screen-time as Ross, but grows much more than he does. As such, I’d say she’s ultimately the protagonist of the whole show. It’s all about her delayed coming-of-age and discovering herself, and she represents, in many ways, the changing role of many women at the time.

She does have her moments of awfulness, though: heading up at Ross’ wedding, determined to tell him that she loved him; getting in the way of his relationships with Julie and Bonnie (among others); and that daft moment she tries to hide a package with as Post-it on it in boyfriend Tag’s desk because she can’t admit she was wrong (admittedly this last is not in the same league as Ross’ behaviour while ‘on a break’).

Mostly, though, Rachel gets a pass because of how much she changes over the show.

Monica

Monica certainly gives in to Flanderisation as the show progresses – becoming more highly strung, competitive and anal – but she’s mostly likeable, driven and intelligent. This possibly softens a little after her marriage to Chandler, whereafter she’s portrayed as more upbeat and fulfilled.

The voice of reason in the group, she’s also the one who gets things done. She keeps the gang on track and makes sure everyone’s fed! She can be an attention-seeker (likely due to her parents’ favouritism towards Ross) but she’s usually endearing with it. She’s also super-competitive and with good reason – she often wins (though not always, as Rachel loses her apartment).

Fat Monica is the best version of Monica – especially in the alternate timeline, where she and Chandler end up together through very different means. She’s so happy and joyous as this younger self. I don’t give a damn that she enjoys eating – let the girl be!

Monica, though bossy, endears herself to us because of her insecurities (such as at her new job, where Joey has to pose as an employee so she can sack him) and her patience (such as dealing with Chandler’s many dramas).

Chandler

Chandler gets less annoying as time passes – though I prefer the loser Chandler from the alternate timeline more. He certainly develops over the show, too: becoming less of a sarcastic, one-note character and becoming far more interesting as a result.

The scene where he invites his dad to his wedding is especially moving. Despite the occasional low-key homophobia and transphobia which occurs in the show, it can’t be denied that Friends also often reflected LGBT lives with warmth and nuance. Chandler’s dead was the butt of many gags, but was ultimately a very human and endearing character, and her inclusion was very touching.

Chandler is clearly intelligent and creative, and he uses his scathing humour as an outlet for that creativity. But he also uses humour as an outlet for his anxieties, which makes him the ‘mean’ one of the group – at least, at the beginning, anyway. Chandler bursts bubbles and teases his friends, despite making as many mistakes as any of them (except perhaps Ross).

But married and settled Chandler is almost zen-like in comparison. Maybe that makes him less interesting to some people – there are certainly fewer jokes to mine from happiness – but it certainly makes him feel more rounded by the show’s end.

Joey

Joey is sweet, though occasionally a pervert, and some of his behaviour (viewed through a 21st Century lens) would be considered distasteful. His intentions seem mostly harmless, however, and his character becomes less hypersexualised as the show goes on.

He’s a loyal friend, generally amiable and rarely malicious. He’s one of the least neurotic of the bunch (perhaps on equal footing with or just behind Phoebe) and seems content with his lot. As the show progresses, he becomes one of our favourite characters.

Controversially, Joey is also a better partner for Rachel in many cases. He actually listens to her and what she wants, and they seem to have a genuine friendship (as opposed to Rachel and Ross, who take the roll of stalkee and stalker, object and subject, throughout the show). Joey probably would have been happy to let Rachel live her own life, too – he’s not as needy and obsessive as Ross, and has an enviable acting career that would have taken him off around the world anyway.

Ross

Ross is undoubtedly the worst. He’s a petty, childish man baby without Chandler’s sense of humour or Joey’s naivety. He dates Rachel’s sister (gross), cheats on Rachel (even if it was a ‘break’, it doesn’t show his commitment to her) and is constantly childish in his relationship with her.

As my cousin once put it, ‘Ross is an emotionally abusive wank-box. He obsesses over Rachel when she’s a shallow popular girl who needs other people to take care of her, but as soon as she gets a career he torments her and accuses her of being unfaithful constantly. And the second she asks him for space he has sex with another woman.’

Damn. That’s one scathing review, cuz!

On the plus side, he’s intelligent and a good (though apparently very part-time) father to his son, Ben.

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