In college, I lived and breathed Friends. I wrote my thesis on Friends. I worshiped the ground that Marta Kauffman and David Crane walk on. I watch the reruns every night, just so I can pretend it's still on. But last night, when I sat down for my nightly dose of a syndicated pick-me-up, I was severely disappointed. It was like being betrayed by my usually loyal best friend. It was unexpected and a little bit traumatic. In the late-in-the-series 9th season episode that aired in syndication the other day, titled "The One with Phoebe's Rats," my beloved Friends resorted to a joke that not only have they used before, but that they are most definitely above.
Amidst all of the other chaos in the episode, which includes Phoebe keeping rats as pets and Rachel having a birthday party, Ross manages to hire a new nanny for Emma. The girls are immediately threatened when the guys start fawning over how hot she is, and and Joey immediately hits on her. Wackiness involving Joey ensues, and for 23 minutes, we have to listen to Ross whine about what will happen if Joey sleeps with his new nanny. The payoff for that already brilliant setup? The nanny is actually a lesbian! Just in case you don't understand the joke, let me explain. This is funny to sitcom writers because a) now Joey can't hit on her anymore! b) all of that drama between Ross and Joey was unnecessary! and c) lesbians can't be pretty! Are you kidding me with this? The oldest, most boring of lesbian stereotypes and sitcom jokes in the book was just uttered by people who were supposed to be my Friends.
As I looked at the clock, and realized that my beloved TV show had just spent most of the episode setting up that "joke," I couldn't help but shout "seriously?!" in true Meredith Grey fashion. Really, Marta and David? Is that the best you could do? Not only has that joke been done before, but it's been done by you! And the first version was better, too (see video below). The one that had three dimensional characters, an actual developing lesbian relationship, and went on for about five seasons, until Carol and Susan disappeared into some kind of sitcom graveyard. (They're buried next to Paul's sister from Mad About You, Ellen Morgan, and Jessie and Katie from Once and Again).
I find it hard to believe that the show that came up with Carol and Susan is now resorting to the "hot girl is really a lesbian" joke. Perhaps that wise TV sage Emily Gilmore was right when she said "there's nothing funny about being a lesbian," because, well, just being a lesbian isn't particularly funny. The problem with the punchline on this particular Friends episode is that it's the type of joke frequently used in sitcoms and in recent romantic comedies - one that doesn't require the writer the know their character's personality at all. It's the type of joke which singles people out and ostracizes them for being who they are, which is a strange thing coming from the show which usually touts acceptance by welcoming us into it's characters' living rooms every day. Worst of all, though, it's old, it's boring and it's ordinary. And frankly, I expect a lot more than "ordinary" from my Friends.