Friends the TV show, has been around for over a decade now and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Almost every generation has watched the popular TV series and the current generation also seems to be getting introduced to the show quite quickly.
Twenty-five years later, the show hasn’t just endured, it’s exploded, reportedly earning $1 billion in syndication revenue for Warner Bros a year. Along with The Office and Grey’s Anatomy, it’s one of the most-watched shows on Netflix, with viewers around the world spending 54.3 million hours (the equivalent of 62,000 years) watching it in 2018.
With numbers like that, it’s not hard to see why the streaming service reportedly paid $80 million to keep it throughout 2019. Last month, WarnerMedia announced the show will be moving to HBO Max, its upcoming streaming service, next year.
Looking at those numbers, it's clear that Friends has taken over the world, even though it released in 1994. But why is the show so popular?
Why Is Friends The TV Show So Popular?
To its fans, Friends is an easy, hopeful show, one in which life is significantly more carefree than it is now or was then. It takes place in a universe completely insulated from the horrors of the dark outside world, a rarity for a TV show these days.
Another factor is that since the show is pretty dated, it takes us back to a time where people had real social interactions and the fact that the internet was a lowkey, not so popular thing back then - it becomes instantly nostalgic for a lot of the viewers. The portrayal of the characters is certainly a utopic idea - hanging around at the coffee house all the time, always having time to kick it back with your buddies and the sort - it still stays pretty realistic.
The other factor is that it has a relatability quotient unlike any other - it isn't a niche sitcom that requires you to be extremely educated about social or political issues like many of the shows now. Considering the number of episodes, there's enough room to accommodate all the situations of a normal person, making it more relatable and approachable.
For Americans, in particular, it resonated with the audience with regard to the American dream - they could afford big apartments in New York City on barista money, and they had plenty of time to just hang. Their lives and looks also weren’t overproduced, another hallmark of modern-day TV, which made them seem like regular, real people.
But what does Friends have to offer in the Indian context?
Why Friends Is So Popular In India
After we're born, we're usually pushed into education at the ages of 2.5 to 3. There we are told to understand one important aspect of life. That life is competitive. Your opinions do not matter, teenage love is a waste of time, you're not allowed to date, hanging out with friends is a waste of time, the only thing that matters is the hours of work you're willing to put in. We have people in elementary schools who have 10-12 hour workdays.
School, projects, external tutors are pretty much Indian life. By the time you reach high school, you're pressurized by your parents to start working for IIT-JEE which will get you admitted into the IITs. You're never given the time to figure out what you want to do. You're never given the opportunity to look at life like it's a beautiful place. To discover the meaning of love or friendship. You hang out with friends. But you don't get to feel things. Your life's too busy. It's too taxing. You're too tied up.
This overwhelming aspect of Indian teens and adults alike has led to one part of Friends popularity in India. Here was a world we dreamed about. A world where we would be free to do pretty much what we liked. A world where you were free to discover your own calling. Where you could fall in love and have one night stands. This was a world consistent with many people's concept of utopia and we found it fascinating.
Friends the TV show acted as a form of escapism and freedom like never before, we learnt about American culture, we learnt that life was more than just a competitive rat race to the top.
The setting itself played a key role - New York City was symbolic in so many ways. For many Indians, New York is an more than a city, it's an idea which entails freedom, and dreams and independence. This complemented the overall idea of the show with six people sharing their lives together. Friends the TV show became a symbol of dreams coming true, of a society that wasn't so competitive all the time, a society that allowed people a certain amount fo freedom.
India also witnessed its first wave of economic liberalization in 1991. An economy driven by Nehruvian socialism was opening up to the new world. This changed the fortunes of the country. More and more people could afford TVs and cable. More and more people were opening up to this new thing called the internet. (By then the software industry in Bangalore had started cropping up and the fibre optic cable had been laid.) So, for many Indians, Friends the TV show was pretty much their first exposure to the American culture and the American way of life.
This is how Friends gained it's popularity, over the world and continues to do so even now. If you're a viewer, why do you like the show so much?