Why is Friends still the UK’s favourite sitcom?

New figures show the 1990s sitcom is most-streamed show this year

The Friends gang
(Image credit: NBC/Getty Images)

US sitcom Friends was the most streamed TV programme in Britain in the first quarter of 2018, industry statistics reveal.

All 234 episodes of the hit show, which ended 14 years ago, were uploaded to Netflix UK in January. Fans immediately tuned in, with twice as many episodes of Friends streamed in the first three months of 2018 than its nearest rival, Amazon’s The Grand Tour, according to TV watchdog Ofcom.

Friends also beat more recent hits including The Crown, Stranger Things and Black Mirror, the BBC reports.

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Starring David Schwimmer, Jennifer Anniston, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow, the sitcom was hugely successful during its ten-year run, and the final episode remains one of the most-watched finales in US TV history, with 65.9 million viewers tuning in.

But why is it still so popular in the UK?

The Ofcom report says that the rapid climb of Friends to the top of the streaming charts is being driven by viewers aged between 16 and 34. In 2016, columnist Lucy Mangan theorised in The Guardian that millennials may “find the sanitised, airbrushed version of New York life led by the perfectly coiffed sextet even more comforting than we did, the escapism offered even more valuable”.

“The Friends’ friends do not, after all, have to negotiate Tinder, social media, a post-crash job market, exponentially increasing rents or any of the other myriad stresses millennials are still desperately trying to evolve strategies to deal with,” Mangan noted.

The Daily Mail, on the other hand, suggests a simpler explanation - that “parents who loved the show in their 20s now sit down to watch the repeats with their teens, while students who were toddlers when it first aired proclaim their appreciation on Twitter”.

However, “some millennial viewers” who watched the show for the first time after it was made available on Netflix “complained that the humour was dated and offensive”, reports The Times.

Writing in The Independent, Ilana Kaplan says: “Storylines laced with homophobia, sexism, borderline emotional abuse and sexual harassment are portrayed as punchlines.

“The lack of diversity within its ten seasons is inexcusable and embarrassing.”

Journalist Rebecca Reid told BBC Radio 5 live in in January that she “couldn’t believe how badly [Friends] has aged”, adding: “The homophobia is staggering - the punchline of every joke about Ross is that his ex-wife is a lesbian, as if that’s some failing of his and that it’s hilarious that she’s a lesbian.

“The sexism’s pretty rampant as well... [and] it’s the whitest show in the whole world.”

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