Were They on a Break? We Settled the Biggest Plot Controversies of ‘Friends’

We went to the new "Friends" pop-up bar in Chicago and took a survey of patrons about the show's most divisive plot lines.

|
Nov 20 2018, 3:51pm

All photos by Justin Schmitz

Over the past decade, a potent combination of nostalgia, social media and good, old fashioned capitalism has given birth to a new phenomena: the themed pop-up bar. From Rick and Morty and Game of Thrones to Stranger Things and Saved by the Bell, these limited-time odes to pop culture are wildly popular, perfectly ‘grammable mini-escapes from the trash fire that is our current reality.

One of the latest brands to hop on the pop-up trend is Replay, a Chicago-based chain of arcade bars, which is currently hosting a Friends-themed popup at its Lincoln Park location. Complete with recreations of the famous fountain couch, Monica’s living room, Joey and Chandler’s La-Z-Boy setup and a host of custom cocktails—the "How You Doin,'" the "Smelly Cat,"“Chanberries,”—fans of the iconic ‘90s sitcom are flocking to the northside bar to get a selfie (or six) in its eerily familiar surroundings. (One Friends-obsessed couple even chose to be married at the bar.)

The pop-up's success is proof, nearly 15 years after the show aired its last episode, Friends is still an untouchable cultural benchmark. Other sitcoms have tried valiantly to recreate its magic, but so far no group of quirky, attractive white people living in objectively unattainable New York apartments has been able to capture the public's hearts in the same way. While the show has its issues (see: zero diversity, rampant homophobia, the entire fat Monica situation), for most viewers, Friends remains a happy break from reality, full of plot points fans never tire of debating—questions that have inspired countless online think pieces, holiday arguments and sleepless nights among the show’s most ardent devotees. We decided to stop by Replay on a busy Saturday afternoon to finally get some definitive answers on the show's biggest controversies and divisive plot lines over the years from the Friends stans in the crowd. Here's how it broke down.

Were Ross and Rachel REALLY on a break?

Easily the most hotly debated question in the series’ ten-season run, Ross’ drunken dalliance with copy center hottie Chloe on what should have been his anniversary with Rachel remains a point of contention within the Friends fandom. Of the 22 superfans we surveyed at Replay, ten fervently believed they were NOT on a break, despite the fact that Rachel literally said, “maybe we should just take a break.”

Narrowly out-voting the naysayers, the majority believed the couple WERE on a break, but acknowledged the terms of said break were not very clear.

Friends on a couch
All photos Justin Schmitz

“They were definitely on a break, but I’d still have been pissed if I were Rachel,” said bar-goer Margo Hawthorne, who is not a fan of the Ross/Rachel romance in general. “He finally landed his dream girl, and then instead of trusting her, he went on a jealous crusade to sabotage her career because her coworker had a crush on her, then fucked someone else when she called him out. Like of course he had a crush on her, she’s Rachel fucking Green! Get used to it, nerd!!!”

THE FINAL WORD (12 to 10): Ross and Rachel WERE on a break, but Ross is still a dirtbag.

What is the most cringe-worthy plot line?

Since Friends hit Netflix last year, many young people watching the series for the first time—or rewatching it through woke-colored glasses—have found it to be as dated and problematic as, uh, most ‘90s sitcoms? From body shaming and misogyny to transphobia and the use of the r-word, there are a lot of cringe-worthy plot points and moments to unpack. And while the answers to which objectively problematic plot line was the MOST problematic were all over the map, many fans narrowed in on both Ross and Joey’s poor treatment of women.

“Ross is just generally a disaster,” said Replay reveler Ankur Shah. “I don’t know how he still has a job between his anger management issues and the fact that he’s dated both students AND colleagues”

“I love Joey,” said Rachel/Joey shipper Mackenzie Chalifoux. “But I was just watching an episode where he’s making fun of some girl for not being skinny enough, and it was really uncomfortable.”

THE FINAL WORD: If we have to pick ONE, it’s sexism. But man, it’s hard to pick one.

girl poses in front of chandler cut out
All photos Justin Schmitz

Is Ross a bad dad?

Astute Friends scholars have noted how little time Ross spends with his older son Ben throughout the course of the series. While Ben appears occasionally on screen until season eight, after Ross and Rachel’s daughter Emma is born, he disappears altogether. Did Ross lose custody of Ben due to his erratic and irresponsible behavior in later seasons? No one knows for sure, but despite his son’s mysterious absence, the general consensus from the Replay crowd was that Ross is NOT a bad dad.

“Ross tries really hard,” said pro-Ross fan Max Klekner. “He didn’t move to London for Emily because of Ben. He gave up his second marriage for his son, isn’t that what a good dad should do?”

THE FINAL WORD (17 to 5): Ross is (somehow?) a good dad.

The menu of the 'Friends' pop-up menu
All photos Justin Schmitz

Should Monica have married Richard?

Literally no one wanted this. The final tally was 22 to 0 in favor of Chandler.

“Monica made the right choice,” said Klekner. “She wanted to have a family, and that was never going to happen with Richard.”

THE FINAL WORD (22 to 0): Richard was way too old for Monica. Like, he met her when she was an actual child?? Hard no.

1542671190668-Friends5
All photos Justin Schmitz

Did Rachel make the right decision getting off the plane?

In yet another instance of this man fucking up a woman’s career trajectory, Rachel decides to give up her dream job in Paris (PARIS!) to be with limp human washcloth Ross Geller. If you believe this was a huge mistake, you're in the vast minority, as 20 of the 22 fans surveyed at Replay told believe Rachel was right to get off the plane.

“Yes, I think she could do better,” said anti-Paris stan Katie Christensen. “But she was following her heart! She was in love and she wanted to get off the plane, so she did. She would have regretted it otherwise.”

THE FINAL WORD (20 to 2): Ross + Rachel 4evz.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.

Follow Caroline Thompson on Twitter

Stories