Friends

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: British people are absolutely insane about Friends.  When we first moved here, I was cooking one day in our corporate apartment and I turned on the TV as background noise, hoping to find something mindless that I’d seen a million times before so I could tune in and back out at my leisure.  As there is no USA Network here, sadly there was no SVU, but there was Friends on Comedy Central.  “It’s Friends Week!” an announcer joyfully exclaimed at the commercial break.  How lucky was I!  Hours of exactly the kind of no-attention-required TV I was after.  Hooray!

Two weeks later, we moved from our corporate apartment to our real apartment, and I sought out the same kind of televisual soundtrack to accompany my unpacking.  There, again, on Comedy Central, was Friends.  I looked at the guide––it was Friends as far as the eye could see (well, straight on through until six or seven PM.)  I was confused––surely a week had passed?  I counted the days on my fingers, confirmed it had, then shrugged, and left it on.  Nearly a year later, I’ve learned that if you turn on Comedy Central at virtually any time of day, you will find Friends.  Put another way: every week in the United Kingdom (eek, that stings to say right now) is Friends week.  The nation’s fervor for the show gets more intense, too, in late August, when a roving tour of sorts called FriendsFest begins.  Last year, the festival featured a recreation of Monica and Rachel’s apartment, where visitors could get their pictures taken.  This year, they’ve one-upped themselves: sets from the series will be erected in stately homes like Blenheim Palace, and there will also be table tennis and something ominously called “Smelly Cat Karaoke.”  Last year tickets sold out in thirteen minutes; this year, my guess is Britons will need even more escape, so passes will fly off shelves even faster.
In my experience, New Yorkers tend to prefer Seinfeld, because Friends presents a too-easy view of life in NYC for natives to really stomach (the gorgeous apartment inhabited by a waitress and a chef who never seem to be at work, for example.)  So I wondered if perhaps Londoners loved it for that exact same reason: it was a picture of a happy, idealized New York.  I asked a friend why people in England were so obsessed, and she gave me a blase reply: “We just love it.”  I’ve read the articles on why millennials are improbably smitten, including Adam Sternbergh’s lengthy one in New York Magazine.  Sternbergh chalks it up to a kind of nostalgia for a simpler time the youth of today never knew (no Facebook, no student debt, etc.)  But his view is limited to Americans experiencing a very American-centric nostalgia, as is evidenced by his description of it.  “The show that feels, in its way, as iconic a relic of the 1990s as do Nirvana, Pulp Fiction, and a two-term Clinton presidency that the Onion later cheekily described as ‘our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity’?”  So what do the Brits get out of it?

 

 

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