It has been exactly 20 years since the TV series Friends was first aired and the oddly attractive familiarity of the show seems to hold a dominant place in popular memory. For example, mention any of the actors’ names and Friends will probably be the first thing…
…that springs to most people’s minds, and can anyone name a Rembrandts song that isn’t I’ll Be There for You?
In particular the show’s effect on the world of comedy can be felt everywhere, for better or indeed for worse.
The resounding power of the stratospherically successful twenty-something sitcom can still be seen in the number of Friends-a-like shows broadcast between then and now. Coupling was early out of the blocks in Britain, taking the six person formula and the Ross-Rachel will they, won’t they plotline to the extreme. Happy Endings, How I Met Your Mother and The New Girl are perhaps even more derivative examples of this mini-genre.
The American networks are mainly responsible for this stable of identical would-be Friendses.
It may have narrowed the mainstream sitcom playing field, but Friends also gave writers some new tools to play with. The idea of focusing a group of friends whose main on-screen association is simply their friendship was relatively novel at a time when most sitcoms would either pick a setting and portray its comings and goings, a-la Cheers, or focus on a single character as in Fraiser.
The decision to give each character equal prominence in the show from week to week was another innovation which has caught on. There are those who would have preferred to watch Ross and Rachel’s relationship blossom, but the show’s creators and executive producers stuck to their guns with great success and influence.