An argument can be made that Friends has demonstrated more staying power than any other American TV show in the last 30 years. Really, the only possible counters to this assertion are shows that are simply long-running — like The Simpsons, South Park, Grey’s Anatomy, and various game shows. But that’s not exactly the same as “staying power.” Friends wrapped up its successful run way back in 2004, and seems almost as culturally relevant now as it was then. Call it “The One That Never Went Away,” if you will.
The simplest reason for this is that Friends is really good! Sure, it has its lulls and low points, like any show that runs for more than a season or two. But it was a fresh, updated sitcom for its time, the humor holds up today, and the chemistry of the cast is timeless. There will always be a certain pleasure in going back to our buddies at Central Perk.
Digging a little deeper though, there are also some interesting factors aside from pure quality that have kept Friends so relevant and beloved….
Jennifer Aniston’s Star Power
When you think about the most enduring sitcoms of this general type, there’s a pretty clear correlation with lasting star power. Seinfeld is perhaps the biggest, and lives on in part through two enormous stars in Julia Louis Dreyfuss (who anchored Veep on HBO) and Jerry Seinfeld himself. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air has remained relevant largely thanks to the fact that Will Smith went on to become a global superstar. But can we say the same of Frasier? Kelsey Grammer is well known, but not on the Seinfeld/Smith level.
Friends may benefit from this kind of correlation more than any other show, in that Jennifer Aniston wound up becoming one of the most noteworthy actresses of a generation. She’s starred in numerous comedies, she helped to launch Apple’s streaming service, and per Wealthy Genius, she’s one of the highest-earning actresses on Earth, outranking the likes of Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence. It’s likely that Friends will always be of interest to the droves of fan who admire Aniston, even if that admiration is initially for other work.
Occasional Forays Into Gaming
One somewhat strange thing Friends has going for it is that it has popped up now and then in the video game world. This happened in part through console games in the decade following the show’s conclusion. A Friends trivia game (Friends: The One With All The Trivia) was released for PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Windows back in 2005, and in 2014 a user recreated aspects of the show in The Sims 4 — less than a week after the game’s release, according to The Guardian. Much more recently though, Friends has also popped up in the online casino corner of the gaming industry, with Foxy Games having introduced exclusive Slingo and scratchcard experiences based on the show.
These may not seem like major boosters to a beloved sitcom’s popularity. But a TV-based trivia game on a major console is not exactly ordinary; untold thousands undoubtedly enjoyed the unofficial Sims involvement; and the casino games will have reached massive numbers of gamers by now. Most shows just don’t get this kind of exposure, particularly after they’re off the air.
This is not as concrete a point, but there’s something to be said for the fact that How I Met Your Mother — the show that came for the Friends throne — was basically an imitation. That doesn’t mean HIMYM isn’t a perfectly good show with its own loyal fan base. But the comparisons are so strong that HIMYM is often cited more as being derivative of Friends than merely inspired by it. Buzzfeed even went so far as to “prove” (somewhat convincingly) that they’re essentially the same show.
This isn’t a slight on HIMYM, or even a decisive ranking of the two. Some prefer the newer show, and likely have perfectly good reasons. But had HIMYM achieved its popularity by doing something a little newer or fresher, it might have done more to isolate Friends in the past. As things stand, it seems only to have further elevated its predecessor.
Friends also happens to benefit from excellent timing. The show is just recent enough that most of its original audience is still within an age range to appreciate and embrace streaming — which can’t necessarily be said of the likes of Frasier. This for one thing means that fans of the show know to look for it only rather than rely on sporadic cable re-runs. But it also justifies events like Friends: The Reunion — not to mention HBO’s use of the show to help launch its streaming platform.
For these reasons, aside from its pure quality, Friends has almost unique staying power among popular TV shows. And for the same reasons, it’s hard to believe its’ all really over, even if that point was stressed during the reunion. Whatever the case, it’s a joy of a show to look back on, and if there is ever news of more, Awards Radar will happily bring it to you.