I was only five when Joey, Monica, Ross, Rachel, Chandler and Phoebe first arrived on the world’s TV screens. I wasn’t exactly their target audience. I’m fairly sure my attention was taken up with Rosie, Jim and Pat Sharp – and I didn’t start watching Friends as it aired until its eighth or ninth series.
My love affair began while watching a charity shop video tape of series six (episodes five, six, seven and eight) again and again. I laughed at the slapstick humour – Ross’ luminous teeth, Rachel with pen all over her face and Joey auditioning with a hernia – but when I rewatched the entire run as a teenager, and I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, it literally changed my life.
From that moment on I was convinced my own existence would be just like Friends. And obviously it’s not entirely – I don’t live with a monkey in a delightful, rent-controlled flat near Central Park and spend every waking minute having coffee with my chums – but in a lot of ways it is.
As I stumble through my twenties, there the Friends are (again and again,) going through the same things – bad boyfriends, bad jobs and bad haircuts. They date their housemates, their friends, their friends’ siblings, people they’re not sure they like. They panic about everyone moving on and all their mates getting married before them. They stress about money, about their careers, about making the right choices.
When I broke up with my first long-term boyfriend, watching Friends re-runs was the only thing I wanted to do. When I was made redundant for the first time and none of my real living-breathing friends knew how it felt, Monica with her accidentally stolen steak understood.
Friends is like the warm embrace of my closest companions, but without the judgement. They don’t tell you things you don’t want to hear, dislike your boyfriend, go on more holidays than you or have a better winter coat.
When things are tough, Monica, Rachel and co have been there, done that and moved on already. They move seamlessly from episode to episode, making the mistakes we make (or haven’t made just yet), laughing and reiterating that whatever happens it’ll all be okay in the end.
And we’ve learned countless life lessons without even realising it. Don’t we all know going on a break is a relationship no-no? (Either break up or don’t. It’s not worth the drama.) That lying on your CV will come back to haunt you, that you should probably never, ever purchase leather trousers and that you absolutely must shout pivot when trying to move furniture.
Yes, they might not have iPhones or use online dating. Sure, we don’t share the same dress sense and a lot of references to brands and bands go over our modern heads. (Just who are Hootie and the Blowfish?) But nothing has stepped up to replace it.
No TV show has managed to speak to twenty-somethings in the way Friends does, even if the twenty-somethings it was originally aimed at are now well and truly forty-somethings.
Watching Friends remains eternally joyful – and helpful – however many times you’ve seen Ross get that fake tan or heard the words “I got off the plane”.
Celebrate Friends’ 20th anniversary with the nation’s favourite friends episodes, Sunday and Monday from 12:00pm on Comedy Central
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news