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Friends couldn’t work in 2018

...But we imagined it anyway.

As Netflix UK announced yesterday that all ten seasons of Friends are now available on the streaming service, questions of how the series looks in the cold, harsh light of 2018 abound.

Friends is a quintessentially Nineties sitcom, and it has dated fast. On the hour-long SRSLY podcast devoted to Friends’ legacy, New Statesman writers pick apart Chandler’s homophobia and transphobia, everything that sucked about Ross, those expensive apartments, whitewashing, the problems with the presentation of Janice, and the strange punchline that is “Fat Monica”. None of these things make much sense in the current cultural landscape.

Writing in The Pool, Caroline O’Donoghue notes, “You can look at the velvet mini dresses and say, fondly, ‘Ah, it’s a product of its time!’ – but, dually, you could look at its relationship with race, size, and queerness and mumble, ‘Oh, God, it really is a product of its time.’”

So if Friends no longer works in 2018, what would an updated version of the show look like? What are the Friends of 2018 even doing? We imagined it, so you don’t have to.

Monica

After an old recipe for “Mockolate cranberry cake” went viral in 2014, Monica has fully transitioned into a wellness personality with her cult blog, Fit For A Bing. Before and after pictures adorn her cookbooks and no-sugar-no-carb-carcinogen-free products, which she insists, form a “sustainable, organic, energy-filled lifestyle” and not a “restrictive diet”. Her main products are Mockolate meal-substitute shakes in Mockolatte (coffee) and Matcholate (green tea) varieties. Leaving behind Fishtachios (“pistachios made primarily of reconstituted fish bits”), Monica pioneered Pish: a vegan fish substitute made from pistachio milk and almond tofu.

Her Sag Harbour summer home and her twins, Jack and Erica, feature heavily in her Instagram, often dressed all in white. “Chan” stays mostly off-camera. At night, she eats elaborate cream-filled deserts, and cries.

Chandler

Thanks to his wife’s success, Chandler was able to finally abandon the advertising job he grew to despise. “Oh, man, could my life BE any better?” he says, laughing a little too loudly, to anyone who asks. “Just look at my new home cinema!” He spends most of his time coming up with ideas and straplines for new apps he doesn’t realise already exist: “It’s like Uber, but for breakfast and clean socks! The fresh laundry arrives with your eggs! I call it Butlr! Don’t just ask Jeeves – tell him.”

“Did you go outside today, sweetie?” Monica says hopefully when she arrives home after her evening PureBarre class. “Oh. You’re wearing a shirt, so I thought maybe you’d been outside.”

Joey

Frustrated with an acting career going nowhere, and a lifestyle mostly funded by royalties from old Days of Our Lives reruns, Joey began filming his empty days and putting them on YouTube. His channel, BabyKangarooTribbiani, mostly consists of videos of Joey unboxing games and falling asleep. To everyone’s surprise, it was a huge hit, and has over 90,000 subscribers to date. Joey is unaware that his audience is 83 per cent children aged between 6 and 12. In 2017, Joey was accused of historic sexual misdemeanours by three women. Despite a popular online petition, his channel remains a success.

Sometimes he goes to Chandler’s house to play with a new gadget. Monica calls their meet-ups “playdates”.

Rachel

Rachel spent the years after 2004 wishing she had taken the job in Paris. As Ross grew increasingly controlling and aggressive, Rachel discovered mainstream feminism – the couple divorced in 2009.

Rachel sought another job offer from Louis Vuitton in Paris to no avail, but eventually got a job at British Vogue under Alexandra Shulman, predicting Nineties revival trends. She lost her job when Edward Enninful took over the magazine in 2017. She’s currently seeking investment for her online retail business LikeIts1999.com, a website where women can buy and sell original Nineties clothing.

Ross

Ross swallowed the Red Pill after his fourth divorce to his third wife and never looked back. He lost custody of Emma when a court was presented with evidence of his continued anger management issues. Online, Ross spends his days posting under an alt account about his strong frame, bitch shields and pathetic cucks. Offline, he spreads rumours about women in academia sleeping with university presidents for tenure and still tries to seduce his students. He is disgusted by safe spaces and millennial snowflakes, but frequently lectures his students on the offensiveness of the term “dinosaurs” as a descriptor for inflexible old men in positions of power, because, “Richard A. Posner first hypothesised that extinction isn’t necessarily linked to a lack of adaptability. According to many definitions the dinosaurs were at least as adaptable as mammals in their contemporary environment! And anyway, aren’t you the real sexist here? Isn’t this ageist hate speech? Bla blah blah bla blah blah bla.”

He burned that salmon shirt.

Phoebe

Increasingly horrified by the injustices of modern America, Phoebe has thrown herself into charitable volunteer work. Her work with homeless young people, mental health charities and The New York City Children’s Fund has forced her to confront the reality of her own traumatic teenage years. Now 50, vegan, and more confident than ever, she’s finally in therapy, and processing the events of her youth. She has an Instagram where she crochets protest banners and self-care slogans. She has 7,341 followers. Her hair is grey, but very long and very beautiful. Her occasional chats with Rachel have never been the same since their tense debate about the definition of “white feminism”. Neither she nor her barrister husband Mike have spoken to Mike’s rich parents since they admitted they voted for Trump.

She doesn’t see much of the other Friends any more. She has new friends who don’t mock her for her diet and belief in reincarnation.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

PHOTO: BANANA PANCAKE/ PHOTOGRAPHERS CHOICE
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Boundaries, in wine as in politics, are as random as the people who invent them

Wine, that much-touted national product, turns out to be an unhelpful symbol for patriots.

In gruesome times, as this little landmass drifts politically ever farther from the European coast, sparkling wine news gives drink for thought. Louis Pommery England is not actually terribly English; it’s a collaboration between Pommery Champagne and Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley, although the grapes, they hasten to assure us, are as British as Brexit.

Are they, though? I don’t wish to be difficult, but Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir are French imports. All those sturdy Hampshire vines, bearing the plump fruit of this splendid, soon-to-be-isolated island, had to come from somewhere. How long must a vine root in English soil to be considered native?

Wine, that much-touted national product, turns out to be an unhelpful symbol for patriots. Champagne may be one of the glories of France, drunk by Napoleon, famously, in victory and in defeat, but it was also adored by the Russians, whose vast and chilly acreage helped ensure his downfall. Some 50 years after the retreat from Moscow, Roederer Champagne was selling 650,000 bottles a year to the nation that destroyed Napoleon’s dream of continental domination.

And Roederer itself presents a problem, from the patriotic perspective, when you consider that the first Roederer was not a Monsieur but a Herr. We all know how Champagne suffered during two world wars: the soil that nurtures Pinot Noir was soaked in blood. But when you live 200km from the Franco-German border, it isn’t only troops who march in: like Roederer, the houses of Krug, Bollinger, and Deutz were all founded by German immigrants. On a recent visit to Deutz, I kept mispronouncing “Dertz” as “Doytz”; I was unconsciously associating it with Deutsch, the German for German. William Deutz founded his winery in Aÿ, next door to his compatriot Bollinger’s house, in 1838, the year of Victoria’s coronation. The new queen’s mother, paternal grandparents and future husband were all German; her grandfather, King George III, was the first of their house whose mother tongue was English. How long must a royal family root in English soil to be considered native?

 “Our name pushed us to find distant markets where people were less intensely anti-German,” says Jean-Marc Lallier, the sixth generation of Deutzes since William. One of those markets was not so distant. In the late 19th century, 80 per cent of Deutz exports went through its English agent, which means they were sundowners all over the empire on which the sun never set.

In Deutz’s pretty château, full of ancestors’ portraits, I taste Hommage à William Deutz 2010: 100 per cent Pinot Noir, all from two vineyards just outside the window. “My grandfather made a William Deutz that was 90 per cent Pinot Noir,” says Lallier; “he was very austere, not funny and not very sexy either, and his cuvée was a bit like him. In 1966 my father made it a Blanc de Blancs. Pure Chardonnay in Aÿ, heartland of Pinot Noir: Grandfather was furious!”

Their modern Blanc de Blancs, the gorgeous Amour de Deutz, comes from Grand Cru vineyards a few kilometres away. I gaze out at William’s Pinot, so similar to England’s and yet so different, and drink, with sadness, to the understanding that political boundaries are as arbitrary as the people who invent them, and that in the human as in the vinous sense there is, in fact, no such thing as an island. 

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist