Sam Russell: The hit 1990s situational comedy Friends is an important object of popular culture. I remember staying up late to watch the series finale with my family in 2004 (I was 10 years old at the time). I had seen a smattering of random episodes in reruns on TBS. It was a very funny show. And what made it funny? The Friends. The Friends of the show Friends were the heart and funny bone of the show Friends. What better way to honor their memories than to rank them?
Christopher Maher: In this ranking I’m going to try to view the Friends not as sitcom characters, but rather as real people. How do they rank morally? Would they be genuinely fun to be around? Would they be interesting or loyal friends?
Chandler Muriel Bing
CM: Chandler is one of the worst of the Friends (there are a lot of friends who are bad). He is witty, but I find him grating after too many episodes. Can you imagine spending a whole day with him? He’s insecure, and he’s BIG into gender roles and pretty weirded out by womanly stuff and homosexuality, and has broken contact with his father because of it. That being said, he softens a lot after dating Monica, and he seems like a supportive husband and father, and his whole shtick about gender roles relaxes enormously, up to the point where he loves bubble baths and doesn’t watch ESPN at all (though Rachel insists he should because all the Friends are pretty into gender roles). He’s also the only one with a practical job which he is also pretty good at, and doesn’t try to force any one of the friends to actually care about his profession, which is probably nice for them.
SR: Yeah Chandler is awful. His insecurities are made more obnoxious by how loudly aware of them he is. When half of your jokes are jokes about how you make jokes to compensate for your terrible personality, it ain’t cute. He is, indeed, helplessly obsessed with traditional gender roles and terrified of homosexuality. His relationship with Monica is cute but they are a really random pairing. I’m not sure what they see in each other.
It’s funny you mention that he’s good at his practical job- doesn’t he hate that job? It is admirable that he allows his dumb job to be a non-issue amongst the friends. Unlike our next friend…
SR: Unlike Chandler, Ross’ job defines him. He’s a paleontologist and a college professor. He is successful in these admirable and fields. And yet, all he does is get constant shit for it. His for passion for dinosaurs is cute, and it’s upsetting and illogical that his friends are so completely uninterested. Unlike Chandler, Ross is not witty, we laugh at him. He’s pathetic, and a bit whiny.
It’s easy to take shots at Ross. He makes a lot of poor decisions, he can be pretentious, and he often acts selfishly. What’s there to like about him?
He dates one of his college students for a really long time. Remember that? Everyone tells him it’s creepy and he’s really stubborn about it. Possibly the longest running joke on the show is that Ross has been divorced many times. The friends never let him forget this. It’s always “Ross got divorced” this and “Ross got divorced” that. The poor guy is never allowed to forget his darkest days. Hell the show literally opens with his recently out-of-the-closet wife leaving him in the first episode. Sad!
CM: Ross catches a lot of needless flack for his job, yes (and I feel we have to quote the article about anit-intellectualism that our friend Jesse Rolfe sent us a few days ago). Ross also, like Chandler, shares a love story with someone who seems a disparate match for him. But, as I said, I’m going to try to rate these people not as consistent television characters, but rather as people I would legitimately have to spend time with. Like Chandler and Monica, Ross’ lack of genuine chemistry or rationale to be with Rachel doesn’t make him a worse friend because it’s inconsistent. It does make him a worse friend because it’s totally lame.
I’d argue that Ross’ greatest redeeming quality his emotional openness. He also seems like a loyal friend, and a good brother to Monica. But the bad largely outweighs the good. He is SUPER into gender roles (maybe even more than the other boys): he refuses to hire a fantastic male nanny because “it’s weird!!” and he gets real pissed when his son plays with a Barbie. He also appears only intermittently involved with Ben’s life, which is… not so hot. Finally, with every SINGLE relationship he is in on that show he is insanely jealous and possessive. Like, over the top. Like, scary levels.
Gunther Central Perk
CM: Transitioning to another person who is obsessed with Rachel for reasons that can only be attributed to a show runner; Gunther! What are his passions? What brings him joy? Is he ever bothered that the Friends only hang out with him when they need to bulk up parties? He is so desperate for their attention he attends every time. He loves Rachel so much that he buys a hairless cat for her (marked up from the original cost) in the hopes that she’ll visit it. Honestly (and this reflects me more as a person than it does Gunther) his sad sack life is almost worse to me than the more compelling but morally compromised Friends. At least they seem alive.
SR: Gunter certainly has some hilarious 90s hair. Yes his obsession with Rachel is unbecoming. His desperation permeates everything he does. Maybe he’s a nice guy, but I just don’t know him that well. Honestly, I already have enough friends, so I’m not too concerned with getting to know him. Ya know? Like Ross and Chandler, a redeeming quality is that he is very good at his job.
SR: Rachel is vain, privileged, not very intelligent. What I like most about her though, is that we watch her grow out of these bad traits. I would not like to have a beer with season 01 Rachel. However Season 6 Rachel, I think I might! Her friendship and roommate-ship with Monica is endearing. She’s very patient and kind when reacting to Phoebe’s shenanigans (I feel like some of the others are more cynical and sarcastic with Phoebe’s idiosyncrasies). Like Ross she has some questionable ethics. She hires an assistant because he’s hot and proceeds to have a relationship with him. More so than Ross, she always seems to catch herself and correct the situation when she makes a bad decision. She can act selfishly, but she does feel genuine remorse, and learns from her mistakes. I think the openness to evolve is a good trait in a friend and few of the friends work on themselves as much as Rachel does.
CM: I was ready to really drag Rach across the coals, but I think you’re right. She does improve, and probably most dramatically of any of the Friends (though they all get better in later seasons – season 10 David Schwimmer stopped caring, for example, which was a huge improvement for Ross). Her beginning traits are pretty terrible, probably the worst, but they do dissipate. On the other hand she remains shallow, and boy does she screw up Ross’ life. As Monica says it: “I love Ross, I hate Ross, I love Ross!”, and Ross feels that pain each time. Also, her boss gets hit by a car and killed and she doesn’t care. She doesn’t really care about a lot of people, tbh, which really rubs me the wrong way. But as a friend I can imagine her being fun!
CM: Which is a great moment to swing to Joey. He’s a fun dude, and again, a pretty earnest and loyal friend. For all the relationships that were orchestrated by the show with no chemistry (Monica and Chandler, Ross and Rachel) I’ll argue that Joey and Rachel actually made a good couple. He’s a serial dater, sure, and sex crazed, and he’s criminally dumb, and declines as opposed to improving, but he’s overall a good guy. His friendships with Rachel and Chandler and Phoebe seem strong and lived in. He indiscriminately supports Chandler (this reminds me of the real strong bromances in my life, and actually is another point for Chandler, who financially watches out for Joe). And he and Phoebe are the best platonic relationship on the show. They really get each other, and accept both the good and the bad.
But, of course, JOEY DOESN’T SHARE FOOD.
SR: Oooooh, Joey! (That’s what I say out loud every time Joey does a very “Joey” thing.) He is incredibly dumb but boy is he lovable. While his stupidity is often endearing, but he’s also incredibly misogynistic. He constantly is hitting on women, including his closest friends, who usually just roll their eyes. Unlike most of the friends, Joey is very bad at his job. The world of friends is very honest about the fact that Joey is a god awful actor. Luckily he lands the perfect job for him: a soap opera! Over the top ridiculous, no good acting required.
Janice “Oh. My. God.” Janice
SR: The main friends dislike Janice but I just might dislike her even more than them. She’s incredibly irritating.
Her only redeeming quality is it’s almost impressive how oblivious she is to the intense displeasure she inflicts on everyone she interacts with. She’s not a bad person, she’s just one who is difficult to interact with.
CM: Yeah, Janice is tough because she’s a good person but not one that I would hang out with. She gives her marriage another try for the sake of her son. That is good. And she’s enthusiastic about being a Friend! That is also good! And she also gave us the storyline where Chandler moves to Yemen, which is my favorite (favorite!) joke in all of Friends.
CM: Monica is probably (other than her annoying ass organization/cleaning idiosyncrasy) the most “real” person of the Friends. Like Rachel, Monica puts in years of work in diners and then a bad restaurant before getting her big break. The stories involving her younger self are fat shaming, but that’s on the show and not the character, and on a more positive note she never seems ashamed of her body, but rather full of life and vigor (honestly her younger self seems happier and more comfortable than the “present day” Monica). I have almost nothing negative to say about her, except that she bulldozes people on occasion and wants things her way. But that seems like a Geller trait, and definitely something that I could and would put up with in a real friend (and is something I totally do).
SR: Phoebe is, obviously, the best friend. Like Joey, her flaws are cushioned by endearing stupidity. Also like Joey, Phoebe is openly sexual. Where Joey’s sexuality is often predatory, Phoebe’s comes across more as candid. Her lack of self consciousness might be her defining characteristic. It’s what allows her to be frank about sex and other things. She’s very up front. At some point in the show someone asks Phoebe for a favor and she replies with “Oh I wish I could, but I don’t want to.” Honest, upfront, to the point. That’s Phoebe for ya. This is also her downfall. She is a terrible musician but her friends let her be blissfully ignorant (another parallel to Joey, with his acting career.) Though this would not deter me, because while not well played or sung, her lyrics are gold.
CM: Honestly this whole thing was a farce, god yes Phoebe is far and away the best of the Friends. I could honestly list one hundred reasons, but her emotional honesty is def the most important. Phoebe is the only friend who has a unique and meaningful relationship with each of the Friends. Even the friends she likes least (Chandler, Ross) she is honest with them about it, and the aspects of them that she likes feel most real. Her hierarchy of friendship also doesn’t seem to affect her loyalty. She would really do anything for any of the friends, even though she clearly likes the girls and Joey the most.
I already highlighted her really bombastic wonderful friendship with Joey, but it bears repeating, and their stupidity often comes from a place pure of heart, a joie de vivre! I wouldn’t even call Phoebe stupid, more someone unconcerned with convention. Plus, she grew up on the streets, damn it! Phoebe the only Friend who has friends outside of the Friends. The only one. That’s pretty damn notable. Also I love Regina Filange. Also I love that she tries to get Ross and Rachel to name their kid either “Phoebe if it’s a girl, or Phoebo if it’s a boy.”
Phoebe’s only crime is that she settled down with non-character Mike Hannigan (sorry Paul Rudd, but it really wasn’t your fault because the character was given nothing). Mike Hannigan is so forgettable that I legitimately forgot to include him in this list.
Chris’ Final Ranking:
8) Gunther (Sorry, Gunther)
Sam’s Final Ranking: