Friends was the quintessential 90s sitcom about a group of inseparable pals struggling through their 20s and 30s together. Some parts of the show haven’t aged particularly well (there are seriously so many homophobic jokes), but I still regularly give it a binge watch for the nostalgic value and the hilarious performances (plus that one episode about porn which was banned from Channel Four back in the day).
One common complaint is how unrealistically the show portrayed life in New York City for a bunch of nearly-broke 20-somethings. Despite spending most of their day at the coffee house instead of their jobs, the Friends still somehow had huge apartments, nice clothes, and enough money to go on impromptu trips whenever they felt like it.
Much of this was for practical reasons, such as the apartments needing to be big to move the cameras around. The rest you can pass off as indulging the viewer’s fantasies, something which I once heard somebody describe as ‘lifestyle porn’. We watched the show, and still watch it 20 years later, because we like to imagine ourselves having posh apartments in a glamorous city with dream jobs we somehow never have to actually go to and a group of friends who will always support us.
But what if the show wasn’t just a fantasy for the viewer? What if the reason why the Friend’s lives were so unreasonably perfect is because they were never real in the first place?
The Friends Asylum Theory
One theory I’ve seen floating around is that the entire show was actually set in a mental health institution and the Friends were really inmates either delusional or in-denial about where they really were. This would explain a lot of things like the lack of work hours, the fact they were together practically 24/7, and the characters like Gunther who existed only to take care of them (why else would Gunther work a minimum wage job in a coffee shop for ten years pre-recession?). Delusional thinking is common amongst mental health patients and people who have experienced trauma, so it makes sense that the Friends created a shared fantasy life to deal with this and their real lives in the asylum.
Each of the Friends displayed symptoms of a serious mental health condition which on the show were simply played off as adorable quirks. Rachel exhibited narcissistic and sociopathic behaviour. Monica clearly had OCD and an eating disorder. Phoebe was implied to have magical powers which were more likely symptoms of schizophrenia. Joey was addicted to both food and sex and was incredibly child-like. Chandler outright admitted to using his sarcastic humour to mask his childhood trauma. Ross’ abandonment and anger issues were so bad that he had an actual mental breakdown on the show (which again was played entirely for laughs). Even many of the secondary and one-off characters could actually have bene asylum patients (Ugly Naked Guy, Ross’ girlfriend who shaved her head, the ‘singing guy’ in the next building, etc).
The Friends Fantasy Life
You can take this theory even further and suggest that the entire show isn’t just set in an asylum, but entirely in the head of one of the characters. Phoebe is a regular target for this theory. Somebody on Twitter once suggested that she is actually a homeless drug addict staring at a group of five friends through the window of a coffee shop and imagining that she is one of them. Her twin sister Ursula is just her reflection and the quirky hipster songs she performs at Central Perk are really just her caterwauling on the streets for change.
If you think about it hard enough, the entire show could be the idealised fantasy lifestyle of any one of the characters. Monica liked things to be clean, organised, and perfect so she could have fantased that her tiny, dirty New York apartment was actually a personal pleasure palace. Rachel may have actually married Barry in the first episode and was imagining what her life could have been like while in reality she was stuck in a horrible marriage. Joey could have been picturing how his struggles as an unemployed actor would eventually end. Ross was actually a massive douche canoe in retrospect (there have been A LOT of articles written about this) so maybe the show is his Nice Guy fantasy about Rachel falling hopelessly in love with him. Or maybe Chandler…actually I don’t want to get into what could be going on in Chandler’s head.
What do you think of this theory? Have I taken it too far and ruined the show forever for you? Am I the only one who really wants a modern-day remake of Friends with Joey and Phoebe as the main couple? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!