Let’s face it: if you ever actually met any of the characters from Friends you’d probably hate their guts.
Only in Sit-Com land can you meet characters who are so totally self-obsessed, contribute less to society and whose problems are so insignificant that they can be solved in half an hour.
Just take a look at them: Rachel - A Prom Queen who adapted to life without Daddy’s credit card by getting a high flying job in fashion (with no qualifications, training or experience mind you), Monica – a cleanliness obsessed chef in a fancy restaurant where a starter costs a weeks wages, Phoebe – an occasional masseuse and not-so-great musician, Joey – a permanently out of work actor, Ross – a not-so-popular with his students lecturer and Chandler – a whatever the hell it is that Chandler does.
And to be fair a) I have probably watched every episode of Friends at least twice and would have to admit under torture to quite liking it and b) the problem is generic across the whole of the genre and not purely limited to Friends: even the greats like Fawlty Towers rely on a set of characters that would, in reality, soon be consigned to some form of institution for the socially inept.
However the reason I picked Friends for special attention was because of what they represented. Perhaps more than any other sit-com of the last few years the cast of Friends are reflective of our obsession with social climbing.
This is one of the reasons that places like Starbuck’s, Costa and the like are so successful. Let’s face it: before the coffee house came along we were all happy to go to our local Greasy Spoon Café and pay 40 pence or so for a cup of tea with bits of limescale floating in the top (for added flavour you understand) and half the contents served in the saucer.
Then the big coffee houses came along and realised that what they were selling was not actually coffee, but aspirations: and that with the right setting they could easily charge three pounds for a cup of hot coffee flavoured milk.
People wanted to go somewhere where they could talk quietly to their friends and not be drowned out by music, or to read the newspaper before going to work – they wanted the big apartments, no real problems and easy lifestyle of the people they saw on TV – people like they saw in Sitcoms and on dramas.
Which is why, in turn, the cast of Friends – bent on selling us this ideal for life – spent so much time hogging the sofa at Central Perk. We aspired to be there in their easy lives, never seeming to actually have to go to work, never having any real problems – able to suddenly drop everything and go to the Bahamas
The trend for this new way of living has become so successful that I can immediately think of 6 Starbuck’s and 4-5 Costas all based within a 10 mile radius. Even that old bastion of social gathering, the Public House, has had to resort to trying to sell coffee (albeit on beer soaked tables) to get us back.
Why do I spend so much of my life regretting that I am unable to live this life? Well, actually I don’t really – but I am certainly aware that such a lifestyle exists, just outside of my financial range. Let’s face it, and as Douglas Adams once said, many of this planet’s problems are caused by the movement of small pieces of paper (or, increasingly, plastic cards). Wouldn’t it be better to forget these aspirations and be happy with our lot? Is such a thing even possible today? We as a society have somehow bought into the idea that this way of life is somehow our right and allowed ourselves to become miserable and disgruntled due to our lack of ability to claim it.
Still, I can’t help that feel that even with all of this the coffee shops are missing out on a trick: one that Friends showed us on almost a weekly basis.
Just once, when I walk into a coffee shop I would like to see a corner cleared of tables and a little stage erected. On that stage I would like to see someone sitting with an acoustic guitar, singing gentle songs.
If one of them is “Smelly Cat” that would definitely be a bonus