Two of the most beloved shows of the past thirty years both have a very similar premise: A group of young adults, living in New York City, trying to find love and happiness. The first, Friends was said to inspire the second, How I Met Your Mother. But now, both are under fire.
A BuzzFeed article about the former, calling out many of the ways in which it has aged terribly, has sparked a discussion online. While some agree, many more disagree. Still others say that the latter, which came just as Friends ended, was even worse, given how much progress there should have been over that time. Here’s a look at a few problem areas for both shows, and which one has aged worse in that realm
We’ll give it this, Friends isn’t overtly sexist. There are three men and three women who share screentime, and fairly evenly, at that. The careers of the men weren’t prioritized over that of the women unless you count Ross being a jerk when it comes to Rachel and her jobs (but it feels clear that you’re supposed to be on her side).
However, that doesn’t mean Friends is without sexism, at least through the lens of today’s standards. Phoebe’s flighty nature certainly lends itself to that a bit, as does Monica’s extra domestic focus and Rachel’s emotional moments. But then again, the men’s personalities are played up for stereotypes a bit, too. So it’s a mixed bag.
How I Met Your Mother tries to do something similar: Give everyone a career focus, and play around with while also embracing some common tropes. Having Ted be the one who wants a family more than anyone else is a good subversion. But then there’s Barney. While we’re not supposed to think highly of him, the number of laughs that come from his sexist conquests is enough to make HIMYM the clear winner (or, well, loser) here.
Race and racism
Friends is known for being one of the whitest shows, well, ever. In fact, it’s been argued (very convincingly) that the concept for the sitcom was stolen from Fox’s Living Single, which featured an all-black cast, an almost identical premise, and premiered the year prior — and sadly, lasted half the time.
Seriously, think back: How many characters of color can you name from Friends? Even when it comes to side characters, love interests, one-of guest stars… pretty much everyone is white. It wasn’t until Charlie came around at the very end of Season 9 that there was a character of color spending time with the Central Perk gang. Ouch.
While this isn’t a good excuse, nearly every sitcom from the ’90s was the same. So when How I Met Your Mother came around, you’d think things would change, right? Wrong. Barney’s half-brother didn’t enter the picture for a while, and there were a few love interests who came and went, but HIMYM was barely better than Friends in this area, meaning it wins this round.
Where do we begin? Well, with Friends, it was seen as very progressive that, right from the start, there was a lesbian couple who were frequently mentioned. And it wasn’t terrible, as far as mid-90s representation goes. But there were plenty of jokes about them — not to mention how Carol and, especially Susan, were villainized because poor Ross (gag).
Then again, over a decade later, there was Lily being “into” Robin but not knowing how to say anything about it — which was all played for laughs. And there was Barney making jokes about trying to hook up with lesbians, going so far as to pretend to be a woman.
This brings us to one of Friends‘ worst moments: The transphobia surrounding Chandler’s dad. In addition to having a cisgender woman portray her (which was, sadly, commonplace at the time), there were so, so many jokes at her expense. She “ruined” Chandler’s life. We’re going to have to give this one to Friends, because even though it was later, Friends‘ treatment of Chandler’s dad was horrible.