20 years ago this September, the concept of the ‘twenty-something’ and a little-known actress called Jennifer Aniston stumbled out of a Greenwich Village street and into our lives.
It’s been two decades since Friends first graced our screens and ten since the “The Last One” saw us finally say goodbye to the gang, although countless reruns have seen them linger like a clingy ex when we’ve clearly all moved on. We’ll never really find closure even if Ross and Rachel did finally get together because the impact of Friends can be felt in almost every aspect of popular culture to this day.We’re living in a post-modernist age, the post-Cold War period and the post- Friends era. For all its flaws, Friends remains one of the most influential shows of the past twenty years. The “Will they, won’t they?” plot that’s become a staple of almost every show since is even known as the “Ross and Rachel”. But (in a lovely piece of symmetry) the 20 year old show’s greatest gift to culture was the “20 something”.
It’s hard to believe, but before Friends this simply wasn’t an age group considered worthy of attention. Prior to this American sitcoms (British comedy shows have always been a law unto themselves) had typically focused upon either the wholesome American family, the trials of navigating high school and (in notable exceptions) alcoholics (Cheers) and Florida based cougars (The Golden Girls – 10 points to Gryffindor if you have any idea what this is). Yet here was a group of young adults struggling with crappy jobs, rising debts and awful relationships – Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s DOA.
These days it’s impossible to get away from the 20 somethings. The world is apparently full of people like Zooey Deschanel, Lena Dunham and Jason Segel having quarter life crises in bars, cafés and trendy loft apartments that they clearly can’t afford. We take it for granted now, but Friends did what the likes of Girls, How I Met Your Mother and Happy Endings do for us now. They teach us that you don’t have to have your life sorted out by 25. It’s okay to spend your twenties “discovering who you are” and making mistakes you really shouldn’t.
Like it or not, you too will be a 20 something, only poorer, fatter, uglier and infinitely less interesting than the ones you see on TV. One thing you can be sure of is that there’ll be there for you.