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Book Club Choices: I’ll Be There for You: The One About ‘Friends’ by Kelsey Miller

By Shawn Thrasher

Friends is having a silver anniversary in 2019; 25 years of 6 wacky 20-somethings living in (and somehow affording) New York City who are experiencing that special time of life when “your friends are your family.”

Full disclosure: I didn’t start out watching Ross & Rachel & Monica & Chandler & Phoebe & Joey; like many people (especially a new generation of viewers today), I came to the show via re-runs (and later through streaming). I continue watching for many of the reasons that Kelsey Miller writes about in I’ll Be There For You. Friendsis a big old bucket of nostalgia for anyone born in the 1970s; when the show premiered, I was the same age as the six (although in 1994, I remember watching My So-Called Life instead of Friends). The show comes to us now like a scrapbook from a pre-9/11 time, when airports were friendly; when presidential scandals were sexy rather than scary; when sweater vests for men a la Chandler Bing were — well, they were not cool, but they were ubiquitous; when all the girls wanted the Rachel haircut.

If you are reading this right now, I would hazard a guess that you at least know one thing about Friendsand have seen at least part of one episode, even if you hated it. When I queried two non-Friends watchers from different generations about what they know about the show and one immediately answered “That apartment — how did they afford to live there?” And the other said: “I remember the one where Ross and Rachel kiss.” Miller touches on both of these in her book, plus so much more.

Many people also have painful memories of the show as homophobic, transphobic, chauvinist, and very white. Miller, a true lover of the show, doesn’t shy away from analyzing these aspects of Friends in well-written and respectful depth. Interestingly, some of the same people Miller talks with about those painful aspects also love the show, and while the show definitely had homophobic moments, transphobic moments, and was lily white, Miller writes that it also featured a lesbian couple getting married, an out-and-proud transgender woman in the form of Chandler’s father, and Ross dating both an Asian American woman and African American woman for multiple episodes—heady stuff for the early 1990s.

Friends was a phenomenon in its time, now considered the quintessential ’90s show. It was the most watched television show for one season, and always in the top 10 for the decade it aired. Even after 9/11, when the world became serious and frightening, Friends drew in popularity, which Miller credits to people needing comfort and familiarity in a troubled time. Instead of fading away, Friends is finding new audiences, especially overseas, and particularly among English as second language learners. People who love the show, Miller (and myself) included, have favorite episodes that they can watch over and over again. If you are like me, think of one now, and I bet you can picture it, and are smiling. If so, Miller’s book is for you. It’s behind the scenes, and out in front, it’s exploratory and occasionally gossipy without being catty. It’s well researched and well-written, and Miller injects her love of the show throughout with asides and notes.

I'll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller, Hanover Square Press, 2018.

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Shawn Thrasher is library director for Ontario (Calif.) City Library. He loves to read. It’s easier to list what he does not like to read: angsty fiction, books about abuse, anything too sappily romantic, and books that are full of themselves. He also dabbles in poetry and art. Follow him on Goodreads to see what he’s reading now.

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