The Trouble With Ross Gellar
You ever rewatch a TV show which aired when you were younger, and realize how the story hits different now that you’re an adult or whatever? I had recently started re-watching Friends when it occurred to me how much I had misunderstood a specific story arc.
(also, yes I know, I’m saying publicly that I watched/am watching Friends, the lowest common denominator in the sitcom universe).
For those who don’t spend all their time scrolling through Reddit or Buzzfeed, there’s been a weird, ongoing debate over the last decade or so, concerning the character of Ross Gellar. There’s a bunch of fan conspiracies out there, discussing his ‘erratic behaviour’ and possible sociopathic tendencies.
(In other words, there’s a whole lotta writers and readers out there with too much time on their hands, and not enough actual hobbies.)
Where was I? Oh right. So I’m re-watching Friends, and I finally get to the story arc where Ross utters the wrong woman’s name as he recites his wedding vows. This ultimately results in him having to undergo a quick and nasty divorce in extremely short order.
What follows in the ensuing season (Season 5), is the beginning of his character’s so-called ‘sociopathic’ tendencies; tendencies of which begin to fade by early Season 6…
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before, but the whole point of Ross’s character arc in Season 5 (and early Season 6), is actually a narrative about a person dealing with trauma and loss. It’s about a man who broke his own heart, and has to deal with the consequences of his own actions.
Put in that light, if anything, Ross Gellar’s spiralling behaviour highlights the show writers’ nuanced (albeit missable) intentions surrounding his character arc.
Anyway, I’m not gonna spend more than two minutes dissecting a sitcom whose problematic jokes are not landing quite as well they used to. As a younger individual, not only did I miss the script’s treatment of Ross’s personal disaster, I had also missed the blatant homophobia, the subtle racism, and the ridiculously unrealistic standards of beauty endorsed by the show.
Not that I’m gonna stop watching it — period specific things are well, a thing. If I stopped watching Friends on account of its problematic messages, I would also have to stop loving Lord of the Rings, H.P. Lovecraft, and so many other historical texts. Tolkien’s depiction of race is not exactly considered easily digestible by today’s standards, and H.P. Lovecraft was a downright bigot; however, their work wasn’t created in a vacuum of their own views. Their work was shaped by the society that produced them, much like the writers of Friends had been.
As a writer and a human, obviously, I’ve experienced extreme heartbreak, followed by a period of unstable behaviour. As a human who has coped with all of those things with extremely inappropriate humour, I once wrote a flippant story about how an Apocalypse was triggered by a careless breakup.
It’s hardly my best work, but I personally giggled a bit to myself as I wrote it.
Look, if I don’t laugh at my own jokes, who else will?