Phoebe’s (Lisa Kudrow) double-proposal scene in Friends season 9 makes one of the show’s main problems even worse. Since its 2004 finale, Friends has remained a pop-culture staple and a go-to feel-good show for people across the globe. But several running gags have not aged well, such as Joey (Matt LeBlanc) repeatedly reinforcing heteronormativity or the gang mocking fat Monica. When David (Hank Azaria) and Mike (Paul Rudd) compete over Phoebe’s love, Friends‘ outdated jokes come to light in a big way.
After Chandler (Matthew Perry) accidentally advises David to propose to Phoebe, he shows up in Barbados with an engagement ring. As he shows it to Chandler, he squints and asks, “Isn’t an engagement ring supposed to have a diamond?” It turns out it does, but it’s tiny, as David could not afford a ring with a big diamond. “Being a failed scientist doesn’t pay quite as well as you might think,” David argues while presenting his 1/70-karat diamond ring. Later on, at the dinner table, David is portrayed as a nerdy scientist who is too soft to fight Mike (all his attempts are comic reliefs). This is all-too-reminding of Friends‘ insulting jokes about Ross (David Schwimmer) and his passion for science.
Through David’s failed attempt at proposing to Phoebe, Friends once again mocks scientists and reinforces a problematic belief that science is boring. After nine seasons of the gang consistently insulting Ross’ intelligence and acting bored (or worse) whenever he shares a work-related event, in comes David. His moments of kindness towards Mike (like offering him a seat after a long flight) are laughed at, and he is shown as a poor, weak scientist who stands no chance against Mike. Furthermore, David’s engagement ring creates the wrong impression that the bigger the diamond, the better. While some people might adhere to this trend, it’s quite upsetting to present this as a fact in a show with such a large audience.
The Friends gang finding Ross annoying is not all concerning – he is often selfish and manipulative, all the while adamant that he is the “nice guy” in every situation. But presenting scientists as boring or weird is very wrong of Friends. Moreover, David never showed annoying tendencies that would justify the gang mocking him the way they do. Explaining his cheap engagement ring as a result of his career and associating it with the losing party sends a myriad of wrong messages to the audience.
Of course, Phoebe also chose Mike over David because she was still in love with him – marrying David at that point would have been simply wrong. But the way David is portrayed as the losing competitor (via his ring and being a “nerdy” scientist) showcases precisely how Friends is becoming outdated. While Friends addressed many taboo topics bravely in the 1990s, it also created jokes that have aged badly. Of course, Friends was written three decades ago and expectations from television might have changed; however, present-day viewers should exercise caution when it comes to laughing along with the audience.
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