The recent passing of “Friends” actor Matthew Perry may be difficult for the scores of young millennial and Gen Z viewers who binge watched the 1990’s television show during the pandemic. Their parents, having become fans when the sitcom originally aired, blessed the pastime as wholesome enough. While dinner was being prepared and during a break from homework, the 30-minute program delivered a few generally harmless laughs. It seems that like many jokers, Perry suffered personally from his own challenges with mental health and addiction. Being Bing was too much.
His death at age 54 signals the end of this period. Never again will there be a reunion of the cast. Never again will there be new content created. In another generation, or two, Joey’s “How you doing?” and Phoebe’s quirky smile will be lost, just as the whistled tune from Mayberry RFD and ottoman trip in the Dick Van Dyke Show are largely unknown to many under 50. Likewise, rotary telephones, analog recordings and traditional clock faces may soon be forgotten, replaced by the advancing march of time. Gone with them is the cultural cohesion that comes from these shared experiences. No doubt, it will be replaced by new ones, but whether we loved the series or not, the near ubiquitous experience of “Friends” is rare — and as such not, easily repeated.
Joey, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Ross and Rachel are all part of our collective family. We might have called them our “Friends.” Sure, they are fictional characters living impossibly expensive lives in New York City, but they brought us together in that we identified with them, in their strengths and shortcomings. Perhaps more important, we all shared a bit in them. They were reference points in our common conversation. As this chapter is closing, could we be any more sad?