July 5, 2021
Producers and writers Marta Kauffman and David Crane probably didn’t realize that their sitcom premise — documenting the lives of six friends during their 20s and early 30s in New York City, that period in life when “friends are family” — would become a global phenomenon. It had taken them months to cast the six friends, most of them completely unknown actors. Yet, in an era when TV shows were regularly canceled, Friends somehow managed to last — through 10 years, 10 seasons, writers’ strikes, the Y2K bug — and leave a lasting mark on global culture, from the “Rachel” haircut to iconic lines like “We were on a break!” The show, which aired on NBC from 1994 to 2004, would draw in nearly 53 million U.S. viewers for its most popular episode and go on to win several Emmys and SAG awards. In the later years, the actors — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer — would each command a record-high salary of $1 million per episode.
But it wasn’t just America that was in love with Friends; some of its most ardent fans were English-speaking millennials from India — even though they wouldn’t get to see the show in the country until 1999, nor the final season until 18 months after its conclusion. But, no matter. In a pre-super-digital world, urban Indian ’90s kids were able to share the experience of watching and dissecting the 22-minute episodes together. For them, Friends offered a form of escapism and personification of American culture that was hard to ignore and felt foreign to many Indian households: characters openly discussed their sex lives, sexuality, financial independence (or lack thereof), and had friends of the opposite gender. At the same time, Friends was often a fun introduction to some of the more serious parts of “adulting,” such as breaking up with one’s ex or moving on from failed marriages or jobs.
When I moved to New York City for college, my American college mates were as surprised by my encyclopedic love for the American show as I was by those who were apathetic to it. I had assumed, growing up in Mumbai, that watching Friends was a global childhood experience as common as losing a tooth.