PERFORMING ARTS

Friends: A Cultural History

Rowman & Littlefield. Dec. 2019. 264p. ISBN 9781538112731. pap. $35. TV
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Although Friends ended its ten-year run more than 15 years ago, the show, centering on a group of six twentysomething Gen Xers living in the East Village, has never stopped airing and, through streaming services, has attracted a new generation of viewers who dissect episodes on social media and take online quizzes to see which character matches their personality. Combining academic insight with a fan’s enthusiasm, Dunn (rhetoric & public culture, Dominican Univ.; Pursuing Popular Culture) discusses how the series changed the landscape of television; in its wake, similar shows in which friend groups took the place of the nuclear family followed, and the concepts and jokes (the “friend zone”; “Pivot!”) it introduced are still part of the pop culture lexicon. Though the author reminds readers how funny the show still is, she also scrutinizes its humor. What was Friends really saying about the “slacker generation”? How did the sitcom handle race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality? Who were we laughing with, and who were we laughing at?
VERDICT Serious Friends fans looking for a deep dive will appreciate this scholarly though accessible chronicle--and will enjoy arguing over whether Dunn got it right with her list of the 25 best episodes.

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