Los Angeles: Friends is getting old, but its fans have never been younger.
As the sitcom about six twentysomethings marks its 25th anniversary on Sunday, it has spawned a devoted youthful viewership, especially among pre-teens and teen who weren't even born when it the show went off air in 2004.
Californian teenager Esme Goldman streams an episode of the ’90s sitcom Friends via Netflix.Credit:AP
"My friends all really liked it. They were all really into it and they would always be quoting it, so I decided to give it a try," said 15-year-old Adelaide Driver of Taos, New Mexico. "I kind of immediately was super into it."
Lucia Mozingo, 10, of Long Beach says she's been spreading her love for the show "like a disease" among her grade-school classmates.
She and Sammy, who watches her after school, can mimic their way through entire episodes, sing every word to Phoebe's song Smelly Cat and can do impressions of every major character.
The show has become almost a rite of passage in some circles, where their Friends phase is almost a coming of age.
There are 236 episodes for a new generation to enjoy.Credit:Warner Bros Home Entertainment via AP
For girls like Lucia, understanding the show's adult-but-not-too-adult subject matter can feel like a step into sophistication.
"My parents showed me the show Friends when I was 8, and I didn't really get it, so I wasn't really into it," she says.
Then, trying it again at 10, it all clicked, and she understood why Ross and Rachel got together, and why they broke up, and why they got back together again.
"I just got it," she said."
Friends, some fans say, is a piece of the past that allows them to fantasise about their future. They swoon at the notion of living in a big-city apartment with their best friend the way Courteney Cox's Monica and Jennifer Aniston's Rachel do, with two more friends across the hall like Matthew Perry's Chandler and Matt LeBlanc's Joey.
The cast of Friends.
"I would love to live across the hall from my best friends," said 12-year-old Imogen Schwartz of Glendale, California. "When you watch it you wish you had a Rachel and a Chandler and a Joey and everyone else."
The characters also have fledgling careers that the girls can see themselves aspiring to.
"My favourite moments are whenever they're talking about their jobs: actor, musician, masseuse, fashion person," said 13-year-old Esme Goldman of Pasadena, California. "I think jobs are interesting."
And they live and work in an idealised New York, a dream of some young fans.
"I want to live in New York. I want to pursue my dreams in New York," Esme said, "even though their version of New York is completely unrealistic. I'm not going to have an apartment like that."
Marta Kauffman, who along with David Crane created the show that premiered on September 22, 1994, agreed that its aspirational qualities are a huge part of its appeal for younger viewers.
"For the characters themselves, this is that kind of time in their lives when their friends are their family, I think that's incredibly aspirational," she said. "Teenagers who imagine it are imagining that kind of life when they're with their friends."
Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe, and her proudly eccentric persona, has special standing among young fans, who overwhelmingly name her as their favourite character.
"She's different but she doesn't really care," Lucia said. "Like, she's always trying to cleanse your aura, and like, she'll make her own shoes with candy on them."
"She's kind of a little crazy," Adelaide said. "She's like a lot of the people here in Taos."
Phoebe's personality, with her strange folkie songs and odd observations, would make her a social media star.
"Phoebe would be a very popular YouTuber," Imogen said.
Most young fans also immerse themselves in Friends on social media. Its archetypal characters including David Schwimmer's Ross and catch-phrases make it incredibly meme-worthy, and many say they first decided to watch it after being prompted on Instagram or Snapchat.
Netflix, which paid a reported $US100 million to stream Friends during 2019, rarely releases streaming figures and declined to provide them for this story, making it difficult to know how broad the trend truly is.
Other sitcoms, such as The Office, also have masses of surprisingly young viewers, but few are as old or as traditional in format as Friends.
Yet its age could also be an asset. Friends has a decade's worth of episodes – 236 in total – to binge on and return to repeatedly. That's more time than some young girls have spent with most of their real-life friends. They feel like they really know the characters.
"You got to watch Chandler and Joey and Monica and Rachel and Phoebe and Ross all, like, throughout a decade go through ups and downs and everything between," Imogen said.
And some may not even realise it's old at first.
"When my daughter's friends discovered Friends they thought it was a period piece," Kauffman said. "They thought it was a contemporary show set in the '90s."
The days of Friends on Netflix are now numbered. WarnerMedia is moving the series to its own streaming platform, HBO Max, next year.
That has some young fans scrambling to gorge on episodes, unsure if their parents will spring for the new channel.
"Since they're taking it off Netflix," Imogen said, "I want to get in as much time watching Friends as possible."
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