Nearly 25 years after it aired, Friends star Jane Sibbett said there are still a few things she would change about the world’s first televised lesbian wedding.
“I’d wear a different dress and I wouldn’t wear that darn hat,” Sibbett told The New Daily.
“We both hated our dresses and we both hated our hats!
“I’m so grateful … beyond that I have no complaints.”
Sibbett played Carol, the ex-wife of Ross (David Schwimmer) and mother of his child, who leaves him for another woman called Susan.
The One with the Lesbian Wedding hit screens in January 1996 and marked a milestone for queer communities worldwide, the effects of which are still being felt today.
More than two decades later, fans still seek out Sibbett and her on-screen wife, Jessica Hecht, to sing their praises and thank them for their cultural impact.
“There was an organisation about LGBTQ families that was giving an award to the show and I was accepting on behalf of the show,” Sibbett said.
“And the man that came up and gave the speech, he said, ‘If we had Carol and Susan when I was growing up, I wouldn’t have tried to [die by] suicide so many times’.”
With hindsight, the landmark episode is overwhelmingly positive. But that wasn’t necessarily the case at the time.
Conservative affiliates in Texas and Ohio banned the episode from their channels, and Sibbett recalls some fiery exchanges in her personal life from associates who were less than impressed.
It highlighted how far we needed to go,” Sibbett said.
“I had someone from my old church who said, ‘You’re going to burn in Hell for this.”
The one with the controversy
Whether you were sucked in by the era-defining haircut known as ‘The Rachel’, (could it be more ’90s?), or if you just stayed around for the comedy – by now, much of the world has had its own encounters with Friends.
As well as showing the world’s first lesbian wedding, the show broke boundaries in many other respects, like exploring a series of diverse and unconventional entries into motherhood.
In fact, each leading lady took an alternative route: Phoebe became a surrogate for her brother, Monica adopted, Rachel had an unplanned pregnancy and Carol and Susan were a same-sex couple.
But in recent years, critics have slammed some of the jokes, themes and characters portrayed in the show, labelling them problematic and offensive by today’s standards.
There was Chandler’s father, a transgender woman who was often mocked as a cross-dresser, and Rachel’s effeminate babysitter (Freddie Prinze Jr) who Ross adamantly insisted was gay – essentially, a sprinkling of subtle (or overt) homophobia was never far off.
Sibbett believes the show, though of its time, did its best to direct the humour towards those who did not understand the complexities of gender and sexuality, rather than the show’s queer characters themselves.
“I know the show took a little bit of flack for homophobia,” Sibbett said.
“But what was important about it – at least in our storyline – was that all of the jokes were about those who had trouble with this love, rather than the ones that were in love.”
The one with all the politics
It may be a comfort to think that in 2020, the show’s dated themes and humour would give way to more progressive and inclusive content (it took nine seasons for the show to include a main character of colour).
But Sibbett warns that isn’t necessarily the case, particularly in Trump’s America.
Vocal advocates for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, Sibbett and Hecht are using their platform as the first queer brides of the small screen to campaign for change.
“It never occurred to me when we began Friends that we would be dealing with this here, 26 years later … and we’re having these conversations still,” Sibbett said.
“I mean certainly with Trump and his people here, it’s sliding backwards and I couldn’t even imagine that would happen … we still have a ways to go.
“My sweet [on-screen] wife and I have been doing lots of campaigning for Joe Biden because we do not need a dictator. We really actually want a president, so we’re looking for a healthier way forward.
“If you’re going to have any type of platform, it is the time to move forward because to continue on this way, with this President, we’re just going backwards to the ’50s.”
And since the topic of a Friends reunion is never far from anyone’s lips, fans might consider ditching the main cast who, despite teasing us for years, have never actually confirmed their intention to bring Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Ross and Chandler back together again.
It might, therefore, be time to follow the 2020 diversity movement in a new direction and give Carol and Susan the queer spinoff we deserve.
“If they don’t believe that the six can do it, we know that at least the two of us can do it.”