Friends: Ross and Rachel’s toxic relationship



I, like many others, have spent the last few weeks rewatching Friends on Netflix. In reality, this watching has largely consisted of hate-watching, as it becomes increasingly apparent that the series is even less-progressive than first recalled. Much has been written about the rampant homophobia that runs throughout the series, with references to sexuality regularly serving as an insult or a punchline. Much too, has been written about the series’ questionable representation of women in general. What has become most apparent in this period of rewatching is the toxic, and abusive nature of the series’ central relationship: Ross and Rachel. The status of this relationship, despite its breakdown in season three, runs throughout the ten seasons. Characters regularly revisit its demise, with Ross frequently proclaiming ‘we were on a break’ as an eternal defensive catchphrase. Audiences held, and still do hold, this relationship in such high esteem, that it is often perceived as a litmus test for relationships. Many fans believe that the difficulties the pair experience somehow result in a fulfilling outcome when the pair are eventually reunited.

It is strange then, given the regard for this relationship, that the dynamics are so questionable. Ross, always a selfish and irritating character, becomes positively tyrannical in his claim for Rachel’s affections. For Ross, his love, stemming from a childhood affection, validates his ownership of Rachel. From the very beginning of their burgeoning relationship, he holds little regard for Rachel or her feelings, seemingly more in love with the idea of Rachel than her as an individual.

Leaving for China, Ross proclaims that he is hopelessly in love with Rachel, yet readily returns with Julie. His love for Rachel, supposedly so pure, quickly disperses when he is reunited with a woman who returns his propositions. Yet, we are led to believe that Ross’ love and care for Rachel should be held in such high regard, that it is only right that he enters into a relationship with Rachel.

When they do finally embark upon this relationship, it seems to be a matter of minutes before Ross commits an act that undermines Rachel’s self-esteem and sense of self by creating a list of pros and cons, comparing Rachel and Julie. Rather than simply profess his love for Rachel, who he regularly insists on being a source of constant fascination for a number of years, he decides to logically decide which woman he should continue to be with. While he apologises to Rachel and tries to make it up to her on multiple occasions, it is not long before Ross, believing that he has made suitable recompense for his misdemeanour, begins to question why Rachel has not forgiven him yet. Essentially, Ross is able to manipulate and emotionally blackmail Rachel into entering a relationship, as she forgives him after watching a home video.

After Rachel begins a job, which she is passionate about, Ross immediately demonstrates his jealousy and desire to control. It is notable that Rachel’s decision to further her career by quitting her waitressing role at the coffee shop is one that is prompted by Chandler, not her apparently loving and supportive boyfriend. Given that Rachel regularly states her dislike of her job, and shows no enthusiasm for her role, it becomes noticeable that Ross has never discussed her career with her. Rachel’s career progression, made possible by her friendship with future co-worker Mark, merely presents itself to Ross as a means through which he may lose Rachel.

When she begins her role, he goes to great lengths to reassert his dominance. When speaking to Mark he pointedly states his relationship and status, remarking that he is Ross ‘as in Ross and Rachel’ implying that Rachel should only be known in relation to him. Rachel remarks that she likes being a separate, individual at work, and enjoys the freedom this awards, yet Ross continually invades her own space, arriving at work unannounced, sending her a myriad of hyperbolic romantic tokens that take over her desk leaving her unable to work. It would appear that Ross preferred Rachel as a waitress when her job role left her easily accessible (with the group regularly visiting the coffee shop while Rachel is working), and less ambitious. Early on in their relationship, she discovers that he has already determined the trajectory of their relationship, right down to the number of children they will have and where they will live. At no point does Rachel’s personal ambitions feature, nor her feelings and thoughts on the idea. Ross’ concept of their relationship is not one that invites discourse or discussion, but rather is an opportunity for him to mould and create a relationship that satisfies him, particularly given his past relationship with Carol.

After Ross’ infidelity, and Rachel’s subsequent decision to end their relationship, it is not long before Ross refers to Rachel’s decision as being ‘crazy’. He may have apologised initially, but to Ross, this apology should be enough to erase his lack of care and consideration. It’s entirely questionable then, that this controlling, and damaging relationship, is one that is still viewed by audiences as being one to aspire to. Even at the series’ end, Rachel is still compelled to leave behind her career, one that she professes to feeling inspired and excited by, in order to reunite with Ross.  Ross then eventually achieves his dream of having Rachel and a child with her. Yet Rachel has had to renege on her career aspirations and personal ambitions in order for Ross to achieve this. What is Rachel’s dream? Is this ever truly addressed, or considered? Viewers seemingly believe that Ross’ dream is Rachel’s too, but can any viewer really identify what her dream is?


Derry Girls – Review

Derry Girls currently showing on Channel 4, is an entirely welcome series. A show that highlights both the comedic potential of the female gender, as well as the myriad of comedic opportunities as presented by the teenage experience. Shows such as The Inbetweeners have tried to depict the teenage psyche, but too often strayed into the hyperbolic to truly be meaningful. Derry Girls, however, is both inherently comedic and offers an incisive social commentary. Set in the early 1990s, the narrative action takes place against the backdrop of ‘The Troubles’. Such inclusion instantly politicises the writing, yet through the casual manner in which the young girls view events (such as their school bus being forced to take a diversion due to a suspected bomb) is simultaneously rendered as simply part of everyday life. For these girls and their families, such events are, rather than a cause for panic, simply an inconvenience. Such representation, through its seemingly unpolitical nature, instantly becomes utterly political. This is not to suggest that the series offers a diatribe, but rather, through the inclusion of events in a specific and divisive period, ensures that notice is awarded appropriately.

The central conceit, following the various exploits of four teenage girls and a male English cousin, is, while often rather inane, entirely plausible and grounded in reality, a feat that ensures that the humour lands successfully. Each character is well-drawn, each presented as individual in their own right, while also interacting in such a manner that the friendship is entirely believable. Thus, the first episode, which witnesses the girls return for their first day of school after the summer, highlights the new-found confidence that students suddenly find themselves invested with when they perceive themselves to be veterans of the school. This bolshiness, encouraged by Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), who is invested with new-found bravado having watched Pulp Fiction with her father the night before, lands the group in trouble, accused of bullying. The act, which saw Michelle attempt to threaten a group of new girls into moving from the back seat of the bus, is thoroughly recognisable. So too, is the regular Friday night trip to the local chip shop. Each narrative thread thus far is entirely rooted in both school and the domestic, and it is this, along with wonderfully timed comedic performances, that helps to ensure that Derry Girls is a welcome addition to the genre.

Friends and the representation of women


Friends has arguably dated, and dated poorly. The series, released on Netflix this month, has once again attracted discussion regarding its representation of homosexuality in particular. While this subject has, quite rightly, attracted much discussion, the representation of gender, especially women, has not received the same attention. This discussion is entirely warranted, and needed, given the objective influence of the series. Such is the hyperreality of the series that viewers regularly view themselves through the lens of the characters, questioning which character they most resemble, or using the narrative of the series to influence the manner in which they interact within their own relationships.

When teaching English Language A Level, there was a specific clip from the series which was regularly used to demonstrate the supposed differences between gender and language. The clip regularly garnered both laughter, and recognition from students, with students genuinely believing that the clip represented an accurate depiction of the manner in which men and women interact, as well as view pivotal moments in relationships. While this may be true for some, the fact that the clip is often the starting point, rather then merely a reflection for the majority is concerning. Many viewers of a particular generation grew up watching the series, and indeed, viewed these gendered interactions and assumptions about relationships before they were in relationships themselves. Subsequently, then, the series has been viewed as a learning tool, encouraging the viewer to use the myriad of relationship difficulties depicted in the series as a model through which they can position their own.

This in itself is questionable enough, but the very depiction of the women in the series, particularly the three female leads, must be questioned. Each woman, despite her own identified independence, is ultimately diminished by the men around her. Each, forging their own successful career, is compelled to compromise both their original ideals and their own concept of their career.

Rachel for example, proving herself to be so successful within the fashion industry is offered a job in Paris. A role that she readily describes as both exciting and scary. Despite the potential of this role, she is, once propositioned by long-term romantic interest Ross, quick to return to New York. There is then little mention of her career prospects, suggestive that ultimately, it is family that is the ultimate goal.

This idea of family as being the true measure of success is echoed in both Monica and Phoebe. Monica’s life is deemed complete once she is able to adopt two babies. Her previous lack of success in conceiving a child with her husband is, seemingly for Monica, some marker that highlights her as lacking. The topic, of the difficulty in conceiving, is given little rumination and all suggestion of difficulty is quickly forgotten once the prospect of adoption is proffered. In earlier episodes Monica is regularly seen at work, forging a career as a successful chef, but as the series continues, these insights into her work seem more sporadic, suggesting that this is no longer important to Monica’s character development.

Similarly, Phoebe heralded as the quirky and eccentric member of the group who disdains convention becomes utterly conventional. In marrying Mike, Phoebe shows that her attempts at kookiness were entirely superficial. Her lifestyle, previously a defining feature of her character, is entirely uprooted. She struggles with spending money on her wedding and considers donating it to charity in order to help people who have had similar experiences to her. Rather rapidly, however, she is willing to use this money for her own means, decrying it as deserving considering her previous life. It is surely at this moment that Phoebe has consciously rejected her own nature, and instead, freely submits herself to convention and married life.

Each character, when comparing the first series to the last, is entirely unrecognisable. Of course, character change over the duration of a series, particularly one that has the duration of Friends but these characters have not merely naturally progressed, but rather rejected past incarnations of themselves arguably in order to submit to the men around them.


The merits of First Dates

Channel 4’s First Dates and Gogglebox were released around the same time. Both, fairly similar in tone and style, have enjoyed huge success, but while Gogglebox‘s premise has become increasingly tired, with its supposed regular featured viewers demonstrating that they are ever more aware of their own audience, First Dates has, despite Channel 4 attempting to inject the series with a new appeal through the hotel concept, remained enjoyable. The series’ premise is incredibly simple, so much so that it seems strange that the series was not developed sooner. Featuring a range of couple each first on a date, the series charts the featured participants as they embark upon the prescribed date. For some this experience is exciting, for others, it presents a situation in which they feel increasingly vulnerable.

It is this opportunity for vulnerability that engages, and in turn, compels the viewer to consistently watch. Scenarios in which participants have lost a loved one, or endured difficult, at times abusive, relationships immediately connect with the viewer on an emotional level. Similarly, it is the universality of these situations that so aid the series’ success. Each date is well-orchestrated, and there is never any sense of meanness or maliciousness on the part of the producers when matching couples.  Rather, it is clear that the producers, in creating the show, have recognised that for sustained success viewers don’t want to witness awkwardness or conflict, but instead, want to experience positive connections between participants. This is rather notable, as the regular tendency with reality programming is to attempt to generate aggression and argument in order to attract viewers. Instead, First Dates is, simply, a nice show.


Call the Midwife: dangerous hyperreality

Given the nature of the Christmas period, it is inevitable that many end up being subjected to television programming that would not have ordinarily been selected as part of their festive viewing. As such, it was my misfortunate to be subjected to BBC’s Call the Midwife Christmas special on Christmas Day. Having some insight into the nature of the programme I have, thus far, intentionally and purposefully avoided the series finding the clichéd, halcyon representation of life in the 1950s entirely questionable. Having no option but to endure the episode on Christmas Day, it became rapidly apparent that despite my initial misgivings, the series is far worse than I could have anticipated, largely due to what it attempts to represent and the manner in which it is received by its targeted audience.

The central narrative needs little explanation, with the numerous subplots focusing on the various entanglements that the midwives become involved with through the nature of their work. The storylines themselves are not entirely questionable, despite their saccharine nature, but rather the manner in which they are presented. The world of the series is entirely cosseted, harking back to an era that, for its targeted audience, is one that is desirable. A time in which, despite the hardships and prejudices, was one in which things were simple. It is this attitude that proves to be so damaging, with viewers noting the lack of central heating, and the hyperbolic weather as a rite of passage, or as a marker of hard work and determination.

Such an attitude creates a divide, both in terms of generation, class and gender. The careers of these women are still largely restricted to the domestic sphere, and the myriad of intrigues are similarly centred. The gender roles of the women featured are lacking in progression and predominantly rely on stereotypes: the matriarch, the unintelligent woman focused on her appearance, or the overly emotional. While these approaches in themselves are questionable enough, it is the interaction that it encourages from its audience that highlights the series is far more ominous than its first appearance may present. Viewers, obtaining information from one specific media source and then finding their television viewers habits similarly aligned, simply create an echo chamber for their views.


The problem with Christmas 24

The form and tone of a Christmas film is an interesting one. Given the nature of the holiday season, viewers are far more likely to be forgiving when it comes to a film’s quality, allowing for poor acting or cliché so long as the film’s central conceit of celebrating Christmas, is successful. There can be little other explanation then, as to why so many films that largely focus on the same theme or topic attract multiple viewings. While some of these films are permissible, despite their failings, some, such as those that feature on the Christmas 24 channel is entirely questionable in their entire premise and execution.

Those films that are offered and presented for consumption at Christmas time on this channel are seemingly innocuous, with their entirely vanilla representation of relationships and family dynamics apparently entirely innocent and inoffensive. Arguably though, it is this very presentation, in its simplicity that is actually so sinister.
The world of Christmas 24 is overwhelmingly white, and WASP. The relationships are heterosexual, and the representation of all involved is entirely heteronormative. The diegesis that exists within these films is one that is entirely unrecognisable in reality, but though its persuasive presentation and manipulation of festive emotions, form some manner of hyperreality with viewers believing that these worlds did exist, and can exist once more.

Given the overwhelming conservative approach that these films take, and the core ethos that it attempts to engender to its audience, these films despite their seeming inoffensive nature, are in fact utterly pervasive and should be treated as such.


Thoughts on The Miniaturist

Adapting any text, particularly one that has proven to be hugely popular, is always a difficult feat. The tendency is, often, to adhere to the text with little deviation, fearing the ready-made audience may baulk at any error in textual detail. In adapting Jessie Burton’s wildly successful The Miniaturist, the approach has been, as may have been predicted for a Christmas airing, to largely retain the events of the text, representing the narrative faithfully. While this approach is largely acceptable, it is only admissible when the direction and rendering retain the central mood and tone of the text. In creating an adaptation for a less discerning, and in turn, arguably more mainstream audience, the creators have arguably taken a less progressive approach.

Thus the narrative, in attempting to appeal to many, fails to truly engage. The cast all perform admirably, particularly Romola Garai and Anna Taylor-Joy, but the dialogue is restrictive. Little is done to truly create atmosphere or tension, and there appears to be little to really concern the audience or drive the central conceit forward. Burton’s text, while engaging, does largely rely on the interior, a difficult narrative function to demonstrate onscreen. It is not merely this though that results in such a lacklustre affair, but rather a culmination of a myriad of factors. The pacing, in its restrained manner, is simply sedate, while its characters, despite some backstory, never feels fully developed.


Easy Season 2

For some, Easy’s anthology based format felt jarring, allowing little room for organic and sustained character development. Certainly, this is a point to be noted in regards to this style of narrative. Focusing on numerous stories and characters, some interconnected, others entirely isolated, can, in lesser hands, lead to characters that leave very little impression or impact.

Joe Swanberg’s Easy is not such a series. Its characters, while often flawed in execution do, largely, land with the audience. The second series sees the narrative returns to many of the same thematic concerns: affection, marriage, and the banality of the mundane nature of our lives.

The first episode, ‘Package Thief’ for example, focuses on a small, select neighbourhood who find themselves entirely focused on the exploits of a man who routinely steals their deliveries. The group of neighbours, all ostensibly liberal and middle class, quickly descend into their own interpretation of the martial law, deeming it appropriate and necessary to install CCTV cameras in order to identify the thief. Members of the group, feeling empowered by their own ability to extend their dominion beyond the confines of their own property, seek to further exert their own vision of the community upon passing visitors.

The episode, while seemingly innocuous, leaves the viewer with a clear sense of how little it takes for such a community to band together and attempt to prevent those of a disliked disposition from entering their living space. Its simplicity, on the surface, ensures that the narrative remains with the viewer long after.

Other episodes, focusing on the dynamics of both long-term, often constrained relationships, and new, tremulous couplings, are wonderfully natural, with the dialogue feeling realistic and relatable. The final episode of the series focuses on a thirty-seven-year-old woman (a familiar face from the first series) who, after the breakdown of her relationship, helps a friend in distress by looking after her young baby for several days. The episode largely consists of several scenes of the woman and baby interacting, playing in the park, partaking in bed-time routines and the activities that some may find banal. The interaction between the pair, while containing little dialogue, is given emotional depth given that the viewer recognises how much these moments mean to the woman. Not having had children of her own yet, and previously believing that she would have done by now, the opportunity to play mother provides her with moments of real revelation and warmth.

Not all of the episodes are wholly successful, and the narratives that return to the male writer of the first series do not always fully engage. Arguably this is due to the very nature of the writer himself, whose arrogance and self-belief does, at times, lead to the story feeling male-dominated. Certainly, this is intentional, given the nature of this writer, whose self-perceived intelligence means that he seeks to dominate conversations with women, or does not always recognise their worth.

Regardless of the trajectory of the series as a whole, the format and the presentation is refreshing. Netflix, in its funding of such projects, is once again, highlighting its worth as a producer of intelligent and unusual writing.



The Welsh Woman in National Dress

The history of the Welsh National Dress is well-marked. Encouraged by Lady Llanover of Gwent, the wearing of the National Dress was intended to serve as a rebuke to a perceived loss of national identity. The dress, despite its impracticalities, was designed then, to serve as a pointed reminder of a very clear and separate identity for Welsh nationals.  

It is telling then, that this mode of dress, one originally intended as a distinctive mark of national pride and identity, has seen its use subverted. While the dress is still celebrated in Wales, with schoolchildren encouraged to dress up on St David’s Day, the dress, when viewed through the lens of the nationality of Britain, immediately conjures characters whose very national identity becomes a projection for comedic purposes.  

The dress, particularly the women’s national dress, has, for some, become synonymous with the very specific stereotypes so often associated with Wales: a lack of progression, an inward focus, with a lack of awareness of anything outside of a localised geographical location.  

Beddoe’s notes that the Welsh Dress, in its original incarnation, was intended to be used as a device of tourism. Created at a time when the ‘old peasant costume was dying out’, the dress was, as Beddoe’s marks, decorous and as such, was difficult to work in. It is worth highlighting this apparent original intention in that the dress is armpact upon its audience. dic rochrial ales, but rather the manner he dress is arguably used for the same reasoning today.o be cguably used for the same reasoning today. Not necessarily by those resident in Wales, but rather the manner in which it is presented by the media. The use of the dress is perceived as something almost antiquated, and parochial. Something to be indulged in. Its intentional usage often timed to create a comedic impact upon its audience.  

Arguably this concept of the Welsh National Dress is one that has become increasingly abstract, but ever present. Thus, while the dress itself may not be included, a character’s adherence and steadfast pride and belief in the value of Wales above all else is widely held up for mockery. The dress then, while not necessarily a physical incarnation of Lady Llanover’s creation, still exists, rendered as something very tangible and real in a character’s assertion and declaration of a specific geographical location holding dominion. 

It is there in Stacey’s continued pontificating as regards the value of Barry in the stupefyingly popular Gavin and Stacey. It is not Stacey’s unquestionable regard for Barry that is problematic, but rather the manner in which this affection is treated by others. Gavin is frequently disdainful, heralding Stacey’s devotion as questionable. Given that Stacey is regularly highlighted as being less intelligent, and often simplistic in her approach and understanding of concepts, her love of Barry is immediately questioned. This, when coupled with the depiction of Gavin as more reliable and mature, creates a reductive notion.  

Stacey, in sending Gavin property in Barry which is within their budget, is roundly rejected, with the implication being that Barry’s low property pricing is in line with its lack of desirous location. Gavin, despite eventually moving to Barry with Stacey, never truly aligns himself with the area, and its continued othering (with the Owain Hughes joke, and the statement by Smithy that no one speaks Welsh in the area) is clearly intended to question Stacey’s continued link to the area.  

Indeed, her assertion of missing the place in which she grew up, the place within which she first formed her identity, is consistently questioned by Gavin, and there is a sense that he has only allowed the move to Barry to placate Stacey. He never attempts to discuss, or uncover her emotional ties to the area.  

Similarly, The Valleys, the deservedly much-maligned MTV series while ostensibly not explicitly heralding its women as Welsh, does so through the very creation of the series. Following the trend of such scripted reality series, the show focuses on a range of extreme stereotypes. While different from series such as Gavin and Stacey in the sense that they are, purportedly, a depiction of reality, the clear scripting element arguably renders series such as The Valleys as constructed as any fictive creation. In fact, the very fact that the series supposedly imitates reality is more damaging for the viewer, who when watching the series, is encouraged to believe that they are watching real life.  

For the cast, their very national identity is intentionally, and specifically, brought to the viewer’s attention. These women then, through their very Welshness, so purposefully highlighted by the central conceit of the series, are presented as if in a form of national dress. This, when combined with the encouraged viewer voyeurism when viewing their various exploits, rather reductively compels the viewer to once again, other the women onscreen. For the viewer, there is almost some comfort in the thought that these women, so questionable in their activities and misdemeanours, are entirely unlike them.  

What then does this suggest about the very national identity of these women? Stacey’s continued, unconditional love for Barry marks her as unintelligent and immature, while the women in The Valleys, so explicitly Welsh, are reduced to figures of derision and scorn. Seemingly then, any sense of national pride, or unhindered national identity, is quite intentionally held up for ridicule and contempt. These women, lacking in any sense of multifaceted depiction, are marked by their very Welshness, and in turn, made questionable. While Beddoe’s highlighted the use of national dress as a means for tourism, here, and too frequently, it is used to once again, isolate and contain identity.  


The Girlfriend Experience Season 2: thoughts so far

The first series of The Girlfriend Experience was, and remains, groundbreaking. Those unfamiliar with the series may find this statement to be deceptively hyperbolic. How, in the days of a myriad of streaming services, can one series be referred to in such a way? Simply through reasserting and redefining the confines and constraints of what television can be.

Co-creators Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz have, in creating the series, intentionally set out with the purpose of ensuring that they do not adhere to the predefined television narratives or styles. The first series of the anthology narrative focused on Riley Keough’s Christine, a law student who engages in call girl work. The focus was entirely progressive in its presentation, with Christine’s power and desire to partake in such work never in doubt. The series stylistically too was utterly refreshing. Restrained, but perfectly posited music, with stark settings and little camera movement, the direction allowed the narrative to simply unfold.

Series 2, moves the focus away from Christine, to a triptych of characters, who, thus far, have not met. Both Kerrigan and Seimetz have taken on each half of the running order for the series and made the episodes entirely independent of one another (including writing, direction and characters). The first strand of the narrative centres on Anna and Erica (Louisa Krause and Anna Friel), and the various political entanglements that they become caught up in through each of their sphere of work. Anna, a call girl, is privy to the political discussions of the powerful through her presumed anonymity and powerlessness. The men that Anna meet view her simply as an object, one who is only present to serve their means and desires, and it is this that proves to be their hamartia. Anna, through the men’s perception of her, becomes entirely empowered and is able to provide delicate information to Erica’s powerbroker.

The second narrative strand features Bria (Carmen Ejogo), the mistress of a crimelord, who, through contacting the police, is compelled to become part of a witness protection programme. Through her newfound state, one which no longer contains the riches and wealth of being married to a criminal, finds herself compelled to continually manipulate.

Thus far, four episodes in, it is apparent that the very identifiable and specific aesthetic is still present. Yet, the focus, while engaging, is simply not as compelling as that of Christine’s. Perhaps it will develop in time, but the focus simply doesn’t connect in the same manner. Bria’s story is the stronger narrative, but Erica and Anna’s in its highly charged moments does, at times, feel like it’s simply subservient to a rather typical male gaze. Christine’s sexuality, entirely her own, while overt, never truly felt like it was pandering to a gendered audience, yet Anna and Erica’s does. Their numerous sex scenes are not always necessary to narrative development, and as such, do at times serve to merely titillate rather than make any specific statement.