Selfish, manipulative, and disrespectful, Ross is the archetypical self-proclaimed “nice guy” who, on closer inspection, isn’t actually nice at all.
It’s not uncommon to hear Friends viewers mention how much they dislike Ross, and there are a lot of reasons behind that. Since its final episode in 2004, Friends has continued to occupy a place in pop culture, despite starting to show its age in many regards. One source of much of the show’s outdated humor is in the self-proclaimed “nice guy” Ross Gellar who, viewed through a more modern lens, is often neither funny nor nice.
Running for 10 seasons spanning an entire decade, Friends was one of the most wildly popular shows of the late 1990s. That popularity has never quite died away, with Friends joining the ranks of other classic American comedy shows like Frasier and Seinfeld for being instantly recognizable. Unfortunately, while a lot of the humor in Friends is timeless, there’s no shortage of jokes which have aged rather poorly. Some prominent examples are the near-constant barrage of heteronormativity and gender roles, the running joke about fatphobia and body shaming which was Monica’s entire backstory, and much of the humor in Ross’s character.
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Ross is a perfect example of a self-proclaimed “nice guy”. Incredibly self-absorbed, relentlessly disrespectful to others, and insistent that he must always get his own way, there are many reasons why he rubs some viewers up the wrong way. In fact, Ross’s storylines in Friends are seemingly the origin of phrases like “friend zone” and “not all men”, which have since been weaponized online by some men who share the same kind of entitlement issues that Ross has. Ross’ storylines in the show often revolve around this core characterization, with him often becoming manipulative in order to get what he wants. In many ways, his behavior is a prime example of toxic masculinity – he constantly attempts to prove himself as masculine and dominant, even when there’s utterly no need for him to do so. The results, from dating his own student to repeatedly telling Rachel, “we were on a break”, tend to just make everything worse, both for himself and for others around him.
This need to assert dominance is a core part of Ross’s character and, while there are some moments where this is genuinely funny if somewhat cringe-inducing, there are many more where he simply comes off as mean-spirited and deeply unlikable. With his constant sense of superiority, Ross frequently belittles his friends, undermining and patronizing them. He does this the most to Rachel, frequently belittling her accomplishments. The worst part is, he very often doesn’t notice he’s doing this. Ross, when insulting his friends, is too self-important to notice the upset he causes, and too determined to get his own way to care.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Ross, however, is that he never changes much from his original characterization. All the others grow, find relationships, chase their life goals, and become better versions of themselves. Ross, on the other hand, ends the show in much the same way he started, obsessed with Rachel and determined to get what he wants, at the cost of anything else. This ends with Rachel giving up on her dream job to stay with Ross, even though the preceding 10 seasons have shown Ross and Rachel’s relationship to be toxic even at the best of times. He gets what he wants, without having to grow or change as a person, purely by feeling entitled and being stubborn.
With a firm place in history, Friends is likely to remain popular for a long time to come. It contains plenty of positive and optimistic messages and, with its focus on figuring out what it means to be an adult, there will likely always be a core demographic of people who find things in Friends which resonate with them. Unfortunately, the message of Ross Gellar’s character is an uncomfortable one. If anything, it should be a caution that there can be a belligerent and manipulative person like Ross in any group of friends.
Next: Friends: A Complete Timeline of Ross & Rachel’s Relationship
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About The Author
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Xan Indigo is a science fiction and urban fantasy author, and renegade astrophysicist. They have a love of good stories, bad movies, and wild ideas, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @XanIndigo.
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