Today, many think of the show ‘Friends’ as a beloved and classic nineties sitcom. However, that’s not to say the show wasn’t without problems.
The show surrounding the chaotic lives of six friends from Manhattan won praise from viewers for its lovable characters and hilarious story lines.
One episode in particular titled, ‘The One With Chandler’s Dad’ centers around Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) reuniting with his now trans mother and drag queen, Helena Handbasket (Kathleen Turner), and inviting her to his and Monica’s (Courtney Cox) wedding.
Seeing trans characters depicted in media during the ‘90s was unfortunately still taboo. As a result, the character was used mainly for laughs.
Throughout the show, the character was frequently treated as the butt of a joke, dead named, and even misgendered by other characters on the show. The character’s name was not used. Instead, she was referred to as “Chandlers Dad.”
Speaking on the BBC radio show The Conversation, show co-creator Marta Kauffman says she ultimately regrets the way Helena’s character was treated. Specifically, Kauffman admitted that it was a “mistake” to refer to Chandler Bing’s transgender parent as a man.
“Pronouns were not yet something that I understood,” Kauffman told the BBC, in a show set to air July 11. “So we didn’t refer to that character as ‘she.’ That was a mistake,’” she added.
Kauffman then added that despite this, she set out to create a safe environment on the set of the sitcom that did not tolerate transphobia off screen.
“I like very much to create an environment where we have a happy set and a happy crew,” she said. “It’s very important to me that where we are is a safe place, a tolerant place, where there’s no yelling. I fired a guy on the spot for making a joke about a trans cameraperson. That just can’t happen.”
In a 2019 interview with Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live, Turner said that if she was offered the role again today, she would turn it down.
“Of course, I wouldn’t do it now, because there would be real people able to do it.”
All six main characters on “Friends” were white, and the show rarely featured actors of color in prominent roles across its 10-season run. Similarly, this was another issue viewers felt should be addressed.
Kauffman told the Los Angeles Times that she is “embarrassed” by and feels guilty over the lack of diversity on the NBC sitcom. She also said that she’s donating $4 million to create the Marta F. Kauffman ‘78 Professorship in African and African American Studies at Brandeis University as a result.
“It was after what happened to George Floyd that I began to wrestle with my having bought into systemic racism in ways I was never aware of,” Kauffman said in the LA Times article. “That was really the moment that I began to examine the ways I had participated. I knew then I needed to course-correct.”