When Friends debuted in 1994, it was pushed by NBC as another of its New York-based sitcoms about a band of buddies hanging out. Before anyone knew it, the show became one of the biggest hits on television and a critical favorite. It made instant stars of Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, and Matthew Perry – Aniston and Kudrow even won Emmys for the series. For a decade, fans tuned in and loved it and it still retains a massive following with fans watching shows in syndication.
Like any hit show that’s had such a long run, fans like to talk about various theories regarding the series. Some can be wild (Joey was actually gay and hiding it under the veneer of a womanizer while Chandler and Monica had a rather…risqué bedroom style) and not much to back it up. But some theories are intriguing by how there’s some evidence to indicate they might be true and make you see the show in a different light. Some others are outlandish but still interesting to think about and would have a different take on the series. Here are 15 Friends fan theories that make you rethink the series, making it interesting how fans can see some new meaning in a classic show.
15 Gunther Reserved The Couch
It’s been a major long-running joke for years, even before the Internet came into the picture. That somehow, a popular coffee shop like Central Perk had its one major couch only occupied by the gang. In fact, one episode had the great gag of them entering to see other people sitting there and just staring blankly, not knowing where else they could sit. It’s been a running gag among fans and shots taken at how it shows what a cliché the show could be. But others offer a surprisingly logical explanation for this: that Gunther reserves the table for the gang. It’s partly because they’re such good customers (as they never go anywhere else) but also because of Rachel.
Because it was so obvious that Gunther had feelings for Rachel, it's thought that he only put up with her as a poor waitress because of that. He knows she’s out of his league but still tries and thus keeping the table open for the gang is a key excuse to keep them around. This is a theory that actually has some evidence as at least one scene has a “reserved” stand on the table itself to show how Gunther went out of his way to make sure the gang had a regular spot and fills in a big plot hole of the show.
14 Phoebe Was A Closet Genius
This has been a long-standing theory and one fans enjoy promoting. From the start, Phoebe was shown to be a rather scatter-brained woman with bizarre theories and goofy lines. She seemed pretty out of it, not as pure stupid as Joey was but clearly not playing with a full deck. However, Phoebe may have actually been smarter than she seemed. In one episode, she and Ross are talking evolution and Phoebe makes arguments that actually make Ross doubt his convictions. She speaks French and Italian and it’s been hinted more than once she may have psychic powers. It could be that Phoebe is a true genius but likes to hide it under her veneer of dumb antics so it doesn’t alienate the rest of the gang.
Conversely, Phoebe might be unaware of her genius and thus, her brilliant observations are as much a surprise to her as the others. She had to survive a rough upbringing and the “what if” episode showed a world where she became a successful Wall Street executive, indicating she must have some high intelligence. It’s interesting to imagine that the seemingly goofball Phoebe may have been smarter than the rest of the gang put together.
13 The NBC Universe
Before she landed the role of Phoebe, Lisa Kudrow starred on Mad About You as Ursula, a quirky waitress. At first, the role seemed forgotten but the Friends writers remembered it. At the time, NBC had several comedies set in New York such as Mad and Seinfeld and the network pressured writers to do some crossovers. So, the writers came up with the idea that Phoebe and Ursula were twin sisters and played off that. This led to Mad’s Helen Hunt appearing as her character, Jaime, confused as to what “Ursula” was doing at a coffee house. This had some other connections as Chandler was seen talking to Lea Thompson from Caroline in the City. Meanwhile, it had already been shown how Mad and Seinfeld were connected which means Friends exists in the same New York City as the acclaimed comedy.
Also, a second season episode had Monica and Rachel set up with a pair of doctors played by ER stars George Clooney and Noah Wyle. Given how each of those shows had larger connections to others, this means Friends is part of a much wider universe that should have gotten the gang a bit more attention from other characters.
12 Phoebe Is A Meth Addict
This is one dark theory but some claim it makes strange sense. Phoebe was always shown as a quirky gal, often on the outskirts of the gang because of her nutty attitude. At times, it seemed she was somehow just remote and many openly wonder how someone so bizarre became friends with the gang. The answer: She never was part of the group. It was summed up by a Twitter user who put out the basic idea: The show would have ended with Phoebe shown as a homeless meth addict who spends her days looking through the window of Central Perk at the group of folks she knows. Every now and then, she makes a remark as if part of the conversation and thus how the entire show exists in her addled mind.
It would have then ended with the group walking out to note “the crazy homeless lady” who’s always outside looking at them. They would have different names and different personalities, showing how Phoebe was creating in her mind the people she wanted to befriend. After they leave, Phoebe would look at her reflection in the window of a store called “Ursula’s.” She would finally return to her “home” of a dirty park bench by a fountain and put up six umbrellas. It’s dark but more than interesting to think of how bright and chipper Phoebe could be creating a better world for herself.
11 Ross Has Asperger’s Syndrome
Some fans contend Phoebe must have had some sort of mental disorder with her bizarre attitude and lack of tact. However, most believe that if any of the six were affected by some sort of medical condition, it was Ross. He was always shown to be nervous, sometimes withdrawn but then erupting into rants and some bizarre stuff like his “manscaping” phase.
The most popular belief is that he has Asperger’s Syndrome as many viewers who actually have autism point out that Ross shares many of the traits of the condition. He loves science, adores puzzles, is quite awkward in social situations and tends to react poorly to changing plans. Even his hate of ice cream can point to a sensory issue and how his shifting feelings toward Rachel could point to a battle of his inner personality.
Of course, some argue that it wasn’t a condition, just Ross being a selfish jerk and fans just want to excuse his actions. Still, that some with autism believe Ross was on the spectrum himself lends this theory more credence than others.
10 The Guy Telling Off Rachel Was Dr. House
In the two-part “The One With Ross’ Wedding,” Rachel decides to fly across the Atlantic to London to tell Ross she still loves him. She ends up sitting next to a passenger and babbles her entire wild story to him, making it sound like a romantic gesture. Instead, the man snaps that Rachel is a horrible person for wanting to ruin the happiest day of Ross’ life just to make him feel worse about breaking up with her. “Oh and for the record, you two were on a break,” he says. The part was played by an actor, then known mostly in England, named Hugh Laurie and it’s one of the better “before they were famous” guest turns on the show.
Some fans, however, contend that the character (identified as “British passenger” in the script) was none other than Laurie’s famous TV role, Dr. Gregory House. The idea is that this was before House nearly lost his leg, transforming an already sardonic man into the incredibly bitter jerk viewers would know and love. It’s also why he’s clean-shaven as he didn’t let his style go more until after that. He even mentions needing a sedative or giving Rachel one and a doctor would have those on hand. As for the British accent, it could be House just playing one of his usual games (he did do an “accent” on the show) and needling Rachel as he does so many patients. It’s not likely but fun to think of how House crossed over with Friends at one point.
9 Rachel Dated A Parks & Recreation Star
This was a theory that went unnoticed for years but is now gaining ground. In one episode, Rachel and Monica are discussing their romantic pasts, Rachel scoffing at the idea she just sleeps with any guy she dates. Monica proceeds to start listing guys Rachel slept with on the first date. Among them is a “Ben Wyatt,” a random name at the time that meant nothing. However, today, Ben Wyatt conjures up the images of a very fun character. Introduced in the second season of the NBC comedy Parks & Recreation and played by Adam Scott. Ben became a character that boosted Parks to being one of the best comedies on television.
As Parks fans know, Ben was elected mayor of his Minnesota town at only 18 as an “anti-establishment guy.” Just two months later, he was impeached after driving the town’s finances into the ground on an idiotic Ice Town sports complex. The idea is that Ben, rocked after such humiliation, took a trip to New York and ran into Rachel and the two had a brief fling. Conversely, rich Rachel had a trip to Minnesota and hit it off with Ben. Either way, the idea of two popular NBC comedies linked together is something fans love to think about.
8 Ross Lost His Son
Fans of the show know how Ross was a mess when it started after his wife, Carol, came out as gay. She would marry girlfriend Susan and they later asked Ross to donate his sperm so they could have a child. For a time, Ross was shown sharing custody with son Ben and he and Carol getting along well. However, in the eighth season, Ben’s appearances became less frequent and by the next year, he was almost never mentioned at all. The show is needled by fans for seeming to forget Ben but maybe there’s a more compelling reason.
First of all, it’s established Ross and Susan hated one another deeply and Carol caught in the middle. Ross had a bad patch where he lost his job and was even on medication, leading to bursts of anger. Combine that with Susan’s feelings and it’s not impossible to believe that Carol successfully sued for full custody of Ben. Maybe Ross tried to fight it but (being Ross) ended up making it worse. Or maybe he felt Susan was right and he needed to get his act together before he could be in Ben's life. Either way, Ross lost custody of his son and the rest of the gang decided it was best to just not mention Ben around him to try and let Ross rebuild his life.
7 “Joey” Was Just A Role By…Joey
When Friends ended in 2004, NBC was anxious to keep as much of the magic as they could with a spin-off. They decided on Joey, ignoring the issues of the guy who was the dim-witted minor character now put in the lead. The show had Matt LeBlanc moving to Los Angeles to seek his fame and working with his goofy sister (Drea de Matteo). Despite big hype by the network, the show was a mess and canceled after just two low-rated seasons. One episode had Brent Spiner (best known as Data on Star Trek) appearing as himself. This was interesting as Spiner had appeared on Friends as a fashion mogul. So how could he work both?
The answer comes from Spiner himself. He approached it with the idea that Friends was a sitcom in the universe of Joey and Joey had just spent eight years playing a character named…Joey. Or that, after the Joey show ended, Joey ended up landing the role on a hit sitcom about a bunch of Friends. In other words, Joey was the “real” world story and Friends a show within a show which changes the way the character is shown majorly.
6 Monica Planned For Everyone To Find Out
One of the funniest episodes of the series was “The One Where Everyone Finds Out.” For weeks, Chandler and Monica had been keeping their relationship a secret. Joey, of all people, managed to figure it out first. Then Rachel overheard them talking to realize it too. In the episode, Rachel and Phoebe are at an apartment across the street when they see Chandler and Monica going at it and freak out. They then decide to have fun by Phoebe coming onto Chandler. Figuring it out themselves, Chandler and Monica respond by having Chandler play it up, leading to a wild scene of Phoebe “seducing” Chandler and it all culminates with Chandler blurting out that he’s in love with Monica as everyone enters in shock. As the topper, the episode ends with Ross at the new apartment and seeing them across the street.
It’s a great comedy of errors but what if it wasn’t an accident? The idea is that Monica was tired of keeping this all quiet and also knew Chandler was too afraid to say the “l-word” out loud. Knowing Rachel and Phoebe were across the street, Monica got Chandler to undress before the window where they could be seen. She then eagerly played along with the idea of Chandler “seducing” Phoebe, pushing it on and knowing it would take something so extreme to get him to say he loved her. Given her control freak tendencies, the idea that Monica engineered this entire thing puts this classic episode in a new light.
5 Monica And Ross Are Only Half-Siblings
A running theme through the show is that it’s quite obvious Ross is the favorite of the two Geller siblings. Monica is constantly ignored by her parents while they dote on Ross as the perfect child, despite his various problems. A famous bit is Ross surviving an accident and talking to his mom on the phone about “even if I died, you wouldn’t be childless…Monica!” Hell, her parents blew the wedding money they had saved up for years because they were convinced Monica would never meet the right guy. But some contend there’s a logical reason for that in that Monica isn’t a full Geller.
Some believe that Monica is actually adopted and the parents kept it secret which would explain a lot about why Judy and Jack treat her as a secondary child. The more popular theory is that Judy cheated on Jack years ago (or, conceived during their far more risqué swinger days) and Monica is thus only Ross’ half-sister. Whether Jack knows he’s not the father is debatable but it would explain why Judy looks down on Monica so much as a reminder of her weakness. It’s a rough idea but would go a long way toward why Ross is far more loved by his parents than Monica is.
4 "The One That Could Have Been" Is Reality And The Rest Of The Show Is Imagined
A highlight of the show is the episode “The One That Could Have Been” in which the gang imagine different ways their lives could be: Joey is a successful soap star, Rachel married to a rich guy, Ross and his first wife still together, Monica overweight, Chandler a struggling writer and Phoebe a Wall Street trader. But some fans suggest that this episode is the real world and the characters are imagining the rest of the show. It does make odd sense: Rachel sees herself being more free; Ross is smothered in his marriage and wishes his wife was gay; Joey thinks of himself as more a struggling guy but enjoying the freedom while Chandler wonders about having a steady job. Monica obviously sees herself thinner and hotter while Phoebe is trapped in her hard-working job and wants to live life more. Thus, this episode shows the “real” world where they dream of something better.
An offshoot of this theory is that the gang are friends but in high school and are imagining what their adult lives could be. It’s much the same idea, Ross seeing himself as a teacher, Rachel some sort of business lady and Monica thin. That the show is just a fantasy would explain a lot (such as those ridiculously lavish apartments) and yet still shows the nice bond of the group.
3 Monica Had An Eating Disorder
A major twist for the show was when the gang watched a video of Rachel and Monica in high school. Rachel had a seriously bad nose but more notable was how Monica was clearly pushing 300 pounds (Joey: “That girl ate Monica!”). In “The One With All the Thanksgivings,” a flashback shows how Chandler made fun of Monica over her weight during a Thanksgiving dinner. The next year, Monica was now the much thinner woman we know. To drop 150 pounds in a single year is a major feat but sadly, it may not have all been diet and exercise.
Instead, Monica may have developed an eating disorder to lose so much weight so soon. It does fit her personality, an obsessive control freak and often seen needing approval from others. To experience such massive weight loss in so short a time indicates she had to go to extreme lengths. It would also explain Monica’s often OCD habits stemming from the issues so she replaced one disorder with another. True, becoming a chef later seems to indicate she has it more under control but it gives a darker shade to Monica and how, sadly, under that beautiful exterior is a woman who still sees a “fat girl” in the mirror and it drove her to a dark path.
2 Chandler’s Birth Was An Accident
It’s established in the show that Chandler and his parents never had that good a relationship. You almost never see them and Chandler’s stories of their family dinners over the years indicate a serious issue with getting close. Indeed, it’s shown the few times they’re on screen that the duo appear on completely different pages and barely getting along. So why would they have gotten together? Because they had to. Because when they had a fling, it resulted in Nora getting pregnant and she and Charles thus felt they had to get married. Both are well off so it’s hinted that their families may have pressured them into it and Chandler was the result.
It explains why he’s an only child as Nora and Charles didn’t want to have another and maybe even never had sex again afterward. It’s why they divorced fast after his birth and keep their distance from them as he’s a reminder of a period they both want to forget. It also explains how Chandler grew up with such a cynical attitude and deep insecurity as he figured this out fast and made him dubious of love with others. He covers it with his humor but Chandler being an unwanted child explains a lot of how he turned out.
1 They’re In A Mental Asylum
A darker take on the “teenage dreamers” theory is one a lot of fans enjoy. This one states that the six are friends all right…only they’re all sharing time in an insane asylum. In fact, Monica and Ross may not even be brother and sister but just see each other that way as they come from broken homes without any family support. It would explain things in how they share delusions of affording massively expensive apartments in New York, the coffee shop catering to their every whim, their pasts changing and other wild antics. Meanwhile, their love interests represent aspects of their issues: Janice is Chandler's messed-up idea of women from his parents’ divorce; Ross’ ex-wife is his fear of abandonment; Phoebe’s “twin sister” represents her darker personality; and Monica’s string of bad boyfriends are her feelings regarding her weight and other issues.
It’s why whenever it looks like one might leave the circle in a “new relationship,” they keep coming back, because they’re all stuck here. Rachel may have had a breakdown when her fiancé dumped her and crafted this reality where she was the one who dumped him. The others soon got pulled in so every day, they’re talking and acting out these wild scenarios as psychiatrists turn them into a fascinating research study. It’s wild but the idea that this entire show exists only in the heads of six disturbed individuals would explain a lot.