I've got a bone to pick with the TV show Friends.
Here on the eve of its highly anticipated reunion, 17 years after the show went off the air, I'm still mad about Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) getting off the plane. I'm mad that she gave up her dream job working in fashion in Paris for a man—and not just any man. Ross. And we were supposed to see that moment as romantic. We were supposed to cheer (like the studio audience did) when Rachel appeared in Ross' (David Schwimmer) doorway and said, "I got off the plane." And we did, we won't lie. But the more we thought about it—and we've spent 17 years thinking about it—the more upsetting it became.
Friends, in a lot of ways, is the story of Rachel growing up. She started the pilot as a runaway bride, a sweet but spoiled brat who suddenly had to learn how to live without her father's money and all the guarantees her life as a dentist's wife was supposed to give her.
We watched her get new jobs and fail at them, and get other jobs and slowly work her way up in the world of fashion until she was living a dream she didn't even know she had back when she was arguing with her father about how she didn't want to be a shoe.
All the while, she was falling in and out of love with Ross Geller, a paleontologist who never gave a dinosaur's ass about fashion, and who often resented Rachel's job when it meant she had less time for him, or when it meant she was spending time with a male human who wasn't him. He demeaned her, he made fun of her love of fashion and the dumb or shallow things she said sometimes, and continued to believe he deserved her after his years of crushing on her. He slept with someone else mere hours after she said they should take a break, after he tormented her over a colleague! Somehow, we were supposed to be excited when she gave up Paris because it inconvenienced him?
But wait, you might be saying, the headline of this article is not about Ross! No, dear reader, it is not, but I just wanted to get my Ross objections out of the way before I dive into why I'm really here, to highlight another man who was there all along: Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc).
Now, I'm not saying I wish the show had ended with Joey and Rachel married with children, and I'm also not saying that the brief fling that the show put them through was perfect. It could have been, but it wasn't. It was, as was everything else on that show, tinged with too much Ross to work as it was. But there was something there, and there should have been a whole lot more!
Joey didn't make fun of Rachel's job. He embraced it when he got the chance, like when she introduced him to his incredible, if short-lived, bag. And Rachel, the soap fan, had nothing but respect and admiration for Joey's acting career. They had the same sense of humor and worked perfectly as roommates, and he loved her for years without ever acting like she owed him anything. He even genuinely enjoyed her Thanksgiving trifle! (Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Good!)
If you haven't recently gone back and revisited the season nine episodes where Rachel realizes she might have feelings for Joey, they're worth a watch. She suddenly starts seeing him in a new way after helping him learn his lines, and he admits to her that she's the only person he's ever been in love with. She encourages him to use real feelings he's had in a scene he's struggling with, and he sure does find some feelings to use.
"I remember all those mornings, before you even put on your makeup, and I'd think to myself, my god, she is beautiful. And it hurt so much because I knew I couldn't even tell you, but it was worth it just to be there looking at you."
That could have been an iconic scene for this couple, if they were ever allowed to be a real couple. Instead, after Ross did his usual amount of freaking out, they couldn't seem to take each other seriously, and things fizzled. Later that same season, Rachel got off the damn plane.
Rachel and Joey's relationship could have been both an incredibly cute way to cap off both of their stories of growth and the perfect way to prevent the spinoff Joey from ever happening. Instead, it was a blip that some fans still gripe about. For me, other than Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler's (Matthew Perry) early romance, it's my favorite part of the show.
Even if they never got married or committed to spending the rest of their lives together, it feels like Joey might have been willing to get on that plane with Rachel, or at least he would have happily watched her fly off to make her dreams come true. Or at the very, very least, he would simply not have been Ross.
Friends: The Reunion premieres Thursday, May 27 on HBO Max.