ODD PAIRINGS: ‘ALL IN THE FAMILY’ and ‘FRIENDS’ – Ross, Chandler, and Meathead: A Look At Sitcom Intellectuals

Television has traditionally been the media of most influence, interest, and audience (with the internet quickly matching pace and ready to surpass). On television, certain groups of people have always been portrayed in a convoluted or fragmented light. This was highly evident during the early days of television; primarily from the 1950’s to the present, as certain factions of society have become the oppressed on television. Everyone from the housewife to the homosexual, and the ethnic minority to the intellectual, have been bullied by T.V. But one must evaluate what they are watching and ask the question: does the television portrayals of these groups transcend into daily living? For the purpose of this posting we’ll look at the role of the intellectual characters in two of television’s most classic sitcoms: “All in the Family” and “Friends”.

Cast of FRIENDS (1994 to 2004)
Cast of FRIENDS (1994 to 2004)

The acceptance of the intellectual by the viewing audience is catawampus because of the portrayals of intellectuals on T.V. sitcoms. In the situation comedy ‘Friends’, there is a distinct differentiation between those who are deemed intellectual, and those who are less than intelligent. A Sitcom about six friends living in New York City, Friends is funny, poignant, and engaging.
Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) Photo Property of Warner Bros.
Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston)
Photo Property of Warner Bros.

RACHEL – Is a popular schoolgirl of the past, now a spoiled brat living off her father’s finance. In an attempt to start a new life after running out on her wedding, she shares an apartment with an old best friend Monica Gellar.
Monica Gellar (Courtney Cox) Photo Property of Warner Bros.
Monica Gellar (Courtney Cox)
Photo Property of Warner Bros.

MONICA – Is a compulsive neat freak that used to be incredibly fat in high school and has trouble with her love life. She’s a head-chef at a swanky New York eatery. she has lost all her excessive weight, and just wants to start a family with ‘the right guy’ to complete a happy life.
Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) Photo Property of Warner Bros.
Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow)
Photo Property of Warner Bros.

PHOEBE – Brought up as a fatherless child, Phoebe is a ditzy yet loveable hippy, who has become a personal masseuse. Despite liking her profession, her dream is to become a star in the music industry and bases her songs on her life experiences – and often the songs are so absurd that the viewer cannot help but laugh. Phoebe is a regular performer at the gang’s local hang-out coffee shop ‘Central Perk’.
Ross Gellar (David Schwimmer) Photo Property of Warner Bros.
Ross Gellar (David Schwimmer)
Photo Property of Warner Bros.

ROSS – Older Brother of Monica, he has always had strong love feelings for Rachel. A successful professor of science leads him to be often teased by the other 5 friends about his profession. Ross has experienced many misfortunes in life, including 3 divorces and bringing up a child with his lesbian ex-wife. Of the six main characters on the program, it is clearly evident that Ross and Chandler are the most academic and intelligible characters within the context of this sitcom. Ross is an Associate Professor of Palaeontology at a local university, a career that far carries more weight of intellectual esteem than those of his friends the data collector (Chandler), the masseuse (Phoebe), the chef (Monica), the retail worker (Rachael), and the actor (Joey) in stature. Ross’s career, however, appears to be the only thing that Ross has to be proud of. His dedication and admiration towards the study of dinosaurs hinders Ross’ social abilities. He has failed in marriage on at least three occasions, and habitually blows any relationship that he is involved in. This informs the viewing audience that Ross suffers from a sexual inadequacy. Ross’s misfortune with women on the program is quite humorous and definitely played for laughs. In a real world setting, this would be rather depressing. Although he may be the most intelligent of the group, he also exhibits the most child-like behaviour – especially when embarrassed by younger sister Monica.
Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) Photo Property of Warner Bros.
Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry)
Photo Property of Warner Bros.

CHANDLER – Much like his counterpart and good friend Ross, Chandler is also unlucky in love – a theme that has become quite prevalent with the intellectuals in this series. Chandler’s ‘wise-ass’ and sarcastic nature can be interpreted as insecurity. Each of his relationships have failed because of his inability to make a commitment, and he haschosen to have relationships with completely incompatible lovers in order to avoid a commitment altogether. This is evident with his continuous dating of Janice — a character who was the anti-thesis of everything that Chandler cherishes. His choice to repeatedly date this woman was due to his resolute fear that he is a loser. This is a result of childhood encounters that have remained with him throughout the years. It also insinuates that in order to reaffirm ones convictions of themselves they must remain in a pitiable relationship. Unlike Ross, whose loving parents spoiled and favoured him over his sister Monica, Chandler had to contend with his adulterous parents and a cross-dressing father. As a result, Chandler is illustrated as an emotional cripple and resorts to humour as his crutch. Both men, Ross and Chandler, are gangly, clumsy, and whimsical.
Joey Tribbiani (Matt Le Blanc)  Photo Property of Warner Bros.
Joey Tribbiani (Matt Le Blanc)
Photo Property of Warner Bros.

JOEY – Is an actor who isn’t really all that good at acting, a womanizer, and a big loveable dufus. He’s also Chandler’s roommate and best friend. Throughout Friends’ run, it is Joey Tribbiani who receives the most adoration from both the characters on the show, and of the viewing audience. As Fonzie was on ‘Happy Days’, so too was Joey the personification of what was cool. It is apparent that women have always adored Joey, and he often boasts of his sexual conquests. He rambles forth-inane advice, much like his savant compliment Phoebe, and he is clearly the most mentally inferior in the entire ensemble — but the one the audience relates to most. Both Joey and Phoebe are simple and they border on having an immature or underdeveloped mentality. Therefore, the message that is inevitably conveyed is that in order to attain a relationship with the characters on screen (or with specific groups in the real world) the audience will designate the intellectuals (Ross and Chandler) as geeks and the loveably dumb (Joey and Phoebe) as ‘cool‘.
Cast of ALL IN THE FAMILY (1971 to 1983)
Cast of ALL IN THE FAMILY (1971 to 1983)

Mike 'Meathead' Stivic (Rob Reiner)
Mike ‘Meathead’ Stivic (Rob Reiner)

Mike Stivic, also referred to ad-nauseum as “Meathead”, is the university-educated son-in-law to the older, ignorant, and uneducated Archie Bunker. It is through Mike’s continued plight with Archie, that he is perceived as ill-tempered, annoyed, and cynical when unable to get his point across to his stubborn father-in-law. What this seems to suggest, however, is that educated and non-educated people have no common ground and then therefore cannot co-exist within the same environment. Often infuriated by Archie’s slurs, ignorant ideologies, and misguided remarks — Mike will lose his temper. As Mike is a student of philosophy, it is also implied that everyone who studies this discipline are arrogant and cynical. As this show was produced at the height of many social movements resulting from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the program related to two different types of audiences — young twenty-something viewers, and the much more conservative forty-plus demographic. The show worked almost as a two-sided coin. Where the older viewers designated Mike Stivic and his generation as a group of lazy thinkers, the younger crowd equated the older generation (through the actions of Archie Bunker) as being a pig-headed group of people unaccepting of social change.
Archie Bunker (Carrol O'Connor)
Archie Bunker (Carrol O’Connor)
ARCHIE BUNKER – Archie was a working-class family man who held bigoted, conservative views of the world. His viewpoints clash with nearly everyone he comes into contact with especially his liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic (who Archie likes to call “Meathead”).
Archie and Meathead - Clashing of the Minds - ALL IN THE FAMILY
Archie and Meathead – Clashing of the Minds – ALL IN THE FAMILY
As the series progressed, Archie’s character mellowed a bit, but fundamentally remained the same opinionated jerk he’d been since the first episode. His ignorant bon mots were humorous fodder for the viewing audience.
Television sitcoms aid greatly in portraying many intellectuals as geeks or as social misfits. This representation can transpire in all forms and aspects of media whether it is on television, radio, online or in print media. Television, however, can present more information to a larger population of people in such a short time that it has always been scrutinized as the most powerful of all media. The presentations of certain groups on television are later transferred into the viewer’s sub-conscious and their interpretations of similar peoples become skewed. These developed stereotypes are in all aspects of media but, once again, mostly prevalent in television. For example: someone who watches a lot of martial arts films may typecast all Asians as being kung fu experts. Such is obviously not the case. This places an entire segment of people in a context that is an elaboration of the truth, based solely on the descriptions of several unique characters on television. Knowing that on “Friends” geeky Ross is a palaeontologist, when watching a documentary on dinosaurs one might unjustly classify the expert in the program as geeky as well. This is because of their shared profession and slight similarities. In essence, television assists considerably in the molding of popular culture’s sensibilities. Television creates a set image of the intellectual and lowers the ‘standard of entry’ into whichever field the intellectual may be an expert in.
Sitcom Intellectuals - FRIENDS and ALL IN THE FAMILY
Sitcom Intellectuals – FRIENDS and ALL IN THE FAMILY

The way we look at things, or people, in everyday life becomes increasingly more influenced by what is seen on television. Having never encountered a certain group of people, an audience’s impression is then solely based on what they observed on T.V. The danger in itemising these characters, based on their television interpretations, is quite simply of stereotyping. With regards to intellectuals, and much like Ross and Chandler on “Friends” or Mike “Meathead” Stivic on “All In the Family”, they may be viewed as ill-tempered, spoiled, insecure, childlike, cynical, annoyed, and sissy-like simply based on how they are portrayed on television. These traits are then transferred to any intellectual expert who may be giving some form of testimonial on a newscast or talk show. In essence, the stereotypes created by the sitcoms assist in absolving the expert of any intelligible and relevant information that they may be trying to convey.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s