The "Sexist" Friends Storyline One of the Show's Female Writers Argued Against
Naturally, this episode ended up being the series's most-watched ever.
In the early years of Friends, the writers’ room (like most across the media landscape) skewed male. This imbalance is never more apparent than during the show’s post-Super Bowl episode in season 2, aptly titled "The One After the Superbowl" [sic]. The two-part hour-long episode was widely dubbed a ratings ploy, relying heavily on A-list guest stars like Brooke Shields and Julia Roberts. With 52.9 million viewers, the episode was the show’s most-watched, narrowly topping even the series finale.
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In retrospect, many of the show’s plotlines could be deemed sexist — Ross’s inability to accept that his son enjoys playing with a Barbie doll, Ross’s issue with hiring a male nanny, Joey’s entire attitude toward women … But for Alexa Junge, one of two female writers on staff at the time, the sexism in “The One After the Superbowl” was so glaring that she was compelled to take it up with co-creator David Crane.
In the episode, Monica and Rachel get into a fight (which turns physical) over dating action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. According to Saul Austerlitz’s book Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era, Junge railed against the storyline to the other writers, telling them, “if [Monica and Rachel are] friends they’re not going to do that. That’s bad for the sisterhood.”
But it wasn’t just the ethos of the plotline that irked Junge. She was “disturbed by the girl-fight vibe of the episode, complete with the wardrobe choices,” Austerlitz writes. “Why were Monica and Rachel wearing flimsy T-shirts on a cold set on what was supposed to be a winter day, their nipples instantly visible beneath their clothing?”
Junge shared her concerns with Crane, but to no avail. Crane, confused by Junge's objections, told her to flag anything she found offensive during the shoot. The storyline remained and so did the T-shirts.