Monica was always my least favourite character in Friends, but in some ways, I think she was the most relatable of the six. Joey and Phoebe were essentially caricatures, stand-ins for “that friend of yours who’s good with the ladies” and “that friend of yours who’s a bit weird”. Rachel was a bratty rich kid, and Ross had his shit together, mostly.
Monica, on the other hand, was uncertain of herself, and displayed no tv-ready character traits. Sure, she was competitive and liked things to be ‘just right’, but that seemed to come naturally to a person who spent most of their life being eager to please. Growing up in the shadow of her successful, favoured brother (her mother was believed to be infertile before Ross was born, explaining the disparity in attention) explains the competitive streak and drive for approval. Having overcome a weight problem in her teenage years, that newly-discovered control could have easily spilled out to the rest of her life. Her character made sense, at least in sitcom terms.
Early episodes saw her struggle with employment, money and relationship issues while the likes of Phoebe seemed to exist in an alternate reality where these problems simply didn’t exist – hell, she never even got booed off the stage at Central Perk. By the end of the series, though, Monica had become nothing more than a highly-strung cartoon character, seemingly never at ease, always yelping about routines, systems and rules while cleaning her apartment. Rather than being a recognisably anxious-but-kind young woman, she embodied a single concept: stress.
Late-season Monica, wearing a headset to her best friend’s wedding and badgering the fuck out of everyone.
So what happened to Monica?
The wonderful tvtropes calls this process ‘Flanderization’, after the character of Ned Flanders in The Simpsons, and I think that’s a fitting name. Ned Flanders had a dual role in the early seasons of the show – he was Homer’s foil, and thus the object of his envy and hatred, and also functioned as a parody of the white-bread, 50s family sitcom that The Simpsons was so firmly against.
His conservative attitude was ripe for light-hearted mockery, but he was always portrayed as an extremely compassionate, supportive and successful person, respected by all. Except Homer, obviously. However, as the seasons wore on, he ceased to display any of these traits and became the writers’ punching bag for fundamentalist Christian, extreme right-wing politics.
“I’d put rocks in your pocket and walk you out to sea before I’d let that happen.” – Late-season Flanders, after his son suggests they could be raised by their gay uncle.
Poor Monica. Although Friends didn’t ever seem to decline in popularity (the show’s final three seasons were its most-watched), I’m certain I don’t stand alone when I say the quality of the show dropped remarkably once she was paired up with Chandler.
Sure, you can make the argument that their relationship, as bizarre and unconvincing as it was, gave rise to new storylines about marriage and children, but for me, it killed the show. I don’t think those issues could be effectively explored in a show that started as a brightly-coloured, ultra-hip, smartass comedy about young people in New York. Their marriage effectively stunted their individual character development, since neither could do anything without the other’s reaction being critical. Once you halted their growth, what was left? Ross and Rachel get back together? Again? What was left for Joey to do without his room/soulmate?
Monica grew up believing she didn’t matter. Given the popular focus on the other characters, she may have been justified in that belief, but for my money, the show went downhill when she did.