Kauffman has vocalised her regret over misgendering Chandler Bing’s trans parent – played by Kathleen Turner – for the first time.
Well, it’s finally happened. After decades of wince-worthy jokes and a cast as white as Wonderbread, ‘Friends’ co-creator Marta Kauffman is addressing the show’s past mistakes.
It may be long overdue, but the many controversies of ‘Friends’ – not least the blatant misogyny, lack of diversity, and questionable takes on everything from queer identity to weight – have also become the props that keep it above water, paddling incessantly into daytime re-run slots.
Off-colour jokes like those aimed at ‘fat Monica’ (a rake-thin Courtney Cox wearing an obnoxiously bad fat-suit) have become the cornerstone of the ‘Friends’ legacy. Joey Tribiani’s constant objectification of women has – in some twisted way – been integral to his character’s popularity (infamous ‘women are like ice-cream’ analogy notwithstanding).
Other problematic storylines, like the insensitive treatment of ‘Fun’ – then ‘incredibly dull’ – Bobby’s struggle with alcoholism would rather be forgotten by most, swept under the carpet of forgettable episodes that only resurface during the most desperate of binge-watches.
But one character arc in particular has been re-addressed this week: the misgendering of Chandler Bing’s ‘father’, played by Kathleen Turner.
Turner’s character was a drag artist working in Las Vegas under the name ‘Helena Handbasket’, but was constantly referred to as ‘Charles Bing’ or ‘dad’ during her stint on the show.
Using male pronouns to describe a person who presents as female has stirred controversy amongst modern viewers, who deem the treatment of Helena transphobic.
While the show’s stars have addressed ‘Friends’ handling of various social issues over the years, co-creator Marta Kauffman has finally spoken out for the first time about Bing’s representation.
‘Pronouns were not yet something that I understood’, Kauffman said. ‘So we didn’t refer to that character as she. It was a mistake.’
Prior to Kauffman’s recent apology over trans misrepresentation, Kathleen Turner had already admitted she wouldn’t accept the role of Helena if it were offered to her in 2019. ‘Of course, I wouldn’t do it [today] because there would be real people able to do [that part].’
Turner also told ‘Out’ that the show didn’t age well and ‘no one’ took it as a serious piece of social commentary.