In Defense of Rachel and Joey: A Thread by @kaneandgriffin (Transcribed from Twitter)
I’m loving this “let’s yell about TV plot points we hate” thing that’s happening EXCEPT that it started about Rachel and Joey on Friends. I am on record as being absolutely ride-or-die anti-Ross Geller, who is for money one of television’s all-time worst human men. And her brief thing with Joey was obviously intended by the writers to artificially draw out Rachel’s will they/won’t they with Ross. A lot of people think it was weird or that it came out of nowhere, BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU WHY IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ENDGAME.
ARGUMENT # 1: Ross Never Saw Rachel As A Friend, But Joey Did
From the moment the Friends first meet Rachel, Ross immediately sees her as a romantic prospect. He’s never gotten over his crush on her. Joey, of course, greets her with “how YOU doin’” and Monica appropriately smacks him down for hitting on a woman on her wedding day. But this is presented as Joey’s standard greeting to every hot woman ever, not specific to Rachel. (We can talk about the overall attitude of men on this show to women as sexual objects another time.) But Joey’s relationship with Rachel is platonic almost right away. They have a genuine friendship. He frequently gives her dating advice. (Sometimes questionable af, but, you know, well-intentioned.) He sets her up on dates with men he thinks she’ll like. He lets her crash the set when he’s filming and flirt with soap actors.
Joey has a lot of problems but his supportive, protective relationship with the women friends is one of his best qualities. He genuinely loves them and wants them all to be happy and there’s no jealousy in it at all. HE MAKES HER LAUGH. Okay, now contrast this with Ross, who from minute one has labeled Rachel as “his.”
We’re always told that Ross/Rachel was a “friends to lovers” ship but WHAT IS THAT BASED??? WHAT F*CKING FRIENDSHIP?? He had a crush on her in high school, so he “claimed” her first, and long after they’ve broken up he resents every man in her life. He hides messages from men who call her when they’re living together. He’s endlessly threatened by the men she dates. He outright sabotages her career WE’LL BE COMING BACK TO THIS POINT because he can’t get over his Mark thing. Ross literally cannot accept that Mark (or any man) could be just friends with Rachel because HE couldn’t be “just friends” with Rachel.
And you’ll note that throughout the series it’s often Joey telling Ross he doesn’t OWN Rachel, while Chandler and Monica enable him. Joey is the person who most often tells Ross “dude she’s not interested” when she’s clearly not. The one who notices what RACHEL wants. He doesn’t have all this “but he’s loved her FOREVER” false nostalgia that makes them all feel like Ross has EARNED Rachel by waiting. This is why “nice guys” are often so much shadier than openly, unapologetically promiscuous guys like Joey.
Joey’s feelings for Rachel were born out genuine friendship. They were roommates. SHE WAS PREGNANT. We honestly don’t talk enough about how big a deal it is that Joey, the “shallow” one, falls in love with Rachel while she’s pregnant. It happens the way realistically healthy relationships do: they just start spending a lot more time together. He has to LEARN to see Rachel as a romantic prospect because she’s always been a friend first. Which was NEVER true for Ross. It’s not until he takes her on a fake date (because she’s pregnant and misses going on fancy dates) when it actually clicks. And when he tells Rachel how he feels and she turns him down, contrast that with “WE WERE ON A BREAK.” He never blames her and he doesn’t let it impact the rest of the group. The friendship stays intact. The forced cop-out ending where they get together & suddenly all the chemistry evaporates was NONSENSE. They could have made this work. If the writers had cared enough to try, there was potential there for a fantastic and genre-defying surprise twist to the show.
ARGUMENT # 2: Rachel Deserved Someone Who Understood Why Her Career Was Important To Her (MY DUDES I AM JUST! GETTING! STARTED!)
Y’all. Y;all. It was 13 f*cking years ago and I am still furious AT LEAST WEEKLY that Rachel got off that goddamn plane. Ross sabotaged her career at every turn. He was “tired of having a relationship with her answering machine.” He was jealous of all her male colleagues. He FELL ASLEEP at a work event he demanded she take him to. Over and over Ross trivialized her passions, even though I would argue that Rachel’s career was always her most interesting arc. Somewhere, there’s a way more feminist version of “Friends” about a spoiled privileged girl who’s never had to work a day in her life – going on to become a brilliant and competent executive at the top of an insanely competitive creative field, as a single mom.
There are MANY things about “Friends” that don’t hold up, but one surprising thing they often get is career/money storylines. (I know. The apartments. I KNOW. Ignore the set design for a second and stick with me.) Some of the most interesting conflicts in the show are when lines are drawn among the friends about who makes more money than who. WHICH WE ALL KNOW IS A REALISTIC THING THAT HAPPENS IN YOUR 20’s AND 30’s, SOME OF THOSE PLOTS ARE SO ACCURATE IT HURTS. Ross/Joey/Phoebe are initially the broke ones, while Chandler/Monica/Ross have salaried full time jobs (though this shifts over time).
Hey, does anyone remember who gives Rachel her first big break to get out of Central Perk and into the fashion industry. JOEY DID. Joey knows what it feels like to be grasping for your big break. But name ONE THING Ross ever did to unselfishly help Rachel’s career. It’s kind of remarkable that, for the token shallow/appearance-driven character, Joey actually seems to care very little about money. So he doesn’t see Rachel the big-shot fashion exec as qualitatively different from Rachel the scrappy waitress. But Ross CLEARLY does. Every step up the ladder towards career success that Rachel takes is interpreted as a step AWAY from him. It’s SO. F*CKED. UP.
No one in the F*CKING WORLD loves Rachel Green more than Monica Geller and yet Monica still wanted her to get on that plane for Paris. They ALL did. They GOT it. Rachel was maxed out at her old job. She’d gone as high as she could. She said so REPEATEDLY. She needed more. There was nothing left for her professionally in New York, and the Paris job was her literal dream. Her friends wanted her take it. GUESS WHO DIDN’T. F*CKING ROSS. BECAUSE IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT HIM. I have never wanted any finale retcon more than for Rachel to be allowed to go to Paris & make a brand-new life. IT PHYSICALLY PAINS ME.
AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK IT’S ROMANTIC THAT ROSS WENT BEHIND RACHEL’S BACK TO HER BOSS TO MAKE HIM TAKE HER BACK BECAUSE I F*CKING DON’T. AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK IT’S A SIGN OF LOVE THAT HE ONLY WANTS A RACHEL WHO IS ECONOMICALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY SUBORDINATE TO HIM? HARD F*CKING PASS, TYVM, SHE SHOULD HAVE GONE TO PARIS AND TAKEN SEVERAL LOVERS AND REALIZED THAT SHE OUTGREW ROSS DECADES AGO.
“That’s all well and good, Claire,” your’re probably saying, after sixty tweets, “but those are just reasons why Ross is shitty… why is Joey specifically a better romantic prospect. I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED.
ARGUMENT # 3: Joey And Rachel Make Each Other Better, Ross And Rachel Make Each Other Worse
So I already mentioned this but it bears repeating: Joey develops feelings for Rachel while she’s VISIBLY pregnant. The s1 New Year’s episode (best known for Phoebe and Hank Azaria’s sad goodbye) features Joey on a date with a single mom. The whole time, the kids are treated like a buzzkill. Being a mom is an obstacle to desirability. The show also makes repeated and deeply wearying jokes at the expense of fat women on the regular. SIGH. So let’s talk about what it says about how Joey has grown tf up that he realizes he’s in love with his friend while she’s pregnant.
He happily lets Rachel and Emma moved back in with him, despite how much having a baby around disrupts his lifestyle. The insanely terrible women Joey brings home, and their brief tenure in his life, is of course a 10-season running joke. But it ends after Rachel.
Joey’s first GF after the Rachel crush is Charlie, hands-down the greatest love interest on the show. I LOVED her. Charlie is nothing like any woman Joey has ever dated. Falling for Rachel literally teaches Joey that he wants something… more. Joey learns to love having a baby around, stops being a bad-date punchline and tries to be worthy of a higher-class lady.
And he’s good for Rachel, too. Circa-Joey’s-roommate Rachel is my favorite iteration of all the Rachels. SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT HOW GREAT SHE IS. Short hair, playing the drums, eating spaghetti off the floor, watching “Cujo.” What an angel. Rachel has been uptight all her life and Joey teaches her to chill the f*ck out. He brings out a sillier side of her.
Meanwhile, let’s discuss how a few moments exist in the “Friends” canon where Ross and Rachel are EVER that chill and cute together. Everything is ALWAYS fraught. Fighting, jealousy, possessiveness, drama. Their relationship looks EXHAUSTING. And it’s not just Ross, tbh (although like… it’s mostly Ross). But he makes HER worse too. She’s harsher and more tightly-wound. I cannot imagine a life where forever having to live with the shadow of “we were on a break” hanging over your head is considered a win.
But think about how kind and gentle they were with each other when Joey said he had feelings for Rachel and she couldn’t say it back. Think about an entire lifetime of one or the other of those two conflict-resolution styles, my dudes. SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT IT. Joey: respecting Rachel’s feelings. Ross: needing to win every f*cking time.
One of my favorite Joey/Rachel moments is when they’re in Barbados for Ross’ conference and he’s giving his boring keynote speech. (BRIEF ASIDE TO NOTE THAT THE SINGLE SERIES-LONG PLOT POINT WHICH HAS AGED THE WORST IS THE FALSE NOTION THAT DINOSAURS ARE BORING). Joey and Rachel are giggling at “homo erectus” together (RELATABLE!), for which Ross and Charlie treat them both like massive idiots. Which is yet another sign that Ross thinks Rachel is intellectually beneath him. But Joey just thinks she’s hilarious. Ross has ALWAYS treated her like she’s intellectually beneath him, which is why “just a waitress” cuts so deep on that s2 list.
Being Mrs. Geller is a ticket to a lifetime of being treated like a dummy at his faculty events with him never sticking up for her. And crucially, this is NOT because Rachel isn’t smart. It’s because ROSS doesn’t think she’s smart. No matter how high she advances.
That’s not to say there is no potential downside to Joey, but she’d be treated like a queen instead of patronized forever tbh. The bottom line is this, the Rachel Ross fell in love with was a teenage fantasy he never outgrew that may have been an illusion all along. Ross fell in love with A PICTURE OF HIMSELF AS THE KIND OF MAN WHO COULD DATE A RACHEL and on some level that was always what he wanted.
Whereas Joey fell in love with a bright, funny, competent single mother he’d been friends with for 7 years and knew inside-out already.
Yes, there’s something sweet in the idea of Rachel being Monica’s sister, but they basically were already. They don’t need Ross for that. The only factor in favor of Ross/Rachel endgame is conventional sitcom storytelling structure. Not because they’re RIGHT for each other. Ross and Rachel were endgame because they were considered INEVITABLE, and I don’t dispute that that’s where the show was always heading. But a s10 surprise twist where Rachel and Joey ended up realizing THEY were each other’s lobster all along WOULD HAVE CHANGED SITCOM TV.
Anyway, thank you for your time. I’m going to go watch the Barbados 2-parter again now and cry over what could have been. END RANT