Friends alum David Schwimmer wants you to know that he has always harbored a very progressive mind-set, even during the early days of his cultural tentpole of a sitcom. In a conversation with The Guardian’s David Smith, the actor spoke reverently of the show’s indestructible afterlife and the ways that it was, in his words, “groundbreaking.” And while its gender politics and attitudes toward sexuality may have hinted at a more forward-thinking era of television, it still had enough documented cases of fatphobia, transphobia, and anti-queer sentiments that have impeded its ability to age favorably in a more socially aware era. Smith notes that when he asked Schwimmer about his take on some of the present-day criticism surrounding Friends, Schwimmer became defensive:
It is the only moment of the interview where Schwimmer appears a little defensive. “I don’t care,” he says, dismissively. “The truth is also that show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships. The pilot of the show was [Schwimmer’s character Ross Geller’s] wife left him for a woman and there was a gay wedding, of my ex and her wife, that I attended.
But it’s the follow-up quote that is the real kicker, truth be told:
“Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends,” Schwimmer says. “But I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of colour. One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian American woman, and later I dated African American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.
While we are thrilled that Schwimmer had the presence of mind to “push” for Ross—an equal opportunity saboteur—to invite women of color into the toxic maelstrom that was Ross And Rachel (an effort that unfortunately failed to permeate all other areas of the series), we and a rather vocal section of the internet had to ask, “Hi, have you heard of Living Single?”
If you didn’t have the pleasure of tuning into the ’90s Fox sitcom during its heyday, Living Single followed a group of young Black professionals living the single life in New York City. While some were quick to point out that Living Single was, in many ways, the “all-Black Friends,” that’s not entirely true: Since Living Single premiered in August 1993—over a year before Schwimmer and company first hit screens—that would technically make Friends “the white Living Single,” for those who wish to stick to the comparison. And considering that it featured a cast comprising hip-hop legend Queen Latifah; family sitcom veterans Kim Fields and Erika Alexander; and In Living Color alum and comedian Kim Coles, it’s hard to understand how a fellow industry mainstay could have missed such a noteworthy network comedy during the entirety of its five-season tenure.
Latifah has spoken publicly numerous times about her frustrations with the lack of respect paid to her show, which broke ample ground while depicting Black culture as the amalgam of perspectives, styles, and personalities that it is. Alexander, who played Maxine Shaw (Attorney At Law) took to Twitter yesterday to address Schwimmer’s oversight, noting that Living Single came first. Many fans joined in their attempt to educate, causing #LivingSingle to trend 27 years after the show’s premiere. If Schwimmer or anyone else would like to catch up on the brilliant exploits of magazine editor Khadijah James and her loyal crew, the series is currently streaming on Hulu.
Update: David Schwimmer has responded to Erika Alexander to clarify that his comments were taken out of context and that he does, in fact, know of Living Single. He tweeted an open letter addressed to the actress, stating that he was a longtime fan of her series. “If [Friends] was based on Living Single, you’d have to ask [the producers],” he states. “It’s entirely possible that Warner Brothers and NBC, encouraged by the success of Living Single, gave the Friends pilot the green light... If that’s the case, we are all indebted to Living Single for paying the way.” See the full statement below.