“Friends” was more than a TV show. It’s a decade-long pop culture sensation that’s brought laughter and hope to kids, teens, and adults alike. When in started in 1994, I was too young to care. Luckily, the reruns were ubiquitous by the time I was 8 (like The Big Bang Theory today) so I saw all of them. Hundreds of times. I’m not alone. Even before Netflix had the entire series available for binge watching, you can usually break the ice by asking who everyone’s favorite character was. Rachel was the gorgeous but ditzy spoiled brat turned career woman; Phoebe was quirky, fun, and clearly deeply layered; a lot of people love Chandler’s self-deprecating sarcasm; Joey is always wondering how the ladies are doing. Ross is the worst. But, though not always a favorite, the best person on that show was Monica Geller.
Monica Geller, Ross’s younger (but significantly cooler) sister, is an excessively tidy chef with a huge heart and limited patience. She’s flawed and controlling; she’s also organized and determined. Her intensity is a defining characteristic and it’s easy to dislike. But a serious review of the facts is long overdue.
The very first thing we learn about Monica is that she’s willing to take in a friend she’d barely seen since high school (who didn’t even invite her to her wedding) and show her how to navigate an adult life Monica barely understands herself. Without Monica, Rachel would have most likely folded like a flimsy card table and gone back to her life as a Long Island Princess instead of finding a fulfilling career and changing the way women fixed their hair for a decade. Chandler Bing would also have grown into a sadder, bitterly lonely version of the sardonic character we know, the Mr. Heckles-esque death that he feared (also, his character is terribly homophobic and transphobic. Do better, fictional Matthew Perry). Everyone in the group gets Monica’s help for something of great importance at some point in time of another.
She was always trying to do the right thing even though she usually didn’t know exactly what that was. When Ross started dating Julie, Monica tried to be her friend so she could be a good sister; but tried to hide it from Rachel, so she wouldn’t feel abandoned by her roommate. She’s a loyal friend to all of them and ferociously defends all of her friends and even her brother (which is more than we can say for a lot of characters-fictional and otherwise). She made candy for all of her neighbors for Christmas until they pushed her into a chocolate-swirled breakdown. She put her head in a turkey to make her boyfriend laugh.
Even though her weight is a joke for the whole show (and not even a particularly funny one), when you look at the layers of the story, Monica’s weight loss isn’t her biggest triumph. It isn’t what drives her forward or what gives her a sense of self-worth. She thought a diet would change everything when she was young (we learned in the Thanksgiving episode where she cuts off Chandler’s toe) but it wasn’t enough to be fulfilling. Instead, she falls in love with her career and becomes an excellent chef. There are plenty of times where that doesn’t work out for her either but she does her best to stay in a related field and find great opportunities for herself.
She also doesn’t waste time on men who aren’t right for her. Monica is better than anyone else on the show about knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. I watched it crush her to leave Richard and I thought of everything she avoided—a false version of perfection. He was the perfect man, except for his imperfect resistance to starting a family again. Having kids isn’t everything but to Monica, it was too important to sacrifice for any man. After that, she dumps Julio with a badass singing telegram because of his horribly offensive poem about American women. She then goes on to attract the attention of billionaire Pete Becker and have a wonderful time with him until his obsessions with becoming the Ultimate Fighting Champion puts him in too much danger and she has to walk away.
We haven’t even touched on the fact that her parents are tremendously unsupportive and have no self-awareness until she’s basically in her 30s. Or that she traded her dream wedding dress to get the band that Chandler really wanted. She makes mistakes, like betting the apartment, but she owns them. She understands her flaws and uses them as a force for good in her life. I don’t know if she’s the character I identify with most since I love naps and inactivity way more than scrubbing or candy making. She’s clearly a strong feminist, a self-possessed and self-determined woman. She’s the hands-down best of the six serious friends and I wish I knew more people like her.