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The Ross Problem

Mac Hendrickson | Thursday, January 24, 2013


         Let’s talk about Ross Geller.

         And when we talk about Ross, we are really talking about the most interesting and challenging character of the show “Friends.” It’s been almost 10 years since the 10-season run of one television’s most celebrated sitcoms came to an end. Pop culture vanguards as long-lived and successful as “Friends” are gifts to anyone hoping to pull apart a culture. “Friends” partially defined a generation. We learned how sexually-obsessed and irreverent our culture is. We learned that no matter your salary or upbringing, you can still enjoy a plentiful life, as long as your best friends are incredibly good looking. But first and foremost we learned that America doesn’t mind when a wuss gets the girl.

            That’s right. Ross is a little baby. He’s not a go-getter. Girls flirt with him. He complains about nearly everything. His extended relationship with the girl of his dreams wouldn’t have happened without the loose tongue of his friend Chandler. The mix-up and ensuing drama was funny to watch, but did Ross deserve to get off that easy? And this wasn’t a one-season issue.

            Behind all the drama and laughter lies the show’s essential conflict: Will Ross and Rachel end up together? It’s the opening hook of episode one, and the series finale details Ross’s final stab at keeping Rachel in his life. This is what the show is all about.

            And he wins. He gets the girl. Ross the great wuss and the gorgeous Rachel Green together at last. If this doesn’t anger you, it should. Ross is with the girl of your dreams. Ross never proves himself, at least in the commentator’s eyes. Sure, he is a nice guy. And attractive to boot. But are those the guys our culture condones? The passive dreamers who talk to their friends about their loves and losses and wait for the next big thing? Ross Geller wasn’t the first loser to win and surely won’t be the last. (Ted Mosby, anyone? The similarity shouldn’t surprise anyone considering that How I Met Your Mother is Friends Part 2 Starring Doogie Howser.) But why doesn’t it bother us that Ross gets the girl? Does Ross deserve to win? Would Ross have won in the real world? This is the Ross Problem.

            This conflict could be easily written off. “Friends” is a chick show, and Ross Geller represents what many girls look for in a man. A dreamer and a sweetheart. Someone innocent, and more feminine than usual. And the male viewership didn’t mind. To them, it was reassuring: if Ross can take his sweet 10 years getting Rachel, I’ve still got time.

            But consider an alternative proposal. We didn’t mind Ross getting the girl because we have become lazy. “Ross and Rachel” convinces us of destiny, that everything will work out no matter what. If two people are perfect for each other, they will eventually find love. Ross just needed to be himself and stick around for a decade. Sound like modern America yet? So really, the Ross problem is America’s problem. We idolize the dreamers, not the go-getters. We believe in destiny, not sweat.

            Another episode in season eight offers a rebuttal to its own dilemma. When Chandler fears that his wife Monica has met her true soul mate, Chandler’s antics lead to a frank discussion between husband and wife. Surprisingly, neither believes in soul mates. “I don’t think that you and I were destined to end up together. I think that we fell in love and we work hard at our relationship.” It’s the bits of realism in this show that help one digest the horse apples.