Now I know that for some weird, strange reason this issue appears to be a divided one on the internet but I submit that it is not. It is simply that we lack the communication skills to properly articulate what we mean when we ‘argue’ this issue very articulately and civilly on Twitter.
There are two parts to every character in any form of entertainment. There is the person, traits, demeanor and disposition of the character. The second part is the quality that the character adds to the art form as a whole. This second part is defined by what the character contributes to the movement of the story, the ability to hold the interest of the audience and the entertainment value that the character provides including humor, emotionality, relatability, and drama.
Those two things are separate. Who that character is is separate from the value they add to the production.
Let’s take a look at a case study. Michael Scott from the office. His character’s character is emotional, deep-feeling, sentimental, obtuse(in Jan’s words), nearly filterless as far as social interactions—though in his own hindsight he sees those flaws clearly. That is his character. The value that he adds to the show is awkward hilarity. His character traits make him act in a way that is painful, shocking, and hilarious to watch.
Ross Geller. Let’s break down Ross’s character traits. He is academically inclined. He is outspoken. He is passionate about many things. He is headstrong and determined. He is an idealist and a romanticist. Many of these traits highlight some of his other not so shiny character traits. While he is an idealist and a romantic and very passionate about whomever he is dating he is also incredibly jealous and controlling. As displayed by the way he treats Rachel and her job, and Rachel and Mark, and Rachel and Italian guys, and Emily and her rugby mates, and Emily and her wedding plans, and Carol and Susan.
He is also misogynistic, as displayed by the way he treats Rachel and her job and Rachel and Sandy. He doesn’t even offer to make Paris work with Rachel by traveling to visit her or offering to move there for a few months. He barely mentions the fact that he has a job and Ben and expects Rachel to accept that as his excuse for why he ‘just can’t go to Paris.’ HE DOESN’T EVEN TRY.
He is condescending…to everyone. He looks and talks down to Rachel for being a waitress. He is always mocking and belittling Joey for his job and lack of work as an actor. He is constantly humiliating and shaming Phoebe for her beliefs and her own character. And he consistently makes fun of Monica for being fat and for presently being a neat freak and extremely organized. And he’s always correcting everyone’s grammar and comments they make.
He has a skewed sense of justice. He has a difficult time with things being just and fair. He doesn’t think it’s fair to give money to the retiring handyman, and never gives in. He won’t accept that even though he ‘thought they were on a break,’ from the moral basis of trust that him and Rachel had built it was definitely not right for him to sleep with someone else the night that they broke up. He gave Rachel no voice in the matter, no time to explain why Mark might have been there or explain how she was feeling. He literally loses his mind (‘I’m fine’) when Joey and Rachel get together even though they hadn’t been together FOR YEARS and had clearly established that they were not going to be together. And also when someone took his sandwich. He also hid that guy’s number from Rachel…
Now. Does Ross the character add value to the show? YES. As far as humor is concerned, Ross has some of the greatest comedic scenes in the show, and dare I say, in television itself. The tanning booth, the leather pants, the couch, ‘monica bang,’ the routine, living with Chandler and Joey. And we could go on and on and on. Obviously, he was part of and created some seriously memorable TV moments. As far as relatable goes, Ross wasn’t exactly the most relatable although he did have moments that made his character feel reachable. Many of his embarrassing follies all felt like some of our more awkward moments.
And Ross also created and was part of some of the more romantic moments on the show: first date with Rachel, first dates with Emily, setting the scene for Emily’s perfect wedding, Julie.
Therefore the thing we argue about is simply ill-communicated. Is Ross a good character for the show Friends? The answer is yes! He’s hilarious, dramatic, relatable and creates some of the most memorable TV moments of all time.
But is Ross Geller of good character? Is he a good, decent person. No. He’s not. He is jealous, misogynistic, unforgiving and condescending. While he does change slightly throughout the 10 years to become more sympathetic and understanding his misogyny doesn’t go away and neither does his jealousy. He’s just not a good guy. Maybe in the following ten years he’s experienced some growth and become a better person but as of the end of the show, no.
So when you see someone tweet that Ross Geller is the greatest character on Friends! You can’t tell me otherwise! What that person actually means is that the antics of Ross Geller’s character in certain situations is hilarious TO WATCH. And when you see things like, “Ross Geller is the worst character in that show! Ick!” What that means is that Ross Geller as a person—is terrible. And both would be correct.
So now we can all stop fighting and hold hands.