Can We Have A Minute For Charlie From Friends Please?

In praise of the longest reigning black female in the world’s most popular (and very, very white) sitcom

Can We Have A Minute For Charlie From Friends Please?

by Jazmin Kopotsha |
Published on

I never thought that I'd be sat here in my twenties, re-watching one of my favourite tv shows, and feeling disconnected from it. That's the trouble with nostalgia. The memory of beloved sitcoms like Friends often can't quite withstand the standards and expectations of a more culturally aware 2018.

Don’t get me wrong, much like other the rest of Friends’ sprawling and diverse fan base, I can accurately quotePhoebe's song lyrics, recall Joey’s favourite food and know at precisely which point in the theme song those four quick claps come. But if I'm entirely honest with myself, looking back I suppose that yeah, there was always an element of estrangement that came with watching six white characters, who I so desperately wanted to be like when I grew up, and not actually looking like any of them.

Now, it's quite easy to see that Friends is seriously lacking in the diversity department. It’s not something that was glaringly obvious to me back in the late nineties when I was young, political correctness was still in progress and there was little high-profile pressure to represent the lives of people of colour on screen. But re-watching the show after it landed on Netflix earlier this year, it became clear just how important the current drive for diversity and the fair, accurate and equal representation of black communities (one would hope) on television really is.

That said, re-watching Friends in 2018 also offered the opportunity to rediscover Charlie Wheeler. Charlie was Joey's girlfriend for a time, before becoming Ross's girlfriend and eventually ending up with Benjamin Hobart. She's also one of the show's most under-appreciated yet retrospectively crucial characters in *Friends *saga.

READ MORE: All The Celebrity Cameos In Friends That You Forgot The First Time Around


The Debrief Celebrity Cameos In Friends

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Janine, aka Elle Macpherson

Joey's Australian dancer roommate who is the real reason we got to witness Ross and Monica perform 'The Routine'.

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CREDIT: Getty Images

Philip Schofield?!

Phillip Schofield shocked This Morning viewers by admitting he'd been on Friends, well, kinda. He's a superfan of the show, and so he actually went along to a viewing of Friends in the 90s. His laugh can be heard in a scene between Jennifer Aniston's Rachel and Matt Le Blanc's Joey in series three.He said: 'I have actually been on Friends. I've been in an episode of Friends. The one where they keep the scary books in the fridge. When I say I was on Friends... my laugh was on Friends.'

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Sandy, aka Freddie Prinze Jr.

The male nanny who Ross had an uncomfortable, definitely not okay, problem with.

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Melissa Warburton, aka Winona Ryder

Remember the big kiss? The one that Rachel apparently had in college with Melissa but no one believes her? That was with Winona.

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Ben, aka Cole Sprouse

Ross's son with Carol was not in the show anywhere near as frequently as he should have been. But the episode where Rachel teaches him how to pull pranks is gold.

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Ralph Lauren, aka Ralph Lauren

Kind of makes sense to have the real life fashion person referred to in Rachel's TV world job, played by the real life person.

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Susie Moss, aka Julia Roberts

Susie stole Chandler's clothes after having him undress in a cubicle in some restaurant toilets as revenge for teasing and pulling up her skirt when they were at school.

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Officer Goodbody, aka Danny Devito

Phoebe's last minute stripper for her bachelorette party was a fantastic dancer, and I won't hear otherwise.

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Dr. Michael Mitchell, aka George Clooney

Meet hot doctor number one who somehow finds himself in the middle of Rachel and Monica's identity swap after Monica loses her health insurance.

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Jamie, aka Helen Hunt

Helen popped up way back in the first season to give Friends a weird cross over into the Mad About You world. She tries to order coffee from Phoebe. It's a bit awks.

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Cousin Cassie, aka Denise Richards

Ah cousin Cassie Gellar. A relative who comes to stay with Monica but is oogled at a bit too much by Chandler so then goes to stay with Ross and has a weird moment over there too.

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Andrea Waltham, aka Jennifer Saunders

What a role, eh? Andrea played mother to Emily (Ross's wife who's name he did not say at the alter) and answers the phone to poor pregnant Phoebe who wasn't able to fly to London for the wedding.

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Tim and Tomas, aka Billy Crystal and Robin Williams

The award for the most out of nowhere cameo probably goes to these two guys who sat on the gang's sofa in the coffee house. Robin's character thinks his wife is cheating on him and for such an impromptu skit, it's pretty funny.

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Will Colbert, aka Brad Pitt

Aka co-president of the 'I Hate Rachel' club and lover of Thanksgiving food.

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Paul Stevens, aka Bruce Willis

Paul is dating Rachel after she breaks up with Ross who is dating Paul's daughter Elizabeth. It's one of the best awkward relationship squares that I can think of and that pep-talk moment in the mirror is A-grade brilliance.

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Richard Crosby, aka Gary Oldman

If you thought the guy who plays opposite Joey in a film then here's why. There's an awkward joke about an Oscar that he hasn't won (in real life and on the show).

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Leonard Hayes, aka Jeff Goldblum

Leonard/Jeff ends up getting peed on by Joey while congratulating him for a great audition, and I think we'll leave it there.

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Erica Ford, aka Brooke Shields

Yep, Joey's creepy Days Of Our Lives stalker is played by the Brooke Shields.

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Zack, aka John Stamos

To jog your memory, Zack is someone Monica and Chandler want as a sperm donor - they just don't tell him this!

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Amy Green, aka Christina Applegate

Here we have one of the Green sisters. We only meet Amy twice, and she has a real issue with getting Rachel's daughter Emma's name right.

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Jill Green, aka Reese Witherspoon

And here we have the other Green sister. She's Rachel's younger sister who comes to find her in the city hoping to start a new life like Rachel did but, well, doesn't. We think dating Ross to spite Rachel might have had a little something to do with it...

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Tommy, aka Ben Stiller

Remember Tommy the screamer?

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Erica, aka Anna Faris

Fun fact, Monica and Chandler's baby girl (one of the twins they adopted from Erica) would be about 17 now.

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Ryan, aka Charlie Sheen

Ryan, one of Phoebe's old flames, comes into town for a couple of weeks and hangs around even though Phoebe has the chicken pox. I suppose you could say it's kind of sweet.

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Kristen, aka Gabrielle Union

Kristen is one of the many women that Joey and Ross bicker over. She appears in The One With The Cheap Wedding Dress (when the girls go to that crazy discount store to help Monica find her dress) and ultimately choses to date neither of them.

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Wendy, aka Selma Blair

Miss Oklahoma runner up and causer of Christmas friction between Chandler and Monica.

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Jessica Lockhart, aka Susan Sarandon

We really hope no one took Jessica's screen kissing tips seriously. She's one of Joey's Days of Our Lives co-stars who is involved in that weird brain swap scenario.

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Mackenzie, aka Dakota Fanning

Nine-year-old Dakota Fanning played the little girl who chats to Joey when he's taken by Chandler and Monica to visit a house out in the suburbs. Neither of them wanted the sale to happen so they bonded.

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Guy on plane, aka Hugh Laurie

Let's have a moment for the unfortunate, nameless guy who has to sit next to Rachel on the flight from New York to London when she's adamant about telling Ross how she feels.

We’re all too familiar with the token roles given to black actors in predominantly white films and TV shows. It’s the sidekick, the maid, the background character with little more than ten seconds of dialogue, zero character development and the one that's subject to such heavily stereotyped caricature, their identity is often undistinguishable beyond ‘the black character who was around for a minute or two’. It was default in the nineties and remains frequent in more recent years. See Donald Glover’s character in Girls and Kendra in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, for example.

But Charlie was slightly different. For one, she outlasted the two-three episode curse that plagued the liked of black female actresses like Tisha Campbell-Martin who played Toni in *Blossom, *and Gabrielle Union who played two different characters in _Saved By The Bell: The New Class. A_ctress Aisha Taylor appeared as Charlie for nine episodes. No, it's not that many when we consider that there are more than 250 episodes of friends and very few included people of colour in the story line; but it's depressingly more than many of *Friends' *contemporary programmes.

Most refreshingly, Charlie's character was what we too infrequently find in the depiction of black women on screen: intelligent and desirable.

Let me tell you a little bit about Charlie. She's a paleontology professor for whom dating Nobel Prize winners was the norm. She's smart without being obnoxious. She's neither loud, nor lairy as black women are often positioned to be. Charlie is also presented as a valid love interest. Not a fleeting object for Ross and Joey to fleetingly attempt to chat up (see Gabrielle Union as Kristen Lang in *The One With The Cheap Wedding Dress) *but someone who enters what starts off as promising relationships with two of the white male leads. Someone who's so desirable that Benji awkwardly sabotages her relationship with Ross through his work. Not cool in the slightest, but young black women rarely get to be fought over in this calibre of television show. Least of all when they're the only female of colour around.

Much like all characters, Charlie is flawed of course. But she'd neither be relatable, nor an admirable addition to the 'normal mates doing normal things and living normal lives' narratives that Friends so actively championed. And we're here for the flaws just as much as we are her excellence.

Charlie Wheeler is the brilliant black character who for an albeit short lived time, managed to give Friends a brief moment of commendable representation without the fanfare of using awkward dialogue and contrived costume, accents or demeanor that shouted 'LOOK! We've got a black woman on the show!'. Sitting here more than twenty years after *Friends, *still waiting for Hollywood to get over it's race problemand for black actors to be given the same pay and opportunities as their white counterparts, Charlie Wheeler holds a different significance and in turn, makes it a little easier to watch an old show that in other areas, hasn't stood the test of time.

WATCH NOW: Black Panther’s Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira Talk Female Representation

Follow Jazmin on Instagram @JazKopotsha

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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