Beloved ’90s sitcom “Friends” is a major hit in China, but fans who were able to watch the series free of censorship a decade ago are now seeing their favorite TV show impacted by guidelines China’s top media regulator announced back in 2016.
“Friends” was once again picked up by the country’s major streaming platforms following last year’s popular reunion show, and while only the first season is currently available, Chinese superfans were quick to note a lesbian plotline had gone mysteriously missing.
In the show, Ross’s ex-wife Carol divorces him after realizing she’s a lesbian. Chinese censors cut a conversation where Ross reveals Carol is leaving him for her friend Susan, prompting Joey to ask if he ever suspected she might be a lesbian.
In another scene, Ross tells the news to his parents, along with the fact the women will be raising he and Carol’s baby together. That revelation has also gotten the axe.
Some sexually-suggestive dialogue from a number of episodes was also reimagined, giving it toned-down subtitles, according to The New York Times.
In one scene, Ross discusses how women are able to have multiple orgasms, which was subtitled to instead read, “Women have endless gossips.” In another, Joey’s suggestion to go to a strip club has become a suggestion of simply “going out to have fun.” And in another, Monica’s boyfriend, Paul the Wine Guy, admitting he has been unable to “perform sexually” was changed to an admission of having “low energy.”
As a result to the glaringly obvious edits, viewers took to the Chinese social media site Weibo to express their disapproval, causing #FriendsCensored to trend.
According to CNN, the hashtag had over 54 million views on the site on Friday night before it, too, was censored, disappearing from the platform the next day. Search results for the previously trending hashtag now showing the message: “This topic is not shown according to relevant laws and regulations.”
Some argued the attempt to rewrite dialogue via subtitles was an insult to their English language abilities. One fan criticized the subtitle rewriting of the scene where Ross talks about women’s orgasms for how it “ignores women’s sexual desire and enjoyment, but also reinforces the gender stereotype of women.”
Meanwhile, there has been a growing debate in the U.S. in recent years as to whether or not “Friends” was anti-LGBTQ, with complaints lodged over Chandler’s ongoing fear of being read as gay and jokes made at the expense of his father, a transgender woman.
“Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman has said if she had it to do over again she would not include transphobic jokes, and Lisa Kudrow, who played Phoebe, said she thinks the show was “progressive” for its time and should be judged in the context of when it was produced.
Of course, this is far from the first time Chinese censors have taken issue with U.S. media, including removing a same-sex kiss and the word “gay” from the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” when it was released in China in 2019. That same year, the country’s censors decided to allow a scene with two women kissing to remain uncut in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” during early screenings but it was cut by the time it made its official debut in Singapore.