Bad Sitcom Characters: Ross Geller
With Netflix adding Friends to their lineup, many of us are getting a second (or first) look at the iconic sitcom that rocked the 90s. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t appear to have aged as well as Jennifer Anniston has.
Although every character in Friends is arguably terrible when placed under the microscope, Ross seems to be particularly awful — for several reasons.
His insecurity and jealousy ruin his relationship with Rachel.
For much of the show, Ross is consumed by Rachel. In season one, he’s in love with her. In season two, he dates her. In season three…well, you know, they were on a break. He masquerades as the “perfect guy” for Rachel, but in reality, but he’s no fairytale prince.
In season three, Ross’ insecurity destroys his relationship with Rachel. Rachel, who has finally landed her dream job, is trying to adjust to the hectic world of fashion. She’s even made a few friends — including a male co-worker, Mark. Ross can’t stand Mark. The thought that Rachel might fall in love with Mark and leave him is too much to bear. Gradually, he begins demanding more and more of Rachel’s time until things boil over — on the night of their Anniversary, Ross badgers Rachel at work (with the intent of ‘marking his territory’) and they get into a fight. Rachel declares they’re on a break, Ross sleeps with someone else, Rachel finds out and the rest is history.
Instead of realizing that his girlfriend was succeeding at something she loved, Ross is only concerned with the male attention she might be getting. Rachel was Ross’ dream-girl, but his inability to trust her and deal with his own paranoia cost him the love of his life.
Does he learn from this experience? Of course not — he continues to stubbornly insist he did nothing wrong (“We were on a break!”) and he carries his trust issues into his next relationship, Emily. In The One With Rachel’s New Dress, Ross becomes mistrustful when Emily spends time with Susan in London — so much so that he even manages to convince Carol that Susan is cheating on her.
An even more extreme example lies in season six — in The One With Joey’s Fridge, Ross has started dating a college student, Elizabeth. When Elizabeth plans a Spring Break trip with all her friends, Ross is initially relieved that he hasn’t been invited along. That attitude changes pretty quickly once he begins imagining his attractive, bikini-clad girlfriend surrounded by shirtless frat guys. Eventually, Ross decides the best course of action is just to head down there himself to keep an eye — I mean, spend time with her.
As if his paranoid jealousy wasn’t enough of a red flag, Ross is also a misogynist.
For most of season one, Ross pines over Rachel and whines about his seemingly permanent status in the friend zone. I think, looking back, the writers might have thought that Ross’ unrequited love would make him look sympathetic in the eyes of the audience. This might work for a few episodes, but the Nice Guy routine can only get so far.
When Rachel meets the suave Paolo, Ross is consumed with jealousy. Let’s not forget that Ross hasn’t even confessed his feelings to Rachel, or given her any reason to think he’s more than a friend. Ross’ dislike of Paolo is often used as a punchline in the show — like every time he rolls his eyes or responds to Paolo with a snippy one-liner. Despite its comedic intent, Ross’ attitude gives insight into the sexist way he views Rachel — as something he’s entitled to. Was she just supposed to ward off all male attention until Ross finally gets up the nerve to ask her out? Ross has no reason to be angry at Rachel for choosing someone else when he hasn’t even presented himself as an option.
Rachel, unfortunately, isn’t the only person to be subjected to Ross’ misogynistic behavior. In season nine, Ross actually fires a male nanny, Sandy, because he’s uncomfortable with a man working in a predominantly female field. Nevermind that Sandy is the most qualified nanny they’re going to find — clearly, catering to Ross’ misogyny is a bigger priority than giving Emma the best childcare.
Another famous example is in The One With the Metaphorical Tunnel — Ross panics when he sees his son, Ben, playing with a Barbie doll. While the other characters try and convince Ross he’s being ridiculous, that doesn’t stop him from trying to force Ben to play with more “masculine” toys.
Speaking of Ben, Ross is kind of a deadbeat dad.
Although his fatherhood is unplanned and he doesn’t have sole custody, Ross seems relatively unconcerned with Ben (so much so that we only see him in about 16 out of 236 episodes.) Becoming a parent is a huge life-changer, but it seems to have little effect on Ross. Unless Ben is physically there, Ross almost never mentions his son in conversation.
Ross even goes so far as to use Ben as a tool to antagonize Rachel. In The One With All The Jealousy, Ross arranges a playdate between Ben and a stripper’s kid — all for purpose of upsetting Rachel. Pimping his son out for the sake of making his girlfriend jealous might not be the worst thing Ross does, but it’s certainly on the list.
In the later seasons, Ross and Rachel have their own kid, Emma. Ben seems to become invisible at this point — there’s not even a scene where he gets to meet his little sister (nor is he invited to the birth.)
Emma isn’t necessarily a priority to Ross either. In season ten, Rachel is offered a position in Paris and plans of taking Emma with her. Ross is heartbroken — but only because he’s in love with Rachel, not because he won’t be able to see his daughter. Time and time again, Ross chooses Rachel (or her attention) over his children.
Forget his flaws, Ross could have been great.
Perhaps what is most upsetting about Ross is thinking about the kind of person he could’ve been. Instead of addressing any one of his issues and allowing him to grow as a person, Ross is static — never learning, never changing.
For instance, those jealousy issues — Friends seems to imply that Ross wasn’t always the clingy, paranoid boyfriend we see in season three. At least the majority of his relationship insecurities seem to stem from being cheated on and left by Carol.
Carol divorcing Ross wasn’t malicious, but it’s clearly a painful memory for him. (In The One With the Flashback, we’re given a glimpse of a more trusting, supportive Ross.) Season three could’ve been a perfect opportunity for Ross to address his paranoia, and learn to trust again. Instead, we continually watch his jealousy affect his behavior in relationships throughout the entire show.
The same could be said for Ross’ apathetic approach to fatherhood. Being a parent could’ve been a chance for Ross to change his attitude about gender roles, or see the world a little differently. Rather than deal with character development, it was much easier for the writers to use Ben and Emma as plot devices.
To be fair, Ross isn’t the only flawed friend on Friends — he might not even be the worst. He is, however, the one with the most wasted potential.