No one told Friends that the international streaming business was gonna be this way. Earlier this month, the classic NBC comedy series returned China's major streaming platforms — including Sohu, iQiyi, Bilibili and Tencent Video — for the first time since 2013. According to The Hollywood Reporter, fans of the show quickly spotted significant omissions from specific episodes, suggesting that storylines had been censored for local audiences. (Yahoo Entertainment has reached out to Warner Bros. Television, which produced Friends, for comment.)
Reports of these re-tailored Friends episodes follow news that David Fincher's 1999 cult favorite, Fight Club, had its cataclysmic ending re-written by local authorities when in started streaming on Tencent Video. After the censorship was brought to the world's attention, the original finale was restored to Tencent's streaming version.
In the case of Friends, fans noted on the Chinese social media site, Weibo, that LGBTQ-related storylines and sequences were eliminated or altered in the episodes available on local streaming services. One major casualty of that censorship is the character of Carol Willick (first played by Anita Barone, who was replaced by Jane Sibbett), the ex-wife of Ross Gellar (David Schwimmer). In the series, Carol leaves Ross for another woman, but The New York Times reports that the Chinese version of the show omits that explanation entirely.
Other changes include altered subtitles to sexually-suggestive situations. For example, instead of talking about going to a strip club, Matt LeBlanc's Joey Tribbiani says he's "going out to have fun," while Paul the Wine Guy's confession of not being able to perform sexually has been amended to say that he's simply in "low spirits." The New York Times also notes that this isn't the first time that China has altered Friends-related content. When Friends: The Reunion arrived on local streaming services last year, cameo appearances by Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and BTS were edited out due to authorities' displeasure with those celebrities.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the hashtag #FriendsCensored topped Weibo's list of trending topics when news of the censorship first circulated among fans. It was later removed and replaced with the message: "This topic is not shown according to relevant laws and regulations." Many have also noted that Chinese authorities have been more active in censoring LGBTQ-related storylines in other media, including the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.
"Mostly they don’t want the women in their own country to be awakened," one Friends viewer reportedly posted on Chinese social media. “They don’t want them to know women can love women. Otherwise who will help the men to carry on the family line."
Friends is currently streaming in the U.S. on HBO Max