“Friends” Has an Unexpected Second Life in China

Was it the right show at the right time?

Central Perk
A person walks by a Central Perk display outside the "The Friends Experience" in Kips Bay.
Getty Images

Between the recent reunion special and the fact that an actual Central Perk opened not long ago in NYC (albeit as part of a pop-up “experience”), it’s pretty clear that the pop cultural footprint of Friends extends far beyond its time on the air. But the United States isn’t the only country that still can’t get enough of the onetime mainstay of NBC’s Thursday night lineup. The recent reunion special had fantastic ratings in the UK as well, to cite one example.

It turns out that Friends is also huge in China. A recent article by Wang Xintian in Sixth Tone explores the phenomenon and takes a closer look at why the sitcom has resonated with so many residents of the country in question. This isn’t just a case of a few dedicated viewers, either; Xintian writes that Friends “has a strong claim to be China’s most popular TV import of all time.”

The article makes a convincing case that Friends translated well to China because of its humor, which is accessible across international lines. Among the people interviewed for the article is Du Xin who turned his love of Friends into a successful business — and taught his young son (named Joey) to say, “How you doin’?”

It didn’t hurt that Friends appeared on the scene during a time when many residents of China were looking for new experiences; the show even functioned for some as a way of picking up English. It’s not the only American program to find an enthusiastic audience in China, but it may well have set the template for many to follow. And, for those keeping track, you can also find a Central Perk in Hangzhou.

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