11 of the wildest Friends fan theories

These will make you re-watch carefully

To celebrate New Year, Netflix UK has acquired Friends, all 10 seasons of which are available to stream now. As the former E4 and Comedy Central mainstay finds its new home on the streaming service, here are 11 amazing wacky theories about the show to mull over while re-watching.

1. Phoebe is a genius

Phoebe has a mysterious backstory, and is the most unpredictable character on the show. She grew up on the streets after the suicide of her mother, during which time she battled a bout of Hepatitis. Despite her situation and lack of formal education, she still managed to learn a couple of foreign languages (Italian and French).

This theory contends that Phoebe Buffay is a genius with “zero ambition” who plays her friends off against one another “for her own amusement”. A perfect example of this is when she spends a couple of days toying with and ultimately checkmating Ross – a university lecturer – in an argument about evolutionary theory. Immediately after this she casually says: “That was fun – who’s hungry?”

Another episode that typifies Phoebe’s casual but benevolent genius is when she and Joey plan to set Ross and Rachel up on terrible blind dates so that they’ll realise they are meant for each other. “By the time anyone’s figured out what we’ve done,” she says, “we’ll be in sunny Mexico. Oh wait, that’s the end of a different plan.”

2.The whole of Friends is Phoebe’s meth fantasy

At the opposite end of the Phoebe-verse is this bleak re-imagining of the show by Twitter user @strnks, which suggests that throughout the 10 seasons she was “projecting herself into the lives of the other five” and that “all she ever wanted was… friends,” using every “kooky aside” as evidence that she didn’t belong in the group.

Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman has responded to the theory, saying: “That’s the saddest theory I’ve ever heard,” adding: “That’s a terrible theory. That’s insane! That’s, like, that’s like crazy alt-television theory. Wow. I’m fascinated. I just think that someone needs a life. Someone needs a life, that’s all I’m saying.”

3. Gunther always reserved the Central Perk table for Rachel’s friends

This theory tries to find an explanation for the gang’s permanent occupation of Central Perk’s best seats. Supposedly, Gunther was so in love with Rachel that he let her and her friends have the couch and armchairs whenever they wanted them, by leaving a Reserved sign there permanently. He never told her, because he never had the guts – meaning the friends just assumed it was reserved for them because they were regulars of the coffee shop.

4. Joey went on a second date with a girl just to get Rachel to make him pancakes

This theory is specifically about the season 7 episode ‘The One With Ross’s Library Book’. At the episode’s start, Joey leaves a one-night stand called Erin (played by Sex and the City‘s Kristin Davis) in his apartment with Rachel. He asks Rachel to let Erin down gently by telling her that he’s not looking for anything serious. He says that Chandler used to do this job for him, and would also make the girls pancakes, leaving extras for Joey. Rachel refuses, and Joey asks whether or not she’ll be making pancakes for Erin (and Joey) anyway.

Rachel does make the pancakes, but only for Erin. She gives her the impression that Joey likes her and wants another date, then forces him into a cinema date with her. But the tables are turned when Erin decides there’s no spark, asking Rachel and Phoebe to tell him that she’s not looking for anything serious.

At this point Joey ostensibly looks gutted, but seems to cheer up immediately when Rachel offers to make him pancakes. Our theorist suggests that Joey only pretended to like Erin so Rachel would feel bad for him and make him pancakes. “Isn’t it just a tiny bit possible that he had been orchestrating the entire thing, and he just couldn’t contain his excitement when it came to fruition? Maybe Joey’s smarter than he looks… he turned the tables of the entire subplot effortlessly.”

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5. Friends, Seinfeld and Mad About You are all in the same universe

As E! points out, these three NBC sitcoms are set in New York City. Friends and Mad About You are definitely set in the same universe: in both, Lisa Kudrow plays a waitress called Ursula (Phoebe’s twin), and in both, Helen Hunt plays a character called Jamie. In one episode of Friends, Jamie shows up in Central Perk and mistakes Phoebe for Ursula, resulting in a hilariously jarring exchange:

That’s a definite connection, but then in comes Seinfeld to mess things up. Kramer (Michael Richards), an odd guy from Seinfeld, shows up in a 1992 episode of Mad About You called ‘The Apartment’. This would suggest that SeinfeldMad About You and Friends all occur in the same ‘universe’, but a few more connections between the three shows throw that idea into doubt. Courteney Cox (Friends‘ Monica) also played Jerry’s girlfriend, Meryl, in a season 5 episode of Seinfeld. And there’s also an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza and his wife Susan watch an episode of Mad About You in bed. So are they in the same universe or not? Maybe we’ll never know.

6. Monica only developed OCD after losing weight

Not exactly a theory that leads anywhere, but this one points out that in her youth and in the alternate timelines where Monica never lost weight in her adulthood, she isn’t such a clean-freak – in fact, she seems much less up-tight and controlling in general. The theory itself is actually slightly worrying –  it suggests Monica’s OCD (and infertility) began because of hormone treatment she might have taken at ‘fat camp’ – but the difference in her personality is notable all the same.

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7. Ross lost custody of Ben because he was a bad father

In 2015, a blogger listed all the crazy things Ross has done. In one episode he asks a self-defence instructor to help him scare women he’s planning to attack. In another he tries to kiss his first cousin. He sleeps with his students. He has anger issues (as with The Sandwich). He’s homophobic towards Carol and Susan.

Perhaps, this theorist says, we shouldn’t be surprised that his son Ben disappears after season 8’s twelfth episode, never to be seen again, even after Ross and Rachel have a baby together (as far as we know, Ben has never met his half-sister Emma). It’s suggested that Carol just couldn’t bear having him around any more and cut Ross out of their lives. Fair enough.

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8. Joey and Phoebe were having casual sex the entire time

Here’s one of Matt LeBlanc’s own theories. In 2015 he told People: “Towards the end we actually pitched the idea that Joey and Phoebe had been having casual sex the entire time. We’d go back and shoot all the historical scenes and just before a moment that everyone recognizes, there’s Joey and Phoebe coming out of a broom closet together. But they were like, ‘Nah.’”

That’s no reason we can’t buy the theory though – it’s funny, and before Mike comes along, it kind of fits.

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9. Rachel once hooked up with Ben from Parks & Recreation

Ben Wyatt is a character in Parks and Recreation who goes on to marry Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope. Ben Wyatt is also the name of a throwaway character listed by Monica as an example of someone Rachel slept with on their first date. But are they the same person?

Well, it’s not that likely that the P&R creators chose to name Ben after an unseen character from Friends, but Redditors have worked out that age-wise, Rachel and Ben could have been a thing: at the time she would have been 29 and he would have been 26. So believe what you want.

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10. Rachel has a foot fetish

Redditor DarthMcree has noted that Rachel mentions feet a lot, sometimes when talking about sex. In season 4, Monica is teaching Chandler about erogenous zones and Rachel says: “Ooh, toes!” When they give her a weird look she adds: “…for some people.” In season 1 she told Ross she wants someone “who could be your best friend but can also make your toes curl”. The theorist also notes that she tries to paint Ross’ toenails in season 3 and recalls him letting her do it to him before. “Clearly,” writes DarthMcree, “Rachel associates feet/toes with sex and love.” Yeah, ‘clearly’…

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11. Rachel imagined the entire series

Friends happens because Rachel decides she doesn’t want to get married. She moves in with Monica, and the friendship group forms around the pair. But Phil Dunne thinks the whole series is actually happening in Rachel’s mind, the day before her wedding. “The whole entire series was her anxiety dream,” he writes. Ok, pal.