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What was radical about Friends was that it assumed these situations were not shocking but a fact of life. Maybe your dad wasn't a drag queen, Friends says, but maybe your parents split up, or maybe you had a confirmed-bachelor uncle whom the family, whatever its politics, had come to accept. If it was important for Murphy Brown to show that a single woman could have a baby in prime time--and spark a war with a Vice President--it was as important that Friends showed that a single woman could have a baby on TV's biggest sitcom, sparking nothing but "awwws."
In the end, the characters are approaching something like traditional happy endings: Phoebe married, Chandler and Monica becoming parents, Ross and Rachel headed for whatever closure the writers have devised, Joey going west for the Valhalla of spin-off-dom. Still, what a weird route they took. Friends may not have been as artistically great as NBC says, but it may have been more important than the show itself seemed to believe. If, as the headlines keep screaming, the culture war is not over, for half an hour a week over 10 years, we were able to forget it existed. What else are friends for?