Another Living Single star has hopped on Twitter to remind David Schwimmer of something important: they did it first. Kim Coles, who played Synclaire James-Jones on the hit 1990s sitcom, called the actor “naive” on Twitter for suggesting that an “all-black” or “all-Asian” reboot of Friends would make up for the show’s lack of diversity. As many people have pointed out, Friends is pretty much an all-white remake of another show about six 20-somethings living in New York City: Living Single. The sitcom premiered in 1993, a year before Friends hit the air, and followed six young, black professionals who lived in a Brooklyn brownstone: Synclaire (Kim), Khadijah (Queen Latifah), Maxine (Erika Alexander), Obie (John Henton), Regine (Kim Fields), and Kyle (Terrence Carson).
David, who played Ross for 10 years on Friends, was responding to criticism that some of the show’s jokes and storylines were laced with sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and fatphobia. Monica (Courteney Cox) is mercilessly ridiculed for being overweight as a teenager. Ross has a meltdown when he catches his toddler son playing with a Barbie, because it’s “gay.” Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) objectifies and has an affair with her male assistant. The entire cast mocks Chandler’s (Matthew Perry) dad for presenting as female. And, there’s only two characters of color on the show: Ross’ girlfriend Julie (Lauren Tom), and Charlie (Aisha Tyler), who dated both Ross and Joey (Matt Leblanc).
“I don’t care,” David said in an interview with The Guardian. “The truth is also that show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships… I feel that a lot of the problem today in so many areas is that so little is taken in context. You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time. I’m the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time. I was already really attuned to social issues and issues of equality. Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends.”
— Kim Coles (@kimcoles) January 29, 2020
Kim’s co-star, Erika also tweeted about the interview, writing, “Hey @DavidSchwimmer @FriendsTV – r u seriously telling me you’ve never heard of #LivingSingle? We invented the template! Yr welcome bro. ;)” She tagged her co-stars in another tweet, writing, “help me school him.” While she hasn’t responded to David’s interview, Queen Latifah spoke about the striking similarities between Living Single and Friends during a 2017 Watch What Happens Live appearance.
“We knew we had already been doing that,” she told host Andy Cohen. “It was one of those things where it was a guy called Warren Littlefield that used to run NBC, and they asked him when all the new shows came out, they said, ‘If there’s any show you could have, which one would it be?’ And he said Living Single. And then he created Friends.”
David has since responded to the criticism, tweeting to Erica that his quotes were taken out of context, and that, to his knowledge, it was largely based on show creator Marta Kaufmann‘s own circle. “I was a fan of Living Single, and was not implying that Friends was the first of its kind…. I assure you I meant no disrespect,” he wrote in his statement.