Winona Ryder is a name that a very small percentage of the global population would deny recognizing. Her face has become one of the most popular ones in television history. With the advent of the Netflix sci-fi horror drama series, Stranger Things, Ryder is now a household name. She perfectly blends into her role in the series as the distraught mother of a young boy, Will Byers who mysteriously vanishes one particular night. However, this series was not the platform that gave Ryder her acclaimed fame. She was a Hollywood heartthrob long before Netflix even existed as a streaming platform. In her golden era, Ryder starred in numerous roles in critically acclaimed movies like Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Little Women (1994). But by the mid-90s, her popularity was somewhat rolling downhill. And one particular cameo of hers in a beloved American sitcom strategically brought enough critical attention to bring her back into the fold.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S – The American Sitcom
The decade-long American sitcom, Friends, first went on air on 22 September 1994. The series quickly rose up in ratings and gained nationwide popularity, which later transcended into global fame. The plot of the sitcom follows six friends living in the heart of New York City’s Manhattan, as they navigate the ups and downs of life and find love and friendships that last lifetimes. The series had, in a very short span, become immensely popular due to its witty humorous scripts and eventful comic episodes.
Winona Ryder Cameo in Friends
The sitcoms of the 90s were infamously popular for featuring major actors from the big screens in small single-episodic roles. “Friends” wasn’t any different. The series roped in some of the major actors from the industry during the turn of the century. Actors like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts, Danny DeVito, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Bruce Willis, among many others featured in the sitcom.
Ryder too won a significant cameo role in the series as Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) sorority sister, named Melissa Warburton. Her appearance in season 7, although lovable, had sparked controversy and garnered some backlash from LGBTQ+ communities.
Criticisms and Backlash
In the episode titled “The One With Rachel’s Big Kiss”, Ryder’s character and Rachel share a kiss which is followed by the former declaring her love for the latter. Major entertainment news outlets quickly dismissed and reduced the moment, however, claiming it was an underhanded way of regaining viewership. Friends had lost ratings prior to the incident because of its dwindling popularity.
The LGBTQ+ community criticized the particular episode as well. They declared it insensitive on the series’ part for their subverted attempt at showing a lesbian relationship as a crutch for regaining mainstream viewership and popularity.
Even with the sudden drop in ratings, the series gained back a lot of its popularity by the early 2000s. The sitcom ended in 2004 and is now considered an American classic.