10 Best Friends Supporting Characters

The friends in Friends were all good friends, which is why the show's called Friends, but who were the friends of the friends from Friends?

friends courtney cox, david schwimmer, Friends, Jennifer Aniston, lisa kudrow, matt leblanc, matthew perry

Friends is one of the most iconic television series of the past quarter-century, and one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time. Fifteen years since the finale aired and the series still has constant reruns on television, while countless people have rewatched it on Netflix, and its legacy can be seen in the fact that the slightly more recent long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014) is often referred to as “Friends for Millennials”. While its success ultimately comes from the dynamic between the six titular friends and the idealistic depiction of young professional life, there is one important factor that the series could not have been the same without – the supporting characters.

One thing which set Friends apart from many other sitcoms is the fact the number of ongoing storylines – some of these lasted for only a few episodes, while others lasted for the entire series, and supporting characters played a key role in many of them. As such, it is impossible to deny the fact that the supporting characters played an important role in making Friends the staple of 1990s/2000s culture that it became. In honour of the series’ 25th anniversary, this piece is going to discuss the 10 best supporting characters from its run. Whether they appeared in a few episodes or in a few seasons, whether they had big roles to play in ongoing storylines or were simply dependable recurring faces, these are the ten supporting characters whose roles in the series were the most memorable, and who we couldn’t imagine Friends without.


10. David

friends hank azaria

Sometimes referred to as “the Scientist Guy”, David (Hank Azaria) is a physicist whom Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) falls in love with in Season 1, but their romance is cut short when he goes to Minsk on a three-year research trip. Nevertheless, their romance is a touching one as it is clear that he is smitten with Phoebe, quirks and all, and treats her with love and respect. Time never impacts his love for her, as he returns in Season 9 and proposes, leading to a brief love-triangle between the pair and Phoebe’s other love interest, Mike (Paul Rudd), which ends with Phoebe choosing Mike.

While it was lovely to see Phoebe get her happily ever after with Mike in Season 10, some fans argue that it should have been with David, and it is not hard to see why. David is a very sweet, genuine fellow, and his love for Phoebe is pure, heartfelt and sincere, as shown by the fact that it never diminishes, even when they go for years without seeing each other. Hank Azaria plays the awkward scientist stereotype very well as David, and his chemistry with Lisa Kudrow feels very natural, meaning that, despite his appearances being far fewer than the other characters on this list, he is remembered fondly by many fans.


9. Frank Buffay Jr.

Giovanni Ribisi

Phoebe is by all means the group oddball and one of the most naive titular friends. Some things run in families, which those traits prove to in Season 2 when Phoebe meets her half-brother, Frank Jr. (Giovanni Ribisi), for the first time when she tries to find her long-lost father. The two bond, and we learn that Frank Jr. has been arrested for stealing birds’ eggs, enjoys melting things and once owned a dog named “Tumor”, while he shows himself to be dirty-minded and a bit naive when he wrongly assumes that the massage parlour that Phoebe works for is a brothel. Season 1 established that Phoebe has a poor relationship with her twin sister Ursula (Lisa Kudrow), so to see her establish a close bond with Frank Jr., thereby finally getting the close sibling relationship that she had always wanted, was an absolute joy,

Frank Jr. and Phoebe’s bond would later lead to Phoebe’s most absurd situation (and that is saying something) when, in Seasons 4 and 5, Phoebe would be a surrogate for Frank and his wife Alice (Debra Jo Rupp), who was 26 years his senior. Only Phoebe could get herself into a situation where she could honestly say she was pregnant with her brother’s babies (triplets!) without it being incestuous. Giovanni Ribisi has played a number of characters who are either dimwitted, naive, socially awkward, or a mixture of the three (his roles in My Name is Earl, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and the Ted films are a few examples), and today Frank Jr. can be viewed as one of the best early examples of the character-type whom Ribisi plays so well.


8. Ben Geller

Carol Willick (Jane Sibbett) learned that she was pregnant with Ben not long after leaving his father, Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), for Susan Bunch (Jessica Hecht). During Season 1, Ross regularly clashed with Susan over how his child would be raised, but they called a brief truce when Ben was born near the end of the Season. As an infant and toddler in Seasons 2-5, Ben was used to set up jokes focusing on other characters more than anything, such as in Season 2 when Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) accidentally left him on a bus, while Ross was frequently shown to be insecure over the fact that Ben was being raised by two women. The best example of this was in Season 3, when Ross grew worried about Ben’s preference for dolls over G.I. Joe action figures.

In Seasons 6-8, Ben was played by Cole Sprouse (who later starred in the Disney Channel series The Suite Life of Zack & Cody), and became far more of a character in his own right. A bright kid who had been spoiled by 3 parents, Ben had a great dynamic with Ross, and the rest of the gang loved him. He was shown to be a rascal, such as when he wound up Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) by copying her, and he had a natural ability with blunt honesty which so many children unwittingly have. His ignorance of his Jewish heritage also served as the catalyst for the hilarious Holiday Armadillo scene in Season 7.

After his half-sister, Emma, was born in the Season 8 finale, Ben never appeared again, but was occasionally mentioned. This has led to many fan theories about the abrupt end to his tenure on the series, with some just assuming that he continued to make regular visits off-screen, but the most depressing one being that Carol and Susan refused to let Ross see him anymore, due to his (Ross’s) increasingly erratic behaviour. Whatever the reason, Ben certainly left his mark on the series, and the fact that his departure remains a source of fan debate years later testifies to that.


7. Judy Geller

friends Christina Pickles

Judy Geller (Christina Pickles) is one of those parents who favours one child over the other, showing real preference for golden child Ross, while being incredibly critical and condescending towards her daughter Monica (Courtney Cox), in early seasons especially criticising her for remaining unmarried. However, when Ross’s misdeeds were revealed she would not always defend him – notably when Chandler reveals in Season 6 that Ross smoked pot when they were college roommates, Judy praises him for putting up with Ross. Christina Pickles delivers Judy’s lines with an excellent sense of bluntness, while her expression of obliviousness as to how her behaviour irritates others is just perfect.

Judy’s significance to the series, however, is best found in the fact that her presence and personality helps the viewer gain a greater understanding of Monica’s character. From the very earliest episodes Monica was shown to push for perfectionism, and seeing how critical Judy is of her helps viewers to understand what motivates Monica to do this. Furthermore, Judy’s blatant preference of Ross explains why Monica can be so competitive, especially with her older brother; while the fact that Judy has continued to dote on Ross can be seen to explain why he tends to whine and complain when things do not go his way in a manner which would make you think that the world has ended.


6. Susan Bunch

The partner of Ross’s ex-wife Carol, Susan became the second supporting character to be integral to an ongoing storyline. Starting in episode 2, Carol’s pregnancy and Ross’s constant clashing with Susan over his unborn son’s upbringing became the series’ first real storyline. While Ross was excited about becoming a father, learning that Susan and Carol had been making plans for the unborn child just deepened the insecurities that Carol leaving him for Susan had caused in the first place. Although Carol assured him that he would be a big part of the baby’s life, Ross and Susan regularly bickered, and their quarrels ended up providing some rather amusing moments, not least due to Jessica Hecht’s dry delivery and unique rapport with David Schwimmer.

Ross and Susan managed to call a truce when Ben was born, and Phoebe forcing them into a janitor’s closet to sort out their differences led to the inspiration for the infant’s name, emphasising that some things are more important than personal differences with others. Ross and Susan nevertheless continued to bicker (albeit far less heatedly) throughout the remainder of her appearances in the series, ultimately highlighting that Ross would always harbour some resentment towards her, although his role in her wedding to Carol in Season 2 showed that he did not hate her. Her presence also continued to cause insecurity, both about the amount of female influence Ben was growing up with, and that she may turn his second wife Emily (Helen Baxendale) gay as well. As such, while her appearances were far less frequent after Season 1, Susan’s impact on the series remained, both in the memories of the original ongoing storyline, and on her impact upon Ross, which brought out character traits that remained prevalent throughout the series’ run.


5. Carol Willick

friends Jane Sibbett

Just before the events of the Pilot episode, Carol had left husband Ross Geller for Susan, and she became the first supporting character to be central to an ongoing storyline when she revealed to Ross that she was pregnant with his child in the second episode. Throughout Season 1, Carol’s pregnancy and Ross’s constant clashing with Susan over how his son would be raised was the most prominent storyline and, as such, Carol made Ross a much more rounded character. The hurt that their divorce caused led to Ross struggling with insecurities and struggling to come to terms with what had happened, revealing on Valentine’s Day in Season 1 (several months after the divorce) that he still loved Carol.

However, Carol also brought out Ross’s most mature side as he worked his hardest with her to ensure that they gave their son, Ben, the best upbringing that they could, and not let their past differences impact it. In Season 2, however, it became clear that Ross genuinely valued Carol’s happiness when he gave her away on her wedding day to Susan, after her father refused to, and in doing so the series conveyed a wonderful message about the importance of forgiveness and friendship. Jane Sibbett played Carol with such warmth and a sense of genuine kindness, meaning that she and Susan were very much a chalk-and-cheese couple. As such, it is not hard to see how Ross and the titular friends were able to remain on good terms with Carol after the divorce, as it is impossible not to become fond of her when watching her scenes due to her gentle nature and warm, kind personality, and her sheer likeability alone made her one of the best supporting characters of the series’ run.


4. Jack Geller

friends elliott gould

Father to Ross and Monica, husband to Judy, Jack Geller (Elliott Gould) is the parent who shows love and warmth towards Monica, consoling her when she was down and regularly telling her to ignore her mother’s critical comments. However, there are moments in the series where his preference for Ross is apparent, most notably in Season 7 when he reveals that he ruined several boxes of Monica’s childhood memories by using them to stop his Porsche getting wet when the garage flooded. However, he does give Monica the Porsche by way of an apology, highlighting the fact that he is conscious of Monica’s feelings, even though he does not always know how best to respond.

What makes Jack one of the best supporting characters, however, is the fact that he is never afraid to speak his mind, often making very insensitive or very inappropriate comments in doing so, often punctuating them with “I’m just saying…”, seemingly in an attempt to justify them. Easily one of the most memorable examples is when he calls Ross’s father-in-law – Englishman Stephen Waltham (Tom Conti) – a “thieving, would-be-speaking-German-if-it-weren’t-for-us, cheap little man”, while his first inappropriate act in the series was watching the football game with Joey during his mother-in-law’s wake in Season 1. Ultimately his most hilariously inappropriate moment was when he discussed sexual strategies with Monica and Chandler, even urging them to have sex in a hospital closet when he learns that they are trying for a baby in the Season 9 premiere. Elliott Gould’s perfect comic delivery compliments the hilarious screenwriting marvellously, meaning that, whenever Jack appears on screen the viewer knows that they are guaranteed some comedy gold, thereby cementing Jack’s status as one of the all-time great Friends supporting characters.


3. Janice Hosenstein

friends Maggie Wheeler

One of the few supporting characters to appear in all 10 seasons of Friends, Janice (Maggie Wheeler) was Chandler’s on-again/off-again girlfriend during Seasons 1-4. Janice instantly became one of the most distinctive and memorable characters in the series, due to her nasally voice and machine gun laugh, while her exclaiming “Oh my God” (with real emphasis on each word) every time she bumped into Chandler or one of the titular friends – which announced her presence in a way which assured viewers that they were in for a hilarious scene. Maggie Wheeler has to be commended for being able to maintain Janice’s voice and enunciation so well throughout the show’s entire run.

During her on-off relationship with Chandler, the running gag was that he would want to break up with her due to her irritating voice and laugh, but did not want to hurt her feelings as she was nevertheless a good-natured person who genuinely cared about him. These moments proved to be absurdly hilarious, partly due to how well Matthew Perry played Chandler’s awkwardness while striking up a great on-screen rapport with Wheeler, but ultimately because of the screenwriting. Chandler’s unwillingness to hurt Janice even led to him pretending that he was moving to Yemen…and even go so far as to fly out there in quite possibly his most awkward situation of the entire series (no easy feat).

After their on-off relationship ended for good, Janice’s appearances became far fewer, but nevertheless remained absolute gems to watch, mainly due to just how randomly a number of her reappearances occured. For example, she had a brief fling with Ross in Season 5, following his divorce from Emily (Helen Baxendale); in Season 8 she and her new husband, Sid Goralnik (Maurice Godin) had a son, Aaron, and shared a room in the hospital with Rachel, who had Emma; and in Season 9 she bumped into Chandler and Monica at a fertility clinic, where Sid was a donor. These reappearances always came out of the blue, and it was hilarious to watch the shocked reactions of whichever titular friends were re-encountering her, cementing Janice’s status as a truly unforgettable supporting character.


2. Richard Burke

friends tom selleck

Played by Magnum, P.I. star Tom Selleck, Richard seemed to be perfect boyfriend material for Monica. Charming, kind-hearted, good looking, mature and on a high income as an ophthalmologist, he was undeniably a catch, but he was also 21 years her senior and her father’s best friend. As such, when he and Monica begin dating in Season 2, her parents were furious, but the pair nevertheless made a serious effort to make the relationship work as they had genuinely fallen for each other. Their scenes together are very engaging to watch, as Selleck had a great chemistry with Courtney Cox, and they conveyed the sexual tension between the pair very well. Ultimately, they reluctantly split up when Richard admitted to Monica that he did not want more children as he was already a grandfather, and their break-up saddened many fans.

Richard may have only made a couple more appearances after this, but the character’s impact remained. In his Season 3 guest role, it was clear that he and Monica still had feelings for each other, while their history caused Chandler to feel jealous and insecure when he and Monica began a relationship in Season 5. When he made his final appearance in Season 6, he was ready to try again with Monica and was even willing to have more children. However, when Richard saw how much Chandler loved her and learns that he wants to marry and start a family with Monica, he (Richard) proved himself to be a genuinely kind and considerate chap by deciding not to pursue Monica any more.

In his final scene, he told Chandler never to let Monica go, showing deep regret that he did not fight for their relationship, as well as a profound maturity and kindness which touched Chandler. As such, Richard is an all time great supporting character, as he is not only a genuinely kind and likeable character, but he is arguably the most significant supporting character, as his role in the series further motivated Chandler to work at his and Monica’s relationship and marriage, which became key to Chandler’s character development during the series’ run.


1. Gunther

friends James Michael Tyler

While he by no means played a significant role in any of the series’ storylines, if there is one supporting character whom it is impossible to imagine Friends without then it is Gunther (James Michael Tyler). Appearing in a whopping 185/236 episodes, Gunther is the manager of the iconic Central Perk, and as such he is a fixture in the everyday lives of the titular friends. Appearing primarily as a background extra in Season 1, his role was gradually expanded during the series’ run, and he became central to several running gags. The fact that he is a fixture of their everyday life, yet never becomes one of the central group is itself a running gag in the series, a good example being in Season 4 when Chandler declares Gunther to be his best man at Ross’s bachelor party. Gunther asks Chandler “What’s my last name?”, only for Chandler to defeatedly answer “Central Perk?”

Even Gunther’s appearance was a running gag, with several gags being made about his peroxide blonde hair, with Joey even mistaking it for his natural colour (classic dimwitted Joey). However, the most prominent running gag that he was central to was his unrequited crush on Rachel. Despite her incompetence as a waitress, he was revealed to be smitten with her in Season 3 and would do anything she asked of him. This crush led to him making a number of dry and/or sarcastic remarks towards Rachel’s various love interests, including of course Ross and Joey. Some of these remarks towards her love interests came quite hilariously out of the blue, such as when he yelled “You idiot!” at Joshua (Tate Donovan) for rejecting Rachel’s marriage proposal, and when he sneaked up on Joey and exclaimed “Rachel!?!” after overhearing Joey confess his feelings for Rachel to Ross.

James Michael Tyler proved himself to be a wonderfully gifted comedic actor as Gunther, his comic timing being spot on with every single one of his gags, and his dry delivery of some of the character’s comments being nothing short of hilarious. Gunther may not have been central to a storyline like Richard Burke or Carol Willick were, but he was a constant presence in the series, a true staple of the Central Perk scenes, who could be depended on for a good laugh. As such, he is the most instantly recognisable supporting character of the series (and not just because of that peroxide blonde hair), and it is ultimately impossible to picture Friends without him.

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