‘Friends’ is finally back on China’s streaming platforms—but without Ross’s lesbian ex-wife plot line

February 14, 2022, 6:16 AM UTC

Chinese streaming platforms Tencent, Youku, Bilibili and IQiyi have removed references to a lesbian character, politically sensitive images and sexually suggestive language from the hit NBC sitcom “Friends,” which returned to the services this month. 

For example, in one instance, the Chinese version omits Ross’ explanation for his divorce: His ex-wife is a lesbian. In the original episode, Ross tells his parents, “So, here’s the deal: Carol’s a lesbian. She’s living with a woman named Susan. She’s pregnant with my child. And she and Susan are going to raise the baby.” His parents look at each other in shock. 

In China, the scene skips from “Here’s the deal” to the parents looking shocked. 

In another scene, the uncensored version shows a globe in the background. In China, the globe is too blurry to identify clearly. 

The censorship hasn’t been lost on fans. A hashtag on the censorship was viewed more than 54 million times on the Twitter-like Weibo service before it was later removed, CNN reported over the weekend. Comments by viewers on the Bilibili streaming service criticized the changes for rendering plotlines incomprehensible. 

The sitcom first streamed on Chinese platforms in 2012. In the decade since, authorities in Beijing have stepped up efforts to modify popular media, scrubbing content they deem undesirable. Earlier this year, censors rewrote the ending of the 1999 movie “Fight Club,” replacing its iconic final scene with a line of on-screen text declaring that all criminals were brought to justice. After widespread derision on Chinese social media, the original denouement was restored.

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has in recent years targeted groups that don’t conform with its notions of traditional society. The LGBTQ community, which had once been thriving in China, have been one of the key targets, with state media last year using derogatory slurs to warn against androgynous celebrities. Censors also scrubbed the 2018 Oscar-winning film “Bohemian Rhapsody”—about the flamboyant, bisexual rock frontman Freddie Mercury, who eventually died of complications related to AIDS—of references to homosexuality. 

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