On Friends, Rachel Greene’s character arc is iconic. She goes from a bratty, selfish trust fund baby to a successful working woman and great friend over the course of nine seasons of Friends. But when we meet Rachel’s sisters Jill and Amy, we get a glimpse of the life she left behind…the woman she could have been if she hadn’t made the choice to run out on her wedding in the pilot – and that picture is not good.
Rachel’s sisters on Friends are unimpressive human beings - so what was it about Rachel that let her escape their spoiled, stunted adulthood?
Phoebe Buffay: Which sister is this? Is this the spoiled one or the one that bit her? - Friends
Rachel Green’s character arc is iconic. She goes from a bratty, selfish trust fund baby to a successful working woman and great friend over the course of nine seasons of Friends. But when we meet Rachel’s sisters Jill and Amy, we get a glimpse of the life she left behind…the woman she could have been if she hadn’t made the choice to run out on her wedding in the pilot - and that picture is not good. Here’s our take on the Greene sisters, what’s really wrong with them, and how Rachel got free of her toxic family dynamic.
Jill and Amy are impulsive, they’re mean, and they’re superficial. They don’t really seem to care about anyone or anything; they have very little work ethic, desire to contribute to society, or concept of what’s outside of their upper middle class lifestyle. They’re fun to watch because they’re so ridiculous - but you can’t fall in love with them, like we do with Rachel, because they have no redemption; and they’re never around for long enough to show true depth or development.
Yet when we look closer, we see Jill and Amy both exhibit familiar behaviors. We see early-season Rachel in both of them. Even Rachel herself recognises that her sisters are a lot like she was.
Rachel Green: Look, when I first moved to this city, I was a lot like her. I was spoiled, self-centered. - Friends
So let’s look at some of the direct comparisons between Rachel and her sisters…
Rachel got with Chandler, who Monica had a crush on, when they were teens and both Jill and Amy have been with Rachel’s exes. Amy used to kiss Barry behind Rachel’s back when they were still together, while Jill went on a date with Ross. When Rachel intervenes, asking Ross not to date her sister, Jill flips out in typical spoiled baby style, because she doesn’t want anything to be off limits.
Rachel Green: This is about you being a brat, wanting what you can’t have.
Jill Green: Can’t have? Excuse me, the only thing I can’t have is dairy. - Friends
Later on, when Ross and Rachel have baby Emma, Amy can’t get her niece’s name right and goes on to get Emma’s ears pierced, insulting Rachel as she goes.
Another thing the sisters have in common is that they feel it’s their right to spend excessively. And they’re pretty addicted to extravagant purchases. When Rachel first joins the group, she finds it really difficult to stop spending on her credit card. She doesn’t really understand that the money she spends on her credit card comes from somewhere - and that ‘somewhere’ is her dad. Likewise, when Jill shows up to Monica and Rachel’s apartment, it’s because her dad has finally cut her off - after one epic splurge too far.
And finally, a key thing the sisters share is that they all get to their mid-twenties without ever having a job. Rachel gets her first ever job when she’s about 24 - and Jill is later than that. Meanwhile Amy has totally harebrained schemes of making money, which belies the fact that she’s never had to actually worry about it. Ultimately, the Green girls have no concept of how to take care of themselves or what things are worth, because they’re all being bankrolled. So while Rachel, Jill, and Amy all have their unattractive habits, that’s not necessarily their fault to begin with. There is a villain. But it’s not one of the sisters…
The Green sisters’ father, Leonard Green, has enabled them to become selfish and spoiled, and yet, when they do exactly what he’s taught them to do, he punishes them all for it. So whichever way they choose to go, he has total control. We’re shown, time and again, that the model he gives his kids is one of providing material wealth and comfort to his family, but combining that with a kind of meanness. He gives them a luxurious lifestyle and every material thing they need, but only shows them tough love. This is embodied well in Rachel’s memories of sailing - owning a boat is a privilege only available to the very elite, yet the way Dr. Green apparently talked to his kids during sailing made it a painful experience. Rachel’s dad has a total disregard for anyone’s feelings.
Leonard Green: Why would you bring me sewage? Is that a hard question? Are you an idiot? Is that why you’re a waiter? - Friends
We can see this in how, despite being incredibly wealthy, he’s noticeably cheap. For example, he’ll go out to dinner and order the lobster, but mistreat the server and fail to leave an appropriate tip. These are behaviors of a man who knows he’s high on the food chain and abuses his power over those lower down. When it comes to the women in his life - his three daughters and his wife - he’s engineered a situation where they depend on him entirely. By making sure they rely on him for everything and withholding emotional validation so they’re always craving his approval, he has infantilised them to the point that they have no real power of their own. That’s why they’re petty and unkind; they have no control over anything real. So they find solace in objects and shopping rather than in their relationships.
The general pattern is that they stay being bankrolled by daddy until they get married, which prevents them from learning to develop true agency, self-care skills or a sense of an independent self. And even if they break away, he’ll still try to exert control - like over Rachel in her relationship with Ross. And because, by his own design, his daughters are superficial, he knows what makes them tick - and he can use it to control them, like in this scene, when Rachel tells him she’s pregnant, and he bullies her into saying she’s getting married to Ross. Phoebe counsels her through it, telling her she has to tell him the truth; but even though Rachel has become a self-sufficient, confident working woman, she still reverts to being like putty in his hands. All this is why it’s so crucial that Rachel does develop her independence instead of settling down too quickly with Ross. She’s undoing her conditioning as a Daddy’s girl who’s desperate for a dictatorial man’s approval. We see these dynamics most fully realized in the girls’ mom, Sandra - someone who married for money, and didn’t have to build a life for herself. Sandra herself admits that she envies Rachel’s independence as a woman making her own way.
Sandra Green: You didn’t marry your Barry. I married mine… - Friends
Sandra and Leonard eventually get divorced and we hear that one of the causes is that Leonard never took much interest in his wife, but was far more absorbed in his boat. So the Green women are made to feel their lives revolve around winning the love of a man who shows affection only through money and doesn’t truly want to engage with their deeper selves. The materialism and status obsession of the Green family’s culture points to a social problem that’s bigger than Leonard - when women are raised to think their job is to immediately marry a man who’ll provide, and when men or women are conditioned to prize wealth and status above all, the result is emotional stuntedness and inability to connect.
While Rachel diverts from her mom’s path, her sisters are headed in Sandra’s same direction. That’s why Rachel’s arc is so rewarding - and why her sisters are so interesting to us - because they give us a glimpse of what might have been if she’d just married Barry instead of running away to find a new life in the city. We see this ‘what might have been’ arc fleshed out in the fantasy episodes where Rachel is a bored housewife in a loveless marriage. This version of Rachel never challenged herself and opted instead for the financial security of relying on a man who doesn’t respect her. As a result, she’s realized a lot less of her potential - and she’s a lot more like Jill and Amy.
It’s a warning to all of us that choosing what feels ‘safe’ over what feels ‘right’ doesn’t pay off on a human level - because it’s crucial to push ourselves and take risks in order to develop into our best selves.
Monica Geller: Welcome to the real world. It sucks! You’re gonna love it. - Friends
Rachel’s family are cartoonish in their villainy - they’re hilarious to watch because they’re so absurd. Yet even though Amy and Jill are heightened versions of the mean, vapid sisters we might meet in real life, they reflect a truth we face all the time - that spoiled kids turn into spoiled adults.
Actually, what makes Rachel’s arc so appealing is how unusual it is. Most rich, bratty kids don’t leave the safety of their trust-funded futures to try and make it on their own. In that sense, despite their absurdities, her sisters Amy and Jill are actually realistic. So how does Rachel make it on her own?
The real answer, according to the show, is because of her friends. Right from the very beginning - when she bursts back into Monica’s life, without having seen her for years - her group of friends take care of her in a way that her family never has. So Rachel understands how powerful a network of people looking out for you can be. And that’s why she offers that to her sisters when they show up at her house, testing the waters of going out on their own. It’s important to pay it forward.
Rachel Green: I don’t think I would be the person I am today if it wasn’t for you guys. And I want to do the same for Amy. - Friends