It's Women's History Month, so to celebrate, we decided to scour the archives for some of the most impressive TV ladies who don't always get their due — and Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) from Friends came to mind right away.
To borrow a few phrases from Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Phoebe was always regarded as "something of a question mark" to the rest of her friends, who thought she could "slip right out" of the group if she wanted. Even fans tended to regard her as a supporting character, rather than an integral part of the show's action. But looking back, Friends wouldn't have been much of a show at all without Phoebe's wisecracks and subtle wisdom.
Sure, she had her quirks, and her songwriting skills left something to be desired, but throughout the show, Phoebe consistently displayed the kind of self-possession the others could never even dream of achieving. Audiences might've pegged Phoebe as the annoying outsider thanks to some of her more outlandish moments, but the fact of the matter is that she was one of the most centered and interesting characters of the group and deserved a whole lot more respect from all of us.
Here are just a few of the reasons Phoebe deserved so much better.
She was a total survivor. What happened to Phoebe before we met her is a whole saga, and so far we know only pieces of it, but what we do know is that she had a very rough youth. After she and her twin sister Ursula were born, their birth mother disappeared altogether. Then, Phoebe's father abandoned her, her mother Lily — the woman who had raised both Phoebe and Ursula — ended her own life, her stepfather ended up in jail, and her twin sold off her identity for chump change. For a while, Phoebe had to go it alone, mugging and living in cars, until she got to move in with her grandmother and take up massage therapy. And yet she was consistently the sunniest member of the group. Remember when she cited that time her "hair did that woohoo thing" as the only thing she could think to write a sad song about? Beneath the hilarity, there was a lot of resilience in Phoebe.
She was also forgiving. Phoebe was wronged by a lot of people in her life, but she almost always tried to build bridges instead of walls. It didn't always work, of course, but she did extend olive branches to her birth mother, her deadbeat dad, and Leslie the "jingle bitch," to name a few. Even when people hurt her — like when her ice-dancing husband admitted he wasn't gay but just didn't have feelings for her — she still exhibited nothing but grace.
She was so comfortable in her own skin. No woman on Friends was as unapologetically confident as Phoebe. "I may play the fool at times, but I'm more than just a pretty blonde girl with an ass that won't quit," she once famously said of herself. Phoebe didn't bother being modest about accepting compliments, and she also wasn't afraid to go bold with her sartorial selections and funky hairstyles. Phoebe was a beacon of self-love and never doubted her worth over anything superficial.
She always gave people the benefit of the doubt. Whereas her other friends were willing to write off weirdos like Roger the stuffy therapist, Malcolm the stalker, and Parker the one-man pep squad, Phoebe always tried to give anyone she met a true chance, despite all the naysaying of the people around her.
She was honest. Phoebe told us all very early on that she never lies, and she mostly stuck to her word on that one. Sure, there was the whole Swedish masseuse ruse she pulled on Rachel, and the "they don't know we know they know we know" situation. For the most part, though, Phoebe could be relied upon for some hard truths when her friends needed to hear them, whether it was something as simple as the garlic overload in Monica's (Courteney Cox) cooking or as serious as the fact that Ross (David Schwimmer) was in denial about his true feelings for Rachel. For her, being honest meant facing head on whatever pain the truth would cause, which is a testament to how strong she'd become as a result of her past.
She was kind to animals. The resident vegetarian of the group, Phoebe was always nice to animals, even when she accidentally ran over poor Schnoodle. Her friends laughed when she thought her mother's soul found its way into that cat, but it only proved she believed there was more to fur-babies than meets the eye.
She was full of surprises. Every now and again, Phoebe would reveal a new layer to herself that proved her story was so much richer than anyone else's. She could speak French and Italian, for example, and once lived in Prague. The others might have come from more privileged backgrounds, but Phoebe had many more exciting experiences to speak of.
She was very selfless. Phoebe didn't wrestle for long over whether to become a surrogate mother for her brother and Alice when the need arose, and she was totally willing to endure a cross-country trip to just to keep Joey company after his Vegas gig fell through. Plus, she went out of her way to help a stranger in need when she heard a cry for help from that office manager during her one-day stint as a telemarketer. Put simply, when someone needed something from her, she almost always came through.
She could deliver a sick burn. Phoebe may have been painted as the second dimmest of the friends — top honors belonging to Joey (Matt LeBlanc), of course — but every now and again she delivered a takedown so epic that it was instantly a best-of for the entire show. Consider when she methodically picked apart Ross' theories on evolution just for kicks. Classic.
She was always accepting. One of the best things about Phoebe is that she could be counted on to come into any conversation with completely open ears. When Joey fell in love with Rachel while she was pregnant, Phoebe was there to listen and empathize with him, despite how inappropriate she knew it was. When Rachel gave her phone number to a guy on Mommy's night out, she kindly pointed out the complication and helped fix it without any true tut-tutting. When Chandler (Matthew Perry) was too timid to breakup with Janice, she jumped right in. Phoebe may have always been ready with an opinion on her friends' decisions, but she refused to judge anyone.
She was just plain fun. Fans might not want to race out to buy Phoebe's LP, but you have to give the woman credit for approaching life with gusto and charm. She was always the life of the party, and without her signature zest and lyrical ambition, the show would've been very, very boring.
There's a line in Season 4 when Phoebe declares, "I would give anything to not be appreciated in my own time!" Well, she certainly got her wish.
This week, TV Guide is celebrating some of TV's most underrated female characters. As part of Women's History Month, we're digging into Sweet Dee's vulgar narcissism on It's Always Sunny, breaking down why Breaking Bad's Skyler White deserved better, and more. You can check out all our Women's History Month content here.