August 11, 2014 5:45 PM EDT

No sitcom has ever been as deliberately self-effacing as Friends. The title, the theme song, the episode names (“The One Where…”) were self-explanatory at best, insipid at worst. They were friends; they were there for each other. Move along, nothing more to see. But it wasn’t just the sharp writing or the comic rapport that made Friends great. Its Gen-X characters were the children of divorce, suicide and cross-dressing, trying to grow up without any clear models of how to do it. They built ersatz families and had kids by adoption, surrogacy, out of wedlock or with their gay ex-wives. The show never pretended to be about anything weightier than “We were on a break.” But the well-hidden secret of this show was that it called itself Friends, and was really about family.

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