A Nonprofit Had to Take Down Its Version of Friends Showing Chandler Getting HIV

But Casey House hopes to return with proper approvals

A still of Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry from an episode of Friends
Joey, unable to accept Chandler's HIV diagnosis, moves out of their apartment in Casey House's reimagined Friends episode.
Casey House

In the 1980s, the phrase “a very special episode” became synonymous with the way shows would tackle weighty social issues like racism or child abuse.

The 1990s hit comedy Friends, however, generally avoided “very special” territory except for the occasional rough breakup and the dual infertility diagnoses faced by Monica and Chandler (which sparked a bit of backlash for being too light with a serious topic).

Now a Canadian nonprofit has retroactively created the heaviest Friends episode ever—one in which Chandler finds out he’s HIV-positive. Casey House, Canada’s only hospital specifically for those with HIV/AIDS, also edited footage of The Office to create a scenario in which Michael is taken to task for being insensitive toward Oscar being HIV-positive.

Despite a disclaimer at the beginning of each clip and dubbing that makes it pretty obvious these aren’t legit sitcom episodes, Casey House has already removed the Friends video from its site due to a copyright takedown notice from Warner Bros.

“We heard from Warner Bros. yesterday. Of course, we immediately complied,” said Joseph Bonnici, partner and ecd at Case House agency Bensimon Byrne. “The interesting thing is that they reached out to us and actually provided some incredibly positive guidance into how to keep ‘Losing Friends’ as part of the campaign. So that’s what we are doing now: talking to the people they suggested and hoping to rally them behind this. They were very helpful and see value in what we are trying to do.”

Casey House’s version of Friends—which essentially replaces the audio in the Season 4 episode in which Chandler admits to kissing Joey’s girlfriend—shows Chandler receiving an HIV diagnosis but quickly being told that the condition is manageable thanks to modern treatments.

What causes the group’s relationship to crack is not the diagnosis, but rather Joey’s refusal to support or live with Chandler for fear of infection. It ends with what seems to be an irreparable rift between the two, which explains the clip being called “Losing Friends.”

“How we treat HIV has come a long way,” the copy at the end of the clip states. “How we treat people with HIV hasn’t.”

“The campaign really makes you take stock and consider, ‘What if the TV shows that defined the cultural zeitgeist of the time could have helped improve the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS today, decades later?’,” said Joanne Simons, CEO of Casey House. “There is a disturbing gap in the conversation that is being ignored between the incredible strides we have made in the medical treatment of the disease and the startling lack of progress in society’s treatment of those living with HIV. Casey House is working to bridge that gap, but we can’t do it alone.”

While somewhat less bleak than the Friends iteration, Casey House’s take on The Office—called “The Toxic Office” begins with Michael being admonished for an offensive note in which he wrote, “This email was so gay, it gave me AIDS.” He then leads a staff meeting in which he attempts to support Oscar, who has HIV in this alternate universe. But his ham-handed attempts at explaining AIDS only leaves Oscar feeling less welcome in the workplace.

The clips were created through dubbing by professional impersonators and footage of lookalikes’ mouths added into the clips via postproduction.

According to projections from Casey House’s Smash Stigma survey, 65 million North Americans feel their friends, relatives and coworkers would shun them if they were HIV-positive. An estimated 40 million would rather not even know if they had the disease, according to the nonprofit’s report.

The Smash Stigma website continues to host “The Toxic Office,” along with several interview clips in which real patients explain the stigmas they’ve faced since being diagnosed with HIV.

Join the foremost brand marketers, such as Marc Pritchard, Brad Hiranaga, Kory Marchisotto and more, for Brandweek Masters Live on Sept. 14-17. Secure your pass and learn from the brand masters.

Recommended videos