Janice knows you’re binge-watching Friends. In fact, she’s doing it with you.
As part of EW‘s Friends binge guide (on stands now), we caught up with recurring guest star Maggie Wheeler, who gave life to Chandler Bing’s erstwhile arm candy over the course of 10 seasons. With her nasal voice and grating “Oh my Gawd”s, Chandler’s ex-girlfriend was the on-again, off-again lover everyone—especially Chandler—despised. But Wheeler (who says she’s also binge-watching the show on Netflix) knows that, deep down, you actually have a soft spot for her.
“The writers created this fabulously weird character that you love to hate,” Wheeler tells EW. “This crazy girl who is not particularly self-aware who still gets to be at the party. This interloper, this outsider managed to find her way into this little community of friends, and I think that was a vehicle for a lot of viewers who were sitting around in front of their televisions going, ‘Well, how do I hang out with those people?'”
Janice Litman Goralnik, née Hosenstein, as existential vessel for the American viewing public? It’s a fair point, if you consider all the moments when Janice said exactly what viewers at home were thinking. In the season three episode “The One With the Flashback,” it’s Janice who asks, point-blank, “Who of the six of you has slept with who of the six of you?” In season five, it’s Janice who dates and dumps Ross because he’s too whiny about his divorces (such an understatement).
And she’s been around for the heavy moments, too. When Rachel has her baby in season 8, it’s Janice who gives her the reality check about raising Emma alone: “They all say they’re going to be there until they start their real family. I hate to be the one to say it, but, honey, you two are on your own.” When she runs into Chandler at the fertility clinic in season 9, she implores him to prepare for the possibility that he and Monica can’t conceive (which, spoiler, they can’t).
“She may not know what people are saying about her behind her back, but she comes from a very loving place,” says Wheeler. “She has everybody’s best interest at heart all the time. There was never a moment when she wished anybody ill or did anything ill-intentioned.”
Janice was surprisingly popular with fans—one writer friend of Wheeler’s even pitched her “a pseudo-reality show like The Comeback with Janice as a therapist.” Evidently, she was equally popular with the Friends writers, who frequently invited the character back at pivotal moments during the series. And sometimes, Wheeler’s own life was reflected in Janice’s: At the season one wrap party, Wheeler informed producers that she was pregnant (“I told them, if you want to write Chandler’s love child into the next season, I can definitely bring it”). Five months later, Janice reappeared in Chandler’s life—but eight months pregnant and married.
The Chandler-Janice relationship saw infrequent ups and many, many downs, but the actress maintains that there was never a moment when Janice, married or not, was over Chandler. “Chandler will be her truest love forever and ever,” Wheeler declares with a laugh (although not the laugh you’re probably hearing in your head). “She’s loving as a mother and as a wife, but there’s that moment where she’s torn between her husband and Chandler, and you can see that she’s actually tormented! She’s got the baby, she’s married, she divorced, remarried, nice house—but the only thing she didn’t get was Chandler.”
Ask Wheeler what she thinks Janice is up to now, and you’ll get a different answer every few years. The current working theory? “She’s running an online business making bags and clothing, doing big business with the Mob Wives and using a lot of animal prints. It’s going well.”
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