True Detective vs. Friends: Did Ross Geller Lose Custody of Ben?

Or: What Happened to Ben Geller on Friends?

Note: the following was originally written in 2014. A lot has happened since then, but I think it holds up pretty well. In the time since it was first published, a lot has happened—including one of the Sprouse twins acknowledging that, yes, Ross was not a great dad.

A recent scene in True Detective got me thinking about something I haven’t thought about in a long time: Friends. In probably the saddest scene of the second season, Ray Velcoro and his son Chad eat pizza in silence while watching the famous sitcom. It’s Chad’s idea.


 Friends strongly contrasts poor little Chad’s reality. Friends is about a group of six fun-loving twenty-somethings in Manhattan in the 1990s and early ’00s. Chad, on the other hand, gets bullied at school and has supervised visits with his father, a corrupt cop with a penchant for cocaine and at least one murder in his past.

But as I watched Ray Velcoro get overly-intoxicated alone and destroy his apartment, I started to think harder about how much this reality really is different from that of the Friends friends. Sure, the antics on Friends were slightly more cheeky and fun. The guys had a menagerie of fun pets. Monica dated Tom Selleck. Phoebe wrote jingles about cats. Ray Velcoro, on the other hand, threatens children and promises to “buttfuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn.”

But one character didn’t seem dramatically different from Ray Velcoro. That character is Ross Geller.

Ross Geller’s Behavior—and Ben’s Disappearance

Sure, on first thought, Ross’s shenanigans seem just as cheeky and fun as the rest of the gang. He loves dinosaurs. He dresses up as the Holiday Armadillo. He claims to have invented the Got Milk? catchphrase.

Ray, like Ross, has a few dreams deferred.
Ray, like Ross, has a few dreams deferred.

Ross Geller’s Weird Antics

But what about all that other weird stuff he does? A few things come to mind:

  • He tries to convince a self-defense instructor to help him “scare” the female characters.
  • He tries to kiss his first cousin.
  • In the above-mentioned incident, he thinks of Logan’s Run as a sexy movie.
  • He’s manipulative and disrespectful in his relationships, especially Rachel.
  • He mocks Joey for being less educated and mocks Phoebe for her unconventional lifestyle.
  • He sleeps with at least one of his students.
  • He is known for being a terrible professor, both unethical and unskilled.
  • And finally, worst of all, there is the situation with his children. Which is about to be discussed further.

Ross Geller has a son, Ben Geller. Ross’s son Ben plays a fairly important role in the first several season of Friends. But then he disappears. Which makes me wonder if it’s possible that Ross’s disturbing antics have caused him to lose custody of Ben?

Not sure if this qualifies as
Not sure if this qualifies as “cheeky and fun” or “disturbing antics.”

The show was on for ten seasons, but Ben Geller doesn’t show up in person after the tweltfh episode of season eight of Friends. He’s only mentioned six times in the remaining fifty-four episodes after his last appearance.

But, most troubling, is that it’s during these remaining fifty-four episodes that Ross’s second child is born. Not only does Ben never meet his new half-sister on screen, but a meeting between the two of them is never even mentioned. We never learn about if Ben has met his sister, if he likes her, if he is a good older brother. We simply never see him again.

Which raises a serious question: does Ross still see Ben? Sure, he mentions Ben in these last two and a half season, but does he have any role in Ben’s life, on- or off-screen? When he references Ben, is he referencing something that once was, a child he no longer sees or knows?

Think about everything we know about Ross. He’s very jealous. He’s possessive. He’s arguably emotionally abusive. He believes in the friend zone and has symptoms of a Men’s Rights Activist. And as the seasons unfold, narrowing down to the ending where he and Rachel end up ostensibly happy every after, he seems to be coming completely unhinged.

This was before LOTR was cool.
Stop being so condescending, Ross.

Did Ross’s insanity hit a breaking point with his ex-wife? Could she no longer handle his nice guy syndrome and homophobic snickering? Did she decide to take full custody of her son? Did Ross even fight her for Ben, or just let him go, shifting his focus to the new baby he had with the woman of his obsession? He couldn’t even handle his daughter having a male caregiver.

People like to give Ross the benefit of the doubt, wondering if perhaps he was a better father off-screen. Perhaps his children met but the audience never saw. The more likely answer is that he was such a deadbeat father that he completely faded away from his son’s life, pretending to his family and so-called friends that he still saw a boy he barely knew.

Sure, Ross Geller is no Ray Velcoro, but one thing is true: both of them have sons who deserve better.

Not that either of these guys is great with kids.
Not that either of these guys is great with kids.

Let’s hope that Ray, unlike Ross, is able to become a better father before the end of True Detective. (Update: he might have.)

If all of this is too dark of a Friends fan theory for you, you can always check out a redditor’s fan theory about Joey just wanting pancakes. 

Interested in reading some fiction by the author of this article? Check out Books by D. F. Lovett.


  1. uhm… have you ever considered, maybe, the twins who played ben got fed up of being ben and the producers thought re-casting at this point of the story was more prejudicial than not having ben showing up anymore?

    1. Yes, I considered it. But I prefer to take a fan theory approach rather than a “the show got sloppy because of casting reasons” approach. This theory might make Ross a worse person, but it makes Friends a better show.

  2. Well, we all know that Friends is all about a bunch of losers evolving in a big city holding each other’s hand so if one falls the rest of the group is there to pick up. That’s the whole spirit of Friends, that’s why people like it. There is no doubt that each member of Friends taken solely is a pathetic loser :

    Joey : dumb and failed actor,
    Phoebe : a hobo
    Rachel : spoiled brat who doesn’t know anything about life
    Ross : a nerd socially rejected
    Monica : an obese girl taking revenge on humanity
    Chandler : a seriously mentally bruised kid, socially rejected

    so it’s either welcome to the asylum or Friends, where each other learn to improve and harness life in a happy way.

  3. I think you nailed it. In reference to Ross’s relationship with his kids, it’s worth noting that when Rachel is considering moving to France, it’s assumed she will take Emma with her, and Ross will have visits with both Rachel and Emma (i.e., supervised visitation). Further, once Ross finds out about the move, he never once mentions Emma/seeing Emma/custody of Emma, only Rachel does. Ross’s only input, when asked is he okay with the move, is his distress at not seeing *Rachel* every day. Yowza.

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