One of the things that made Friends such a magnetic, far-reaching show was its tight, well-established circle of protagonists. While Friends was never as good at getting over side characters and using them effectively to shine the core cast as Seinfeld or The Simpsons at their respective peaks, the show did use a rotating door of boyfriends and girlfriends to help the audience see the titular friends in new light and provide canvasses for their quirks to play upon.
Perhaps the most memorable of all the ancillary partners on Friends was Janice, the sometimes-girlfriend, sometimes-antagonist of lovable sad sack Chandler Bing. While Janice was more a storytelling device than a fully-formed character, she was nevertheless a key part of teaching the audience who exactly Chandler was in the first few seasons of the show. In fact, looking back at the entirety of Friends, Janice had a short, hot run as the show’s number one heel.
The fundamental job of any heel is to provide the audience with someone they want to see their hero overcome, and the desired outcome of any heated angle is to convince fans that the babyface has grown and either revealed a new aspect of his or her personality or overcome a previously-established weakness. Through that lens, the relationship with Janice was a good thing for the Chandler character… for a while.
At first, Janice “got the heat” on Chandler, perhaps the purest babyface of the show, by constantly subjecting him to her geographically and ethnically stereotypical antics1. She was annoying and hen-pecking and everything that you hate about that partner your one friend has. At the same time, however, it was made very clear that Chandler did in fact love Janice, which helped lay bare his flaws: loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, and a willingness to settle for less than he deserved. She simultaneously made you feel sorry for and respect Chandler.
But a little bit of intensely stereotypical, two-dimensional character goes a long way, and before long, Janice’s signature catchphrase of “Oh my gawd!” became fingernails on the chalkboard to many fans of the show as well as innocent workers in lunchrooms around the country, who were subjected to coworkers putting on their best Fran Drescher accent2 and trying to perform some of their favorite laugh lines from the show. Suddenly, someone who had been an effective character was being over-pushed and over-exposed. She had outlived her usefulness, her entertainment value, and her welcome. The useful heat Janice could get on Chandler to enhance his character was gone and had been replaced with Go Away Heat.
Go Away Heat, also known as “bad heat” or, rather cruelly, “X-Pac Heat,” is the ultimate sign that your heel is too detestable to continue to elevate your babyface. When a character crosses over into getting Go Away Heat, the fans are no longer interested in tuning in hoping the heel will get their comeuppance, they are only tuning in with one eye shut, hoping not to see that person at all; and if a show or promotion doesn’t straighten out their writing, they could stop tuning in completely.
Whether it’s Janice or Right to Censor, bad heat can happen to good heels. A few missteps in writing or presentation can completely undermine the usefulness of an antagonist, and Go Away Heat is a tough stink to get off of a character. The ability to generate and withstand big heat is what makes a heel great, but flying just too close to the sun only leads to a tragic fall.