After a year-long delay and even a hoax of a movie, fans of the TV sitcom of the 90s and early 2000s FRIENDS finally got the reunion show they were teased almost relentlessly with. The will-it-happen-will-it-not segment aired on HBO Max as a one hour and 40 minute special that saw the reuniting of the six iconic cast members – Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry – along with a few more surprise names thrown in for good measure
As expected, there were polar camps who felt very different things about the reunion show, beginning with confusion as to what the show will be – is it a throwback documentary or a full scripted episode charting how the Friends have grown?
Short answer: it was filmed as a talk show, one hosted by James Corden. It is, however, interspersed with scenes of the cast doing readings of scripts from the most iconic scenes, playing the trivia game similar to the one that lost Rachel and Monica their apartment to the boys as well as interview snippets from fans around the world, some famous (like David Beckham and BTS) to everyday viewers whose lives FRIENDS impacted in various ways. The creators of the show David Crane and Martha Kauffman were also interviewed on the origins, inspirations and processes of making it the success it is while other actors who played supporting characters like Gunther (James Michael Tyler), Janice (Maggie Wheeler) and Judy and Jack Geller (Christine Pickles and Elliott Gould respectively) also got brief spotlight for their parts.
It ended with a high octave fashion show walked by names like Cara Delevingne, Cindy Crawford, and Justin Bieber modelling the most iconic outfits from the show, ranging from Rachel’s pink monstrosity of a tulle and chiffon bridesmaid dress to Ross’ Holiday Armadillo.
For a show that garnered as much acclaim, revere and as huge a fanbase as it did, it’s a given that the reception to a reunion show will have equally varied response. Here we break down the good, the bad and most importantly, the nostalgic.
The opening of the segment proves a powerful one with the cast one by one arriving at the old set, each reminiscing how it has changed and not at all. It was a nice insight into what went on behind the scenes from the beam that was removed halfway through because it too frequently got in the way to how Cox often hid scripts in the basket of apples on Monica’s dining table. The tour of the two apartments and the cast recalling their favourite memories while the producers cleverly flashed between the respective episodes of said memories proved a solid formula that invoked goosebumps – and maybe even tears – for fans who have rewatched the episodes multiple times.
The reading of the script is also a nice touch, showing us just how the cast has not changed when it comes to projecting and bringing to life the characters that have made their careers. Kudrow’s exclamations of “Oh!” still sounds exactly like Phoebe’s and LeBlanc’s “How you doin’?” still has the likes of Reese Witherspoon (who plays Rachel’s sister Jill) blushing. Best of all, it shows just how much each actor poured into their character – on paper, much of the script read flat and mundane but said in their unique ways, the jokes jump from the pages and we’re brought back to episodes that will never be forgotten. You and I both remember the ‘pivot’ episode.
The game was a fun candid way to see the real interaction still retained between the cast after all these years. It broke the ice easy enough but, more importantly, put the actors on the spot in recalling the important parts of the show, like what was Chandler’s job and the name of the grumpy upstairs neighbour who complained about them ever so frequently.
The good: It’s a beautiful reunion of the cast who became real friends and who made FRIENDS what it is.
Having watched it as a fan, the entire segment felt more like a reunion of the cast than an actual reunion of FRIENDS with its six characters. It would have been nice to see Rachel, Monica, Ross, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey instead of Jennifer, Courtney, David, Matthew, Lisa and Matt, if you get our drift.
Towards the end of the talkshow, Corden did ask the cast what they felt their characters would have gone on to do and that’s the closest we got to having a small window into what our favourite gang of Friends got up to – Ross and Rachel married with a few kids, Monica still being high-strung and actively involved in her children’s school activities and PTA, Phoebe, married to Mike and championing her children to be proud to be different and Joey opening a sandwich shop. As much as it would be nice to see an episode that solidifies all these theories, we’re unlikely to ever see it as cast, producers and writers have all unanimously agreed that everyone got tidy little endings that wrapped up neat – to write a sequel would mean unravelling that and the picture perfect ending that everyone’s happy with right now.
The bad: Where was Paul Rudd in all this?
The one really good thing about this open and truthful talk show arrangement is that it allows us delve into the minds of the people who made our favourite characters. We got to learn about how Perry was insecure at each filming, feeling more crushed than was necessary each time the audience didn’t laugh when he delivered a joke. We discovered how LeBlanc couldn’t watch himself in any of the episodes, being unable to buy his own acting on screen.
The bit that really got to everyone was Aniston and Schwimmer’s confession that they both had a crush on each other throughout filming but couldn’t do anything about it because they were consistently in separate relationships. Instead, they channeled all their adoration for each other into Rachel and Ross and gave us one of the most iconic couples in television history.
The nostalgic: We didn’t get to revisit our favourite group of friends, but we got to enter the psyches and nostalgia of the actors who made them, in which they will be forever immortalised in the prime of their lives (and the peak of our memories). That is a lot more valuable than letting reality and what-could-have-beens get in the way.
(Photos: Warner Bros)