Did we need a Friends reunion? Not really. Is the person who convinced Nobel prize laureate Malala Yousafzai to confess to being “a Joey with a hint of Phoebe” actually a genius? Probably. Was this 100-minute tribute to the world’s biggest sitcom as pointless as it was a total joy? Absolutely.
Long rumoured, long delayed by Covid, yet finally here, the Friends reunion answers the question every cast member has been asked since the original series went off the air in 2004: when is Friends going to come back? Of course, Friends could never have come back in its original form, nor as a movie. The show ended perfectly, with newborn babies and a Ross and Rachel reunion tying everything up in a bow. Plus, the entire ensemble moved out of their trademark East Village apartments. What monster would want to see the gang still being ridiculous in their Fifties but in, I don’t know, the Long Island suburbs?
So we have this instead: a fly-on-the-wall documentary slash extended episode of James Corden’s talk show. You can guess which one proves more successful. We see the Friends cast – all seemingly slathered in creosote – gather on recreated versions of the show’s three key sets (the two apartments and trademark coffee shop Central Perk). There’s something a bit eerie and dreamlike about them, as if Freddy Krueger might pop up and transform Joey and Chandler’s barcaloungers into electric chairs.
But the gathering ultimately proves more wistful than ghoulish. All six actors – Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer – are struck with sincere emotion, and express a deep love and respect for one another that is genuinely sweet to watch. There are games, anecdotes, and recreations of famous Friends moments. Montages of old clips are mercifully kept to a minimum.
It’s lovely to spot the actors’ individual relationships to the show that brought them unimaginable fame. Aniston seems to have the deepest emotional attachment to the series, with episode titles and otherwise forgotten plotlines rolling off her tongue as if she secretly runs a Friends fansite. Cox is great with dialogue and the specific inflections of memorable lines. Kudrow, hilariously, seems to have barely watched the show.
Schwimmer comes off like someone whose admiration for the series has grown over time. LeBlanc’s gentle energy – a marked contrast to the loud obliviousness of his most famous character – was revealed to the world via his recent run on Top Gear, but it remains deeply endearing. He lights up when recalling his little girl stumbling across the episode in which Ross gets stuck in his new leather trousers. Perry, who has famously battled his demons, is the most reserved of the six, probably because of the rumoured dental surgery he had right before filming. You leave the reunion just wanting the best for him.
Less successful are the reunion’s more celebrity-filled moments. Corden, who interviews the cast from the famous fountain they danced in for the show’s opening credits, is its Janice figure: an ear-splitting source of cringe everyone seems to be enduring rather than enjoying. He was presumably recruited based on the assumption that the reunion needed a moderator. Truthfully, though, the moments in which the cast just sit around and talk amongst themselves are often filled with far deeper and more introspective exchanges. Of the star cameos, which include David Beckham discussing his love of Monica and a time-wasting fashion show featuring Cara Delevingne dressed up as “the holiday armadillo”, only a “Smelly Cat” duet between Kudrow and Lady Gaga seems to hit the right note of sweet sincerity and nicely oddball weirdness.
Friends: The Reunion doesn’t quite justify its existence, but it still goes down easy. We’re at a moment in pop culture where time seems to bend in on itself with regularity. Every bit of completely middlebrow entertainment from 20 years ago gets spoken about through rose-tinted glasses now, from the internet’s endless fixation on Shrek, to the bizarre craving for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez to get back together. But Friends actually was a big deal. Hell, it still is. We speak like Friends characters, aspire to their lifestyles and deep bonds, and tune into it when we’re feeling blue. It has held us in its clutches since 1994, and has been passed down through the generations like a sacred text.
At one point in the reunion there is a requisite montage of international fans talking about what Friends meant to them. We meet a gay German man with flowing locks like Jesus, “who wanted to have hair like Jennifer Aniston” and found friends in Friends. We meet a Ghanaian woman who says the show brought her out of a deep depression. If this were about any other bit of popular entertainment, it might come off a tad hyperbolic. Here though? You believe every word.
Watch Friends: The Reunion on Sky One and streaming service NOW from Thursday 27 May
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