Yes, you heard that right: the Gavin & Stacey star, who is also host of The Late Late Show in the US, is set to interview the original cast of the hit 1990s sitcom for a one-off reunion special on 27 May – and many on social media are not happy. One Twitter user summed up the bulk of feeling with the frank: “James Corden adding the Friends reunion to the list of things he’s ruined with his mere presence.”
Another wrote: “Sorry but I literally despise Corden for worming his way into the Friends reunion – stop needing to be everywhere.” Harsh, but who can blame them? For one, it’s James Corden, and for two, it’s Friends. I honestly can’t imagine anything worse.
It’s not that I have anything against Corden personally; I’ve never met him, and I’m sure he’s a very nice chap (and far less irritating to me) when he’s at home with his family. I’m confident he’s a great dad, a loving husband and that mate you have that gets on your nerves, but always has your back; the one you can’t imagine not being friends with because you’re just so used to him. I watched Gavin & Stacey, like everybody else, and enjoyed his hapless role as Smithy, but it was enough to make me feel like I’d had my fill of James Corden, forever. Not, seemingly, for HBO.
The thing about Corden isn’t just that he has absolutely nothing to do with Friends in the first place – some on Twitter suggested Paul Rudd would be a better fit, and they’re right – but it’s also that he’s so very James Corden. He’s a huge personality, a swallower of space and air and conversation; the quintessential caricature of the British public school drama club, which performs endlessly, and it’s always Doctor Faustus.
He’s the guy with a big voice and a quippy dig, the one who gets “matey” with the bouncer when you’re queuing for a club; the one who puts something crap on the jukebox and insists on singing along (and it’s always Robbie Williams); the one who won’t take the hint and go home even when the party has finished – even when you’ve turned the lights on and chucked everybody else out and are in your PJs, desperate for bed; James Corden is still there, pouring himself a rum and asking, “who’s up for more bants?”
He’s gone down to mixed reviews in the US, to little wonder, because he exhibits the type of Englishness you find in Enid Blyton novels: the cousin called Dick who comes to stay for the summer and messes up your room and whose fingers are always sticky because he’s sneaked some of the treacle tart left in the kitchen while you’re off exploring the Enchanted Wood. He has classic “rugby boy” swagger, which gives me flashbacks to university in Wales – where the rugby team were a permanent fixture in the student union, often (tastelessly) in drag; slapping each other on the back and chanting “chug chug chug” and challenging each other to see how many pound coins they could fit in their foreskins.
Corden is a “national treasure” in the same way that Brian Blessed is a national treasure; and it makes me wonder if that’s what we call the people who shout loudest and who are on everything, on every screen, in every pantomime and every Christmas special and New Year panel show, all of the time; a little like a recurring dream that you want to wake up from – but can’t. That’s James Corden.
It gave us a little breathing room, having him shipped over to America for a new life as chat show host on a channel you can only get if you have a VPN (which I don’t, thank God) but now we can’t avoid him because he’s infiltrating the show we all loved in the 1990s.
And no matter how tired Friends is now; no matter how badly the jokes have dated, no matter how much it skates dangerously close to being homophobic and transphobic and makes “fat” jokes and makes light of conditions like OCD; for some reason people still seem to love it and happily say it’s their “favourite show” and still watch it, on repeat, even though there’s so much great TV out there (seriously, hasn’t anyone seen Succession?). See, the thing is, we know how bad it is, really, but we all want to see what the vibe is like 20 years on anyway, don’t we?
And that’s what really bugs me: myself, because I know I am going to want to watch the Friends reunion, even though I despise myself for it; even though my heart sinks the moment I see someone mention it in their dating profile, and I swipe left immediately because even though I loved Friends in 1996 like everybody else (I still remember being at a house party with my school friends and the entire party stopping so we could crowd around someone’s mum’s telly and roar and sigh and swoon as Ross kissed Rachel) it should have stayed in 1996, where it belonged. We’ve moved on, now. James Corden should move on, too.
You know it, I know it, we all know it: I’m going to watch the Friends reunion on 27 May, even though it’s Friends and it’s got James Corden in it. And yes, I hate myself – and you should too.
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