After years of fans clamoring for more, the Friends finally had their reunion special (aptly titled The One Where They Get Back Together, in their signature style), yet it’s not in the way fans might have expected.
The HBO special chose to forego what most fans expected, a reunion episode/film that caught up with the titular friends’ lives over 15 years after the sitcom’s finale in 2004, and instead went for the special retrospective (a la recent examples such as A Walton’s Family Reunion, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Reunion just last year).
While this may disappoint some, it was by far the best approach to take, for it would have been an impossible undertaking to try and capture the same magic the original 10 seasons had. The cast and creators are even asked about this during the special, and while the creators’ answer that they’d need to unravel the happy ending to create more stories for the main cast also rings true, it’s Phoebe actress Lisa Kudrow’s response—“At my age, to be saying ‘floopy’? Stop, you have to grow up”—that hits the nail on the head on why Friends can’t be revisited other than through retrospectives. (‘Friends’ ran from 1994 to its final episode, May 6, 2004.)
And boy, is this retrospective well-produced. It’s spectacular, revealing—but fundamentally just an intimate sit-down with the cast. It was much more than just reliving the sitcom’s greatest hits.
Fans, for the first time, got to learn more about the creative process that went into the series, both behind and in front of the camera. The casting process was rich with laughs and insight, and there were backstories on how they developed certain plot lines, as well as interesting anecdotes about on-set hijinks and generally all the stuff that went wrong.
The David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston real-life infatuation story (which was undoubtedly planted in the interview by one of the producers) is going to be what gets the headlines, but what I found more fascinating were the stories of Matthew Perry, Matt Le Blanc, and Lisa Kudrow about what it was actually like to be the friends and have to watch yourself portray those characters on the biggest show on television, while also only being able to depend on any of the other five for support and companionship.
The celebrity cameos were thankfully restrained, besides the gratuitous Lady Gaga sequence
The cameos by the former supporting cast were short-lived but surprisingly also very insightful given the screen time they had. The fans are told an anecdote about the origin of the infamous “Janice” laugh, which is almost enough to make up for the lack of a Paul Rudd cameo.
Meanwhile, the celebrity cameos were thankfully restrained, besides the gratuitous Lady Gaga sequence. It was nice that it was literally just having a celebrity gush about how Friends made an impact on him or her, and not so much a forced interaction between the main cast and the celebrity. The BTS clip, for example, is just a fraction of the larger sequence of “how Friends changed the lives of millions of people around the world.”
I have always been dubious of attempts to get Friends ‘cancelled’ within pop culture…
That’s because at this point, it’s impossible to separate Friends, the sitcom, from the fans who have only strengthened its staying power through the years since its finale. You can’t have a retrospective on Friends without mentioning the fans the world over who famously learned how to speak English by just watching the sitcom regularly, those who learned how to socialize through Friends, and most importantly, who put Friends on after a tough day to have people who would be there for them. It’s rightfully a retrospective on the staying power of Friends.
This is perhaps the reason I have always been very dubious of attempts to get Friends “cancelled” within pop culture. There have been many who are calling out Friends for the toxic masculinity and sexism of the three male leads (particularly Ross), the depiction of LGBTQ+ people, the predominantly white cast, Fat Monica—you get the picture.
While I’m glad these things are being noted by audiences, a lot of these criticisms never connected with me on the subject of Friends, as most cases I’ve come across tend to be just netizens using it as a “gotcha!”, as if discovering the most popular sitcom was “bad, actually.” It just rings a little disingenuous most times, especially with something so clearly juvenile and exaggerated.
Also, come on, if Ross isn’t one of your faves by the end of the reunion, I don’t know what to tell you. David Schwimmer clearly came ready to play at the table reads and with his behind-the-scenes knowledge and trivia, while mostly everyone else simply looked happy to be there.
This is all to say that, yes, this is not the Friends reunion most people initially expected, but it is the Friends reunion that feels most rewarding. Whether you’re someone who finished watching Friends 17 years ago or 17 hours ago, you’re going to want to start binge-watching the early episodes.
The Friends Reunion is now streaming on HBO Go.