For a show that was always very clear about who it was for and what it was about, The Friends Reunion (which premiered last night on HBO Max) was pretty all over the place. There was the candid walk-thru by cast members on the old set, a sit-down live talk show thing with host James Corden, clips of fans from around the world talking about the show’s impact, famous people (Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber!) and co-star reflections, a game night memory test with the guys against the gals, a table read-thru of a couple old episodes, and even a fashion show. It was weird and fun but some segments definitely worked better than others.
Friends ended 17 years ago and ran for 10 years (making it 27 years old). I’m the same age as most of the cast are now, and I watched it every week with my own roommates at the time, so it was relatable to some degree. As creator Marta Kauffman shares in the special, the comedy aimed to capture young adulthood and that time in your life when your friends are your family. Did it reflect me and my crew? Not really. It was in New York and the gang could actually afford apartments in Manhattan without having to turn the living room into another bedroom. Everyone was white, straight, cute and reasonably well-adjusted/problem-free. Okay, Phoebe was a wackjob, Monica had OCD, Ross had ADD and probably depression, Rachel was a narcissist, Joey was a fuckboy and Chandler was a dick – but they were lovable at the same time (and they clearly loved each other) and that made all the difference. Just like it does in real life.
The reunion piled on the praise to an almost embarrassing level and I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that it made me wonder if the show really deserved it. Was it I Love Lucy, Cheers, Seinfeld great? Never thought so. Unlike some of the celeb fans on the show who shared that they regularly watch syndicated repeats, I never have. I won’t change the channel if the other aforementioned three shows are on, but Friends never felt classic in the same way, it actually felt really dated.
Still, the table read-thru of the Ross and Rachel first kiss episode and the ugly naked guy episode, plus the dissection of the couch “pivot” episode (which had me cackling, again) confirmed that yes, these actors – Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer – were and still are damn good, and that the writing was clever, sexy and indeed, timeless-funny most of the time. Everything on Friends just clicked and guest star Reese Witherspoon says, “each character is so distinct that they could hold a television show all by themselves.” In this way it is a lot like Cheers and Seinfeld, a potent ensemble with edge (re-watching a few episodes last night after the special, I realized just how adult the humor could be, especially for ’90s network television).
Last night’s love-fest glossed over a lot, though. The lack of diversity, Monica’s problematic fat suit, and Matthew Perry’s past – hopefully not present – drug problems (social media has been abuzz with speculation after he slurred a bit in the teaser last week; he seemed fine on the special, if a little low-energy).
The reunion’s everything-and-Monica’s-kitchen-sink adulation was made for Friends super-duper fans/stans, but it’s hard to believe that anyone (especially David Beckham, who kisses major arse here) is still this passionate about the show today. There’s simply too much good stuff out there to give time to; stuff that’s fresher, wittier and cooler. A show about privileged NYC quasi-hipsters from the ’90s can still be funny, but social media and streaming TV have changed things, even if Botox makes everyone look like it hasn’t. And please: if anyone from the show is reading this, the reunion was nice, but no one needs a reboot, remake, revamp, re-imagining or regurgitative next generation Friends project, at least not for a while. If the show has to be “on a break,” it should be a long one, like at least 17 more years.