It’s finally here: the long-promised, semi-delayed Friends reunion is now available on Sky and NOW in the UK, HBO Max in the US. Boldly defying the recent revive-everything trend, this isn’t a new episode of the classic sitcom Friends, set 17 years after the 2004 finale. It’s the kind of old-fashioned interviews-and-clips special that used to periodically turn up on old-fashioned network television (usually on some kind of anniversary more round-numbered than 17). Upfront, onscreen text explains that the six core members of the cast – Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, and Matthew Perry – have been in a room together only once since the end of the series. Until now! Here are some highlights from Friends: The Reunion.
The one where Ross is the first to arrive
The strangest conceit of the special is that Warner Bros. has rebuilt all of the old, familiar Friends sets so that the cast can walk back into the familiar environment and be struck, reality-show-style, by the surreal nostalgia. Someone has to show up first, and it makes sense that David Schwimmer, the guy who played fussbudget Ross, is the most punctual. Later, answering an audience question about bad experiences on the show, Schwimmer hits ‘Full Ross Intensity’ talking about how much he hated working with Marcel the Monkey in the show’s first season. Schwimmer has discussed these difficulties before, but hearing him go into full, disgusted detail about the monkey eating grubs in between takes and then grabbing his hair is one of the funniest moments of the special – and his straight-faced fixation reveals more of later-period Ross than the generally amiable performer lets show.
How old will it make you feel? For a moment, not especially; Schwimmer’s animus is downright youthful.
The one where Rachel feels her feelings
Jennifer Aniston has moved on to the most prominent post-Friends career of the cast; she’s also the most visibly moved to be back on the old rebuilt sets, immediately tearing up as she sees her old castmates. Host James Corden also pries out a confession: Aniston and Schwimmer had real-life feelings for each other early in the show’s run, but they were channeled into Ross and Rachel’s chemistry.
How old will it make you feel? Like seeing an old high school crush (or the class couple) at a 20-year reunion.
The one where Joey can pick out his hand twin
One of the reunion special’s best ideas involves a homage to ‘The One with the Embryos’, also known as the episode that pits Monica and Rachel against Joey and Chandler for a personal-trivia contest. In this version, the actors answer Friends trivia, and the set-ups are sometimes a bit more elaborate – including Matt LeBlanc being asked to identify Thomas Lennon, the comic actor who played Joey’s “identical hand twin”, from a hands-only lineup. Spoiler: He aces it!
How old will it make you feel? Well, if you can remember Friends arcana at least as well as the stars, you’ll feel like you’ve still got it. If you find yourself forgetting details, maybe not.
The one where Chandler is a baggage handler in far-future Los Angeles
Behind-the-scenes segments discuss some of the actors’ pre-Friends commitments, including a clip from L.A.X. 2194, a sitcom pilot co-starring Matthew Perry, about a group of baggage handlers at a futuristic version of the Los Angeles airport, complete with alien makeup (on another character, not Perry; he pretty much looks like Chandler with slicked-back hair). Perry was initially unable to audition for Friends because he was shooting this show, which luckily did not go forward. If that nonetheless whetted your appetite for more, there’s a minute-long promotion on YouTube.
How old will it make you feel? Maybe a little, knowing that we’re 17 years closer to the year 2194 with no futuristic baggage-handling methods in sight.
The one where Phoebe hasn’t missed a step
One of the segments features the cast reading through a few pivotal episodes, including ‘The One Where Everyone Finds Out’ (referring to the revelation that Monica and Chandler have been secretly dating) – specifically the scene where Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe spots her friends undressing each other from a neighbouring apartment window. The footage is intercut with clips from the old scene, and while all of the performers still know their way around a funny line-reading, Kudrow is the one who kills it the hardest with her heedless screaming of “MY EYES!!” It’s a simple gesture that’s more fun than the weird (if sweet) walk-on where Kudrow and Lady Gaga duet on ‘Smelly Cat’. Kudrow didn’t always get the heaviest material on Friends, but this special (along with her work in The Opposite of Sex, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, and The Comeback) reminds us that she might be the best actor of the bunch.
How old will it make you feel? It really depends on how good you are at things you used to do 20 years ago.
The one where Monica ends it
At the very end of the special, after the cast members swat away the notion of the kinds of reunion shows or movies that so many other hit shows of the past 30 years have tried out, Courteney Cox tearfully but steadfastly supposes that this reunion is probably it: “This will be the last time that we’re ever asked about the show as a group… we’re not gonna do this again in 15 more years.”
How old will it make you feel? Quite old, perhaps even aware of your own mortality, but probably not as old as the 2038 reunion will make you feel!