To some of you, the idea of not seeing five of your ex-colleagues for 17 years will sound… well, like heaven actually. But things work a little differently in Hollywood, where the endless schmoozing, wining and dining means you’re never more than one cocktail party away from running into an old work buddy. The cast of Friends have seen each other since the final episode aired in 2004, though never all at once. That’s where The Reunion comes in.
Postponed, pushed back and delayed for what feels like forever, the special TV event finally catches up Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe over 104 minutes of teary hugs, scene reenactments, sit-down interviews and general chitchat. It begins with each of the six actors (all bar Lisa Kudrow looking every bit of their 50-odd years) turning up at the old HQ, legendary sets re-erected as if nothing has changed. David Schwimmer (who’s probably worked the least since the show ended) arrives first, followed by Kudrow (a regular fixture on telly), Jennifer Aniston (the most famous of the six), Matt LeBlanc (the only one to get his own spinoff, Joey), Courtney Cox (she fronted the sitcom Cougar Town for 102 episodes), and Matthew Perry (whose post-Friends life has been blighted by drug and alcohol problems, though these are never mentioned in the special). Together, they explore the different apartments, remembering funny moments and noticing slight differences – like a wooden post that was removed after the first season but has now returned. It’s all quite awkward at first and you start to wonder why they might not have at least got dinner together in the past decade and a half. But they soon loosen up, and a rebooted version of Ross’s quiz puts them back in their old roles.
The rest of the film is framed around a quasi-chat show presented by James Corden, with a live, socially-distanced audience. Old cast members come and go and A-list fans (Justin Bieber in Ross’s ‘Spudnik’ Halloween costume, Lady Gaga singing ‘Smelly Cat’, Kit Harington remembering his fave episode) drop in. In-between, we jump back to the sets where the group read scripts from classic scenes and watch rare backstage footage on the sofa.
For the most part, it’s a shameless nostalgia fest with little point or purpose. Yet amid the oh-so-carefully planned set pieces are a few honest bits that fans will love. Perry’s fond glances at LeBlanc (“Ah Matty it’s good to see you”) and everyone squealing at an old clip of Joey dislocating his shoulder make them feel like a gang again. While a bold question from Corden about who banged who during filming throws up a deliciously awkward exchange between Schwimmer and Aniston. Perhaps Friends: The Reunion would’ve featured more of these if the cast hadn’t been so involved with production. As it is, everything has a polished sheen that only comes from months of PR emails demanding this or that subject not be broached.
More interesting are the sequences not involving the actors at all. One montage flicks across the globe, documenting stories of fans from as far afield as South Africa and India. We hear a gay Mexican woman who found love through the fandom. A German man who wanted “hair like Jennifer Aniston” tells how the sitcom comforted him. In Ghana, one woman reveals watching Friends brought her out of depression. Coordinated though these clips are, it’s hard to deny the series’ monumental impact and its power for creating joy. These stories are worth far more than LeBlanc donning 24 shirts at once and bellowing “could I BE wearing anymore clothes” at a crowd of masked spectators.
That said, Friends always had one eye on keeping fans happy – and the emotional finale made sure to give long-time viewers what they wanted. Ross ended up with Rachel, Chandler and Monica got married, while Phoebe and Joey earned their happy endings too. The Reunion‘s closing minutes are equally poignant, building up to another tear-stained goodbye – and Cox promising (with emphasis) that this is indeed the final on-screen Friends farewell. Thankfully a dinner date is mooted, as long as it’s away from the cameras. Can someone book a table for 17 years’ time?
‘Friends: The Reunion’ airs on Sky One and NOW in the UK from May 27