There has never been a stronger demand for a reunion of any television show or movie's cast than the one for Friends. But then, few television shows or movies haven’t seen such success either. Host James Corden tells the six central cast members that their show has been watched more than 100 billion times across all platforms at one point in the reunion episode. The number sets their head spinning.
The episode is essentially just a long ballad in their honor. The first scene shows them, now in their 50s, walking back on the recreated sets, with tears in their eyes almost instantly. They touch the couches, share hugs, and revisit memories they shared on the sets in their 20s. The initial hugs may seem awkward -- Lisa seems even less like Phoebe when you see her in a crisp black shirt and without her usual Luna Lovegood air, Matthew seems to be trying to speak as little as possible. But as soon as David breaks out the trivia game, Courteney gets her Monica face on, Lisa screams as a bug flies in her hair and Matthew finds a sarcastic joke to wedge in, you know you are back in the 90s again.
The audience for Friends spans a wide age range and reaches across continents, and the reunion embraces that in a way that keeps it from feeling like an attempt to wallow in Gen X’s version of the good ol’ days. Fans from various countries pay tribute to the series, and some surprising guest stars show up to honor its legacy. As reunions go, the whole thing is warm, funny, entertaining, and a little too treacly at times — but that’s how Friends was, too, so it feels right.
When most of us say we’d love to see a specific TV show come back, what we mean is that we want to see the characters together again and spend time in their company. Friends: The Reunion scratches that itch in a way that another episode or a Friends follow-up movie probably would not. This Central Perk homecoming gives everyone the space to revel in their adoration of one of the most successful sitcoms ever made without tacking on any new story or codas that would alter its place in the culture. Some of the best moments in it are the ones that capture the six stars hanging out and reminiscing in what seems to be an unscripted context.
The friends turn on the familiar charm in seconds, that it’s hard to believe they have been away for so long. Be it participating in a trivia quiz inspired by The One With the Embryos, emotionally remembering the finale and farewells from 2004, or indulging in impromptu script-reading sessions (watch out for Schwimmer and Aniston take us back to Ross and Rachel’s first kiss), their chemistry and camaraderie hits the roof. It is so natural that it’s easy to understand why audiences felt like they were one among them.
The cast is supplemented by countless celebrity cameos and thankfully, that's just what they are. No one tries to be the star. Lady Gaga with her rendition of Smelly Cat even manages to soften our hearts as she thanks Lisa for what she has represented for the kids who just couldn't 'fit in'. Major stars such as Justin Bieber, Cara Delevigne, and Cindy Crawford make small appearances and even those who joined in through video messages Reese Witherspoon, David Beckham, Kit Harrington, BTS appear to be such ardent fans of the show that their testimonies do not seem scripted.
The funniest portions are when they laugh themselves to tears while watching unseen bloopers and behind-the-scenes footage, though Schwimmer revealing that he hated acting with Marcel the Monkey in response to a fan question is a hoot as well.
There’s also a great montage of Friends superfans in countries across the world, from Ghana to India, reminiscing on how the show helped them overcome depression or even suicidal thoughts, which despite being a tad schmaltzy, brings to mind the first time you discovered the show as a teen — or adult — and made it your comfort watch of choice.
Actors who played the likes of Janice, Richard, Gunther, and more make blink-and-you-miss-it appearances, LeBlanc, in classic Joey-style, steals the scene on more than one occasion, everyone collectively agrees that Lisa Kudrow has the most infectious laugh.
The energy’s just different when the actors are alone together. As Schwimmer noted, nobody else can fully appreciate what they went through, and that’s palpable throughout the special. There’s an ease and candor among them that largely goes away when they’re over by the fountain. Perry in particular comes across as fairly raw and worn when he’s just with his old pals — alluding frequently to how desperately he needed the laughter of the studio audience — and is performing for the crowd and Corden. There’s one conversation involving Schwimmer and Aniston that happens in both the public and more private settings of the special, and the private one is far more illuminating in what’s said, and how.
The 110-minute runtime of Friends: The Reunion felt like both a regular episode of the sitcom and 10 years of it compressed into one. It took us through every emotion that the show or any of its episodes did — there was camaraderie, interminable joy, and understated sadness. But this time, another friend was sitting in the corner of the room, just smiling at us. It was nostalgia. The fact that we are privy to every memory they discuss on the show is consolation enough that they were not hanging out without us. But what they do share exclusively, as Schwimmer points out, are the feelings they experienced when they were growing along with the show. "You know, our families were very supportive and they were always with us. But only the six of us know exactly what we were going through. There's no one else who can relate to that feeling," Schwimmer says, as the others nod along. We go behind-the-scenes and learn how LeBlanc always trips on his mark (quite the opposite of missing it, eh?); how Kudrow's full-bodied laughter rocked the sets (she's still got it); how Perry was perennially nervous that his jokes wouldn't land with the live audience; how on the contrary Cox savored the feeling of "They laughed at this? Wait till what comes next"; Friends creators Martha Kauffman and David Crane admitting that the house was divided on a Ross-Rachel reunion in the finale but they decided they had to give the audience what they had been waiting for for 10 years.
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