TV show reunions are tricky. You leave storylines alone, percolating in people’s minds for years, and then you pick them up again and risk undoing all the good folklore that time alone builds around it.
Luckily, the people behind the Friends Reunion episode – called “The One Where They All Get Back Together” – knew this and didn’t mess with the storyline.
The much-anticipated Friends Reunion, which released this evening (NZ time), was a nice trip down memory lane — but it wasn’t, in itself, all that memorable.
The reality is, as long as you kept your expectations low, there wasn’t much room for disappointment. Watching Friends has always been a low-stakes activity. You’re not bound to be all that offended or even shocked by any of it. You’ll have some laughs and carry on with your life, quoting the show without even giving it much thought, not really that fussed either way.
After failing at keeping my expectations low in previous TV series revivals (looking right at you, Gilmore Girls), I’ve learned not to get my hopes up.
My only hope was that this reunion wouldn’t ruin my constant reruns of the show, which I’ve been watching, on and off, for the past 17 years, since the season finale aired – and which I intend to keep on rewatching for years to come, like the TV-show version of a safety blanket or a very relaxing yoga practice (with the added bonus of not actually involving any yoga).
Like it or not (and if you don’t, have fun being wrong, I guess), Friends is one of the greatest pop-culture phenomenons of the past few decades.
Despite being so cringeworthily 90s it hurts, the show has managed to maintain its appeal for multiple generations now, its reruns sometimes taking primetime spots on TV networks across the globe.
The reunion episode is just a chat amongst friends, and it doesn’t need to be more than that anyway. There are some blooper reels, some fairly unexpected revelations (David Schwimmer hated Marcel and he and Jennifer Aniston had a crush on each other), some random celebrity appearances that didn’t really make sense to me but, other than that, it really was just about the six people on that sofa, with their oversized coffee mugs, chatting about whatever.
And it was about each one of us watching, always feeling like the seventh person in the group.
Because of the extra bits in there, the reunion felt a bit scattered and messy at times. I don’t care about David Beckham’s favourite Friends episode and I sure as hell didn’t need to see Justin Bieber – born in 1994! – dressed as a potato. I just wanted to see (my) friends.
But when it was just about the six of them, wandering around the old set, reminiscing about times gone by, it really felt like meeting old friends again.
The celebrity guests took away the feeling of intimacy that is at the heart of the show, by adding an unnecessarily showbizzy tone to the reunion. Sure, I know it’s fiction and these aren’t really my real friends, but did you have to rub it in?
Like many others, I spent most of last year watching old episodes of old shows, soothing my pandemic brain with the safety of the familiar sets and faces, the comfort that comes from knowing every punch line and having no unexpected surprises, at a time when nothing in the world felt familiar or safe.
The reunion shows just how broad an impact this seemingly trivial comedy show has had on so many people’s lives. At one point, there is a series of segments showing people around the world talking about how much the show meant to them. One particular person describes how the show saved their life. The universal appeal of Friends is something not many (if any) sitcoms have been able to replicate since then.
However much I miss the characters and however weird it was to see James Corden talking to people I watched on TV long before he even appeared on my screen, I’m relieved there were no attempts to tie off loose ends with this episode.
The 17-year-old finale of Friends, watched by 52 million people around the world, had a fairly neat and tidy ending. I’m glad they didn’t go down the “where are they now” route with the characters. I don’t want to find out what Chandler did for a living and I definitely don’t want to find out that Rachel really ended up giving up a successful career for that moron Ross. I’m glad some questions remain unanswered.
In the end, the reunion didn’t add a lot to it but also didn’t ruin the whole show for me. And while I probably won’t rewatch this special episode any time soon (if at all), I will not stop rewatching old episodes over and over and over again. In the words of the legendary Phoebe Buffay, “I wish I could, but I don’t want to”.
I guess the big lesson of the episode, not that there has to be any, is what we’ve all known to be true this whole time: Skin drops, bodies age but Friends are forever.
Oh and Ross is a d**khead.
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