Seventeen years after the finale aired, the six stars of “Friends” came together for a long-awaited reunion that premiered on HBOMax. The cast of the iconic sitcom met on the set of their show to reminisce about the ten seasons that kick-started their careers. The special is nearly two hours of nostalgia, filled with table reads, interviews, and a few inside-scoop stories from filming the show.
The cast first reunites on a recreation of the classic Friends sets. There are lots of tears as they tell stories about the set, while walking around in disbelief. Lisa Kudrow talks about a clock she took home from the original set and Matt Leblanc remembers the time he erased lines that Courtney Cox had written on the kitchen table. Their emotional responses and reminiscing stories set an almost somber tone over the reunion.
Interspersed throughout the special is an interview with the cast, led by James Corden. Because of his easy going nature, Corden is able to prompt the cast members to talk about a few things the audience wants to hear the most. I found the most interesting part to be when Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer revealed that they had feelings for each other during the first season’s filming. For hardcore fans of the show, this is a gratifying revelation. Schwimmer and Aniston’s characters, Ross and Rachel, were the classic will they/won’t they couple throughout all ten seasons. The fact that their onscreen chemistry has some truth to it is an exciting discovery.
But the real highlights to me were when we got to see genuine interactions between the cast. At one point during their outdoor interview with Corden, a bug lands on Kudrow. She freaks out, and everyone laughs. Matthew Perry and Schwimmer help her get the bug off while teasing her reaction. As someone who watched the show way after it aired, I, and a whole generation of new viewers, never got to see those kinds of moments between cast members the way that older audiences did. It was fun to watch their banter and genuine love and care for each other in present times.
At one point, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, the creators of Friends, go through each cast member and discuss the process it took to find the right actor for each role. They explain how because Friends was an ensemble show with no one main lead, a novelty at the time, each character had to be cast perfectly. At times the segment felt repetitive seeing as almost every character’s casting process was pretty similar, but it was still interesting to watch. A lot of the information Kauffman and Crane shared may have been common knowledge to those who watched the show when it aired, but the newer generation may not have known some of those details. It provided a fresh perspective of the characters and actors, and why and how they were chosen to be a part of the show.
The celebrity cameos were a mixed bag. I enjoyed the ones that were actually relevant to the show, such as past guest stars. Tom Sellek, who played Monica’s boyfriend, Richard, and Maggie Wheeler, who perfected the role of Chandler’s annoying girlfriend, Janice, appeared for short, but entertaining, cameos. Wheeler gave a nasal rendition of her iconic line “Oh. My. God!” while Sellek asked a throwback trivia question to the cast about Chandler’s job, the same question that made Rachel and Monica lose their apartment to Chandler and Joey. However, the interviews and cameos with celebrities who have no relevance to the show, such as Mindy Kaling, David Beckham and Malala seemed out of place, unnecessary and even boring.
To me, Friends is a comfort show and I think a lot of people feel the same. It’s the kind of thing you put on because you need something easy and fun to watch. Maybe you laugh, maybe you don’t, but a lot of the time it can bring you a sense of warmth. The reunion doesn’t quite capture that comfort and ease, but it definitely brings nostalgia. They knew exactly which scenes and classic moments would tug at the heartstrings of their audiences. The special is enjoyable for devoted fans of the show, but anyone with less investment may not feel the same.