Now that it is out in the world, it’s clear that the much-heralded Friends reunion is actually several shows in one. It’s a clip show, it’s an interview show, it’s a celebrity talking heads show. And, as you’d expect from a format this muddled, some of it worked better than others. For every moment that managed to be genuinely touching, there was another where it felt like everyone was simply letting the clock run out. Perhaps the best way to approach this is to break the reunion down into its constituent parts, from most to least successful. Beware: here be spoilers.
The Schwimmer/Aniston crush
In what at times felt like a punishingly long recap of things everybody already knew, the revelation – apparently unearthed here for the first time – that David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston battled with debilitating yet unconsummated crushes on each other felt like actual news. Their bashful reminiscences, accompanied by behind-the-scenes footage of them flirting like actual mad with each other, were unbearably sweet. The Ross/Rachel storyline was done to death on Friends, and inspired a wealth of imitators, so it’s lovely to know that it was rooted in something approximating truth.
The creator talking heads
It’s weird, given that Friends was such a global phenomenon, that so much attention was paid to the cast, rather than the people who actually made it. Parts of the reunion redressed the balance, with David Crane and Marta Kauffman appearing in little talking head segments to explain how the show came together, as well as the challenges of casting and producing it. If you’re interested in television, this was the most valuable segment. If you aren’t, and just wanted to watch people you recognise from TV crying at each other, then probably less so.
The cast reunion, backstage
The backstage footage of the Friends cast wandering around their recreated sets, sharing private little in-jokes, was probably the reunion that most people wanted to see. Not only did it show us the dynamic that the cast shared – with Schwimmer as the leader, LeBlanc as the low-energy joker and Aniston as the quick-to-cry heart – but it felt like eavesdropping on a group of acquaintances. True, it got a bit sappy towards the end; I’m not sure anybody needed the climactic weep-reel soundtracked by what can only be described as Friends Gone In Memoriam. But at least it felt insightful.
Remember that episode of Friends where Ross quizzed the friends about each other? This was a present-day recreation of that, with Schwimmer gamely acting as host in a segment that primarily existed to give Tom Selleck a cameo and Thomas Lennon whatever two levels less than a cameo is.
In which the cast of Friends sat around a table and read three scenes from Friends together so faithfully that it made you wish you were just watching an episode of Friends. This segment would have worked better if it was just an episode of Friends.
Here’s where we start getting into filler. There was a bit in the reunion where the cast of Friends watched some bloopers from Friends. I’m 90% sure that all the actual bloopers have been on DVD extras and YouTube for several years now and, although it was fun to see the cast ultimately Gogglebox themselves, there was little of value here.
The Friends reunion was a piece of entertainment made in 2021, so it goes without saying that James Corden was going to shoehorn himself in there one way or another. Little did we know, however, that he was going to be so prominent. Even though he was outnumbered six to one, Corden still managed to out-talk everyone else on stage without ever really saying anything. This was less an interview and more an extended platitude contest, with one question – “Who had the loudest laugh?” – causing me to groan in actual agony.
Lots to unpack here, and all of it dismal. Did you know that Kit Harington sees himself as a Monica? Did you know that David Beckham also sees himself as a Monica? Did you know that the actor who played Mr Heckles was going to cameo, but not before suffering the indignation of realising that the entire primary cast of Friends had forgotten the name of his character? Did you want to see Elliott Gould – Elliott Gould, for crying out loud! – relegated to a seat in the audience? Did you want to see Gunther appear on Zoom, in a Central Perk hat, saying nothing of interest at all? Did you want to see the members of BTS say “We love Friends” in unison? Or several members of the public wildly overstate their enjoyment of Friends? Or Malala being described by her best friend as “100% Joey with a hint of Phoebe”, while simultaneously giving off the impression that she doesn’t actually like Friends very much? Of course you didn’t, but here it was anyway. However, did you wait for over 90 minutes to see Paul Rudd turn up, and then realise that he wasn’t going to appear, and then wonder what on earth happened between him and the cast of Friends? Yes. Yes you did. Never mind.
The fashion show
Justin Bieber dressed up as a big potato. Justin Bieber, who has no connection to Friends, tangible or otherwise, took up time on a Friends reunion show by dressing up as a big potato, talking up and down for a bit and pulling a funny face. This wasn’t just bad. This was the death of entertainment.