The gates to the famous Stage 24 where the cast and crew of Friends gathered every day for rehearsals, table reads, and the live taping of the famous sitcom for a decade, is opened by a familiar face. Slowly, David Schwimmer walks in on the sets, getting nostalgic looking at Monica's kitchen, Central Perk (where he remembers his and Jen's first kiss), and Joey's and Chandler's apartment. As the rest of the cast joins him, they begin reminiscing on their journey throughout the show, unraveling not just how their characters grew but also how they grew up with those characters and their stories on Stage 24.
Friends: The Reunion, titled "The One Where They Got Back Together", focuses on the journey of the world's favorite sitcom and reliving the favorite moments along with behind-the-scenes stories, re-enactments of most beloved moments on the table read, and a long chat with interviewer James Corden, which is blessed with appearances from several guests. Directed by Ben Winston, who also directs James Corden's late-night show has shot the entire special in three strands, representing all of them in a non-linear, back and forth style; a format which was heavily affected by the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. That's why the special, which was supposed to be the benchmark in the launch of HBO Max got delated by more than a year, also causing many planned guests to make appearances via pre-shot footages or Zoom, as in the case of James Michael Tyler, the actor who famously portrayed Central Perk manager Gunther.
But regardless of those restrictions, the cast, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox, and Matthew Perry (who couldn't be any later), fills this special with the same joy and fun they graced all those 236 times they appeared on the show for a decade.
The Reappearances and Revisits
The cast revisits the famous apartment switch as David Schwimmer becomes the quiz master one more time, checking on memories of his friends regarding the show. They talk about Joey's hand twin, Richard, and Mr. Heckles as the three actors who portrayed those characters make brief appearances. These small nods to those people who filled the life of Friends will make every fan emotional and nostalgic to what they have witnessed in those ten seasons. Though these re-visits are cut short, they are enough to give us a deep look into our memories about them and the laughter and joy they brought along. It is hard to believe that it's been years since they appeared as Friends and it probably would be more difficult for the new generation fans who had watched the show not so long ago.
We also got a glimpse of Elliot Gould and Christina Pickles sitting in the audience as couples talking about the time they were taken in as parents by Monica and Ross and how being on the set was always lovable. And then of course there was almost unrecognizable James Michael Tyler, making a brief appearance on the special, joining in via Zoom. Reese Witherspoon, introduced as an Academy-Award-winning actress, reminisces about her time when she met her favorite star, Matt LeBlanc. Coming from an acclaimed actress, an exciting remark from her appearance in the show, just gives the audience an essence of how these stars just outmatched every other actor, be it, anyone, in fame and fan-following. And the special would've been incomplete without Maggie Wheeler blessing us with that annoying laugh.
The reappearances and revisits to the special is a celebration of Friends. and the contribution of these supporting characters to the fame and love the show received from both critics and viewers across the globe. Though these appearances just come and go, leaving us with some swooping memories of their time on the show, they are enough to get the hardcore fans to add the 237th episode in their long "friendly" run of the show.
The interview was probably the least thoughtful part of the show, where Corden asked the cast of their moments on the show; but the questions never escalated further from "Who had the loudest laugh?", the cliched "Were Ross and Rachel on a break?", and "Anything that cast hated", to which Schwimmer couldn't resist to rant out how he never got along with his beloved Marcel. However, the interview did get David talking about a reciprocated crush on Jen, supported by the unseen behind-the-camera footage which clearly shows both of them almost in love with each other.
The most important part of the interview was perhaps the testimonials from fans across the globe, telling their life stories and the role of the show in them. And these fans included some known faces including David Beckham and Kit Harrington, all of whom reminisced about their favorite moments from the show. It's the enthusiasm of fans, some of whom would probably be infants like me when the show first aired, which proves the lasting impression of these characters on day-to-day individual lives which is still carrying on. For the first time, it's publicized how this show has delved deep into people's emotions which is the reason that the show has lasted with a whole new generation even after almost two decades of its last episode. The people share how Friends. has "saved lives" and led people into a new light, which adds up to the significance of the show and proves that this love from fans gave all the more reasons for the cast to finally reunite.
The interview culminated with Justin Bieber, Cindy Crawford, and Cara Delevingne doing a small fashion show donning Rachel and Ross's famous costumes from the show, which mostly felt like an unnecessary stretch only to "filler" it up with guest appearances that weren't needed. Probably having Cole Sprouse show up instead of Justin Bieber would have been more of nostalgia, something the special intended to induce, instead of having a fashion show for a filler.
The reunion wasn't just for the viewers to go back 17 years and relive the moments they have enjoyed on-screen. It was more of a treat for the cast to get back together on the same set which made them household names and stars of the showbiz. The way the cast speaks of their time on sets like Courtney placing her dialogues under the kitchen table apple or LeBlanc goofing up on the scene brings a subtle but joyous expression on their faces as they figure out how the last seventeen years have gone by.
When you see these cast members trying to remember their personal favorite moments on the sets and start jumbling between multiple recollections or retrospections on the episodes they've just watched with the kids, you realize how important the show had been for them and how their personal lives have revolved around it despite it has gone off the air. And it's not about the continuing royalties and fame they still receive due to the show, but it's about the change it has brought in their personalities, lifestyle, relationships (both to each other and their families).
At one point, Matthew Perry confesses how he used to get agitated and stressed when his intended joke wasn't received with a laugh - which implies how his analysis of his talent as a comic actor and his expectations from himself while being on the set changed him. Perry, who seemed most quiet throughout the episode, still seems admirable and lovable; while, fortunately, the special never looms back to his struggling days - a story which isn't unknown to the world. Also, there are moments where the actors express their feeling of pride and happiness they experienced by working with the other five for each one of them unknowingly had some kind of influence over the rest of Friends.
Among the lovely conversations were the cast members revisiting some emotional and some funny sequences they shot via re-enactments on table reads. The one where Courtney narrates Ross and Rachel's first kiss with dialogues rendered in by Jennifer and David got them emotional and probably took them back to that wonderful moment where everyone thought Ross and Rachel are now meant to be together forever. The table reads delve into the process of the cast members getting into the characters. Of course, the long gap and the age have subtly swept the goofiness in Friends away from these people who represented them on-screen, their faces show their happiness as they re-watch those moments in their minds as they read them.
The show featured interviews from Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane, who shed some light on how they conceived the show. It's at that moment you as an audience realize why F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is so relatable at every moment. Marta Kauffman and David Crane explained how the show drew parallels from their own lives and relatives. Crane explains how the show represented a time in everyone's life when their friends are families and at that moment everything about the show just swoops through the viewers' minds. The reason Friends continues to entertain and relate to the audience in the new generation is that though the show has gotten old, that particular time, the early-20s to mid-30s, comes every generation and that's when everyone lives through what the show's character did.
The impeccable reasoning behind the show's conceptualization and the friendship between the three producers in real life is what helped them go through those ten years without losing the show's integrity and the hype it set in its first year. For years, people have asked why the show ended after ten seasons when there was so much to tell. It's probably because it was time for them to focus on their new families. And that's why Joey would have been better living in New York in Chandler's garage for his time in Los Angeles in his own series was never as fun as it was with his true friends.
Friends: The Reunion is truly The One Where They Got Back Together to relive the moments that billions of viewers across the globe have cherished. There wasn't any other way to bring them back. And getting them back as their characters would have never done any justice to the show, but would have led it on to a setback. The special wasn't a flawless revisit to the days of Friends. and had some reservations. So, any disliking towards it is normal for it would only serve those who have tried or dreamt of living the life those six people lived.
There was no discussion on the actors; personal lives or the new projects. There wasn't any call back to the socially incorrect references everyone must've noticed while binge-watching the show - which was probably the result of the lack of understanding of those terms in society. There weren't any bad memories shared, except where David wished Marcel to *%#$ off. But yes, there were tears.
All that the reunion intended to was help the cast get back together to remember their best career choice and greet, congratulate, and thank each other for the support throughout that decade, while also allowing viewers to immerse in the backdrop of their favorite sitcom. In a time where the world conflicts with a global tragedy, Friends: The Reunion will bring a new sense of happiness for anyone who has ever followed the show.
Friends: The Reunion is available to stream at HBO Max in territories where the platform is available; while also streaming on several partner platforms where HBO Max is yet to launch. Hosted by James Corden, the special features the original cast of the show alongside appearances from guests David Beckham, Lady Gaga, Elliot Gould, Kit Harrington, and Justin Bieber among many more}.