F.R.I.E.N.D.S: The Reunion Review: The One Filled with Domino’s-Level Cheesiness & Topped with Nostalgia

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F.R.I.E.N.D.S: The Reunion Review: The One Filled with Domino’s-Level Cheesiness & Topped with Nostalgia

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Let’s face it: For most of us, it hasn’t been our day, our week, our month, or even our year. But for diehard fans of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, which is almost everyone you know, there is finally something to celebrate. Seventeen years after the finale of the sitcom aired, just before the yearning of fans around the globe could reach legal adulthood, the cast came together for a long-awaited reunion. Fittingly for a show so universally beloved, the nearly two-hour special titled F.R.I.E.N.D.S: The Reunion, also known as “The One Where They Get Back Together” dropped at the same time around the world – in India, on Zee5 at 12:30pm. Hosted by The Late Late Show’s James Corden, the variety show brims with nostalgia and an enduring fondness for the six besties, who had us LOLing for a ten-season run and 236 episodes.

Following the journeys of six 20-something friends in New York City through the ’90s and the naughties, the series’ massive success was a result of its relatable themes: dating and finding love, the stress of building a career or starting a family, and above all the everyday moments with friends that make life worth living. As the earworm title track professes, it’s a show about the people who are always there for you. Over the course of a decade, our six friends somehow turned second gear into a progression that took them out of their familiar and unreasonably large Manhattan apartments.

As the earworm title track professes, it’s a show about the people who are always there for you.

The special brought back together Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Courtney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry – all of whom are still acting in acclaimed series, and all of whom are still best known as Rachel Green, Phoebe Buffay, Ross and Monica Geller, Joey Tribiani, and Chandler Bing (or, for those in the know, Miss Chanandler Bong). Such trivia was a mainstay of F.R.I.E.N.D.S: The Reunion, which is an exercise in fan service from start to finish. There is a fashion show of iconic costumes featuring Justin Bieber and Cara Delevingne, a parade of celebrity cameos from David Beckham and Lady Gaga and even Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, all held together by the most basic late-night talk show host barring Jimmy Fallon.

And yet, for all the frantic variety-show energy and Domino’s-level cheesiness, the special episode is not wholly devoid of charm. For those hoping for an inside look, we learned few new facts about the sitcom, and little about what life after F.R.I.E.N.D.S was like for the actors who were its lifeblood – although given the intense media scrutiny that surrounded them for years, such recaps were hardly necessary. From Aniston’s highly publicised divorces to Perry’s struggles with addiction, their personal lives have been on display since they rocketed to fame in 1994.

And yet, for all the frantic variety-show energy and Domino’s-level cheesiness, the special episode is not wholly devoid of charm.

It’s a point that LeBlanc brings up as the cast reminisce how they became so close: He saw a six-way split screen on TV with aerial views of all their houses, and realised he needed to fix his roof. It’s a typically humourous and genuine moment from a group of actors who clearly slip into character as soon as they meet, taking on the same roles they lived years ago. While the reunion episode itself is messy and unspectacular, there is something special about looking back in time. To see the actors, older and greyer but back on the same set, and to hear the show’s producers describe the serendipity behind their creation, is a reminder that even a behemoth like F.R.I.E.N.D.S starts with a seed of simple, deceptive genius.

Like the cast, not all aspects of F.R.I.E.N.D.S have aged well. The show has been rightly criticised for revolving around straight white people despite the immense diversity of New York City, and for whitewashing any characters of colour. (Even in the reunion, we see Black people show up only in a barbershop quartet and a gospel choir.) Allegations of homophobia and transphobia certainly hold up for some of the jokes, notably Ross’s jibes at his lesbian ex-wife and Chandler’s bitter relationship with his transgender father. But these traits are not condoned by the show, which pokes more fun at these prejudices than the characters they are levelled against.

While the reunion episode itself is messy and unspectacular, there is something special about looking back in time.

Still, it’s for the best that the reunion wasn’t the F.R.I.E.N.D.S follow-up film, where we would get to catch up with the sextet as they play out their storylines in middle age. As Kudrow noted, the creators had left each friend with a happy and promising ending that they were loath to unravel for a sequel. More important, however, is the space that F.R.I.E.N.D.S occupies – one that in many ways is relevant only in retrospect, yet still commands the status of a classic.

In a series of video tributes to F.R.I.E.N.D.S, fans from around the world shared what the show meant to them: How the feel-good jokes helped them get through the day, and the warm friendships on-screen felt like they were buddies with the six in real life. This is, after all, the truth and beauty of a show that is the serialised equivalent of the pizzas the gang is constantly scarfing down. It may be too bland, too stodgy, but it’s also the quintessential comfort food. F.R.I.E.N.D.S: The Reunion Episode cements the show’s place. You might not like the characters, but there is no denying that you see yourself in them. While I could have skipped the exercise, it has inspired me to order a cheese pizza and pull up “The One with the Jellyfish”. 

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