How I feel about the Friends: The Reunion is how I feel about most reunions in general. The idea of catching up with a bunch of people from a long time ago is nice, but only if I’m in the mood—and it depends on who’s going. Maybe it boils down to the fact that I’m just not a reunion-y sort of person, which might explain why it took me three sittings to finish the Reunion.
The first time I tuned in was because my husband had put it on. “What? I thought you were a Friends fan,” he said, upon seeing my surprised expression. “Of course I’m a fan,” I insisted, before hearing myself complete the sentence in my head: “except I’m midway through a gripping KDrama.” (Move to Heaven, if you were wondering).
I believe that if the Reunion special had aired five (even ten) years after the show’s final season, I might’ve been more curious about what the actors looked like and what they were up to. But nearly two decades later, most fans who grew up with the show have inevitably grown old(er) and moved on. So why a reunion now?
If I was going to watch it, I wanted to be in the proper headspace and emotionally ready before regrouping with Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Monica and Chandler. It’s one thing to watch Friends at 17, and quite another to see its cast reunite 17 years after its last episode. That’s all of us watching 2021, in 2021, with a whole lot of baggage in between.
The first season of Friends premiered in 1994, at a time before the Internet went mainstream and when social media was non-existent. I can therefore see the allure of living vicariously through the laugh-out-loud moments and tear-jerking exploits of six attractive New Yorkers whose quirky apartment and charming café hangout set the perfect stage for metropolitan city life. Back then, the show was great escapist fun in an era sans smartphones, YouTube and Netflix. Today, however, I only put reruns on as background noise while I work. Most of the time, I don’t pay any actual attention to what’s happening, though I’d somehow find myself chuckling whenever I hear Joey doing his trademark “Hey how you doin’?” pick-up line.
So you can see why it was hard to get onboard with the idea of committing 104 minutes of my screen time to a reunion special. Over the years I’d already read most of the trivia there was to know about the show, watched cast interviews, and followed some of the actors’ work post-Friends. Was there really more to be said that hadn’t already been said?
Nevertheless, once I properly got into watching the Reunion (on my second sitting), I was happy to see that the chemistry between the cast was intact. Notably, I thought they were gracious and remarkably patient to participate in an awkward James Corden interview nobody asked for, along with some other questionable segments of the show (more on that later).
But deep down I also wondered if the point of watching Reunion was less about learning something new about a cult hit show that shaped popular culture in the nineties and noughties—and more about satisfying a morbid curiosity about which actor had withstood the effects of ageing better than others. It’s like the dark underbelly of a high school reunion where people who attend have those same burning questions racing through their minds: “Who looks better? / Who’s done well in their career? / Who’s made the best use of their time?”
Since Friends: The Reunion aired on May 27 via HBO Max, it was plain to see questions of such a nature swirling to the forefront via online articles and Google searches.
Most prominently, netizens began weighing in on Matthew Perry’s appearance and speculating about his health: some viewers noted that his speech was “slurred” and that he “looked out of it”. Perry had played Chandler Bing, a character known for his quick wit and manic energy, but during the Reunion, fans were greeted with the visibly older, more muted actor who listened more than he spoke, and whose eyes twinkled with mischief at blink-and-you’d-miss-it moments.
At this point I decided to poll personal contacts whom I knew to be fans of the series, to ask how they felt about the Reunion. Did they love it, hate it or feel meh about it—and why?
My first astonishing discovery was that it would take me quite a while before I could find friends (my own) who’d already seen the Reunion. The most common reason was that they didn’t have a subscription to HBO Max. For those who did, they were either in no hurry to tune in (“I have a lot of Netflix shows to get through first”), or were on the fence about watching it (“I prefer reruns. Reunions make me feel old”).
But once I found those who’d seen it, most found the special enjoyable. These folks tended to be ride-or-die Friends fans who savoured every minute of the Reunion, including what I felt to be time-wasting segments like the fashion show (“Didn’t Cindy Crawford look great in Ross’s leather pants?”) and distracting celebrity cameos (“Lady Gaga sounded great singing ‘Smelly Cat’!” / “David Beckham’s favourite episode is also mine!”).
Still, even the most ardent of fans admitted that more airtime could’ve been given to interesting secondary cast members such as Maggie Wheeler (“Janice”), Tom Selleck (“Richard”), and James Michael Tyler (“Gunther”). Plus, across the board, Paul Rudd’s (“Mike”) absence was keenly felt.
Finally, to satisfy my initial curiosity about whether fans of the Reunion tended just to be reunion-y type people generally, the answer was overwhelmingly no. Basically, hardly anyone I asked sounded excited about a reunion special for other popular sitcoms of the time, such as Seinfeld, Frasier or The Nanny. “Friends is what makes the reunion watchable,” said one of them. “A reunion doesn’t work if it isn’t Friends,” said another.
So with that, I rested my case and sat through the final sitting of the Friends: The Reunion. On the whole, it was undeniably a pleasurable viewing, but if I’m honest, that’s one rerun I wouldn’t be going back to in a while.