Friends was one of the most popular sitcoms ever made. It was a touchstone of ‘90s and early noughties culture. To celebrate the show being available on HBO Max the streaming service has made a special which brought back the important players from Friends.
The special was divided into five parts: the main cast doing a table read of classic scenes, the main cast having a quiz, a talk show format hosted by James Corden, the producers/showrunners talking about the production of the show, and celebrities and fans being interviewed about why the show was so special.
Friends: The Reunion was a self-indolent love-fest. This was to be expected since the special was made to promote Friends being on HBO Max and please long-time fans of the show. The risk was the special it could have been like The Inbetweeners special “Fwends Reunited.” The signs weren’t good because both specials used a talk show format with a divisive comedian hosting. Fortunately, Friends: The Reunion avoided most of the pitfalls that affected The Inbetweeners special.
The best part of the special was the pre-recorded section where the cast got to re-enact the quiz from the episode “The One with the Embryos.” This was based on one of Friends’ funniest segments, so it was a high risk with a high reward. The quiz retold some classic jokes, and the actors were able to recreate the humor with ease. The quiz section was more than just a redo of a classic scene, it also had questions about the show and brought had some special guest appearances. It was a delight to see minor characters come back and play a role in the special.
The table read did show that even after 17 years away the actors were able to return to their characters. David Schwimmer and Lisa Kudrow especially were delights as they became Ross and Phoebe again.
The interviews with Kevin S. Bright, David Crane, and Marta Kauffman did have a generic quality to them. They talk about the creation of the show and the casting. They end up going over information that fans would already know like Courtney Cox being approached to play Rachel but she wanted to play Monica. It was still fun to see footage that fans may not have seen like failed pilots, bloopers, and the moment when Matt Le Blanc dislocated his shoulder when filming an episode.
The section with James Corden allowed for more trips down memory lane because previous cast members appeared, as well as and a few celebrity guests. The memorable moment was the fashion show and the actors clearly still had chemistry together. A fun little moment was when the actors talk about where the characters would be now. It will be the closest we will ever get to a follow-up series.
Friends: The Reunion was able to get some big guests for the special for pre-recorded segments. This included David Beckham, the Korean boy band BTS, Mindy Kaling, and Malala Yousafzai. It was an eclectic mix and some seemed a better fit than others. They all had a personal connection to the series and they shared their favorite moments and episodes. The fans that were a part of the special were there to show how popular Friends was internationally. Some of these fans were gay and it was clearly an attempt by the producers to show that Friends had a gay audience.
On a final note, it was fun to see Lady Gaga performing “Smelly Cat” with Kudrow. However, this segment felt like a sketch from Saturday Night Live.
Friends: The Reunion was made for the fans, a final nostalgic trip with a cast and characters they love. But only the fans will be interested in the special and they find it the most rewarding.