Friends is one of the biggest sitcoms that has ever existed. For ten seasons, from 1994 to 2004, the trials and tribulations of Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe, were the topic of conversation for millions. The show has seen continued popularity on streaming services, finding new fans and comforting old ones. So, a reunion that brings the cast together for the first time in years seems like a great idea, and it might have been if any further thought had been put into the effort besides creating “The One Where the Cast Gets Back Together After 17 Years.”
To be completely fair to the Friends and their fans, I was never a super fan of the show. I watched it occasionally when it was originally broadcast, have seen some episodes on streaming, but it wasn’t my thing. I don’t dislike the show, it’s just never been something that made a huge impression on me even as I was very aware of the huge impression it had on our culture at large. This means I didn’t get every joke or reference in the reunion, but I did get most of them. However, watching the reunion, it seemed like my level of engagement was about equal to that of the cast. This makes a lot of sense to me, when you’re filming a TV show you’re not necessarily filming scenes in order, you film things that end up cut, and it’s just your job. Most of us don’t go back over things we made for work on a regular basis more than ten years later. Even though they made the show, they’re not going to have the same encyclopedic knowledge of it as someone who’s watched the entire series five times in the last three years. They knew the big references, the ones that people likely ask them about regularly, but more than a few times they seemed confused or oblivious when discussing particular scenes or lines.
The most interesting parts of the special aren’t the couch moments with a breathless James Cordon lobbing softballs at the cast, who seem mostly bemused by the whole enterprise (except for David Schwimmer’s very serious rant about how it was a pain in the ass to work with a monkey), but rather some of the behind the scenes info from Bright, Kaufman, and Crane about bringing the show to life and the moments with just the cast interacting with each other. We learn that Matthew Perry almost wasn’t cast because he’d done a pilot for a show called LAX 2194 about baggage handlers at LAX in the distant future, and Jennifer Aniston was committed to a show called Muddling Through. When she asked to leave that show, the producer told her that Friends wouldn’t make her famous like his show would so I hope that man is enjoying being the wrongest person of the late 20th century. It’s also fun to see the cast cracking each other up, and discussing some of the stories behind the episodes, but you can feel how distant all of this is to them and their lives now. It’s a lot like watching a group of people you know reminiscing about a time in their life when you didn’t really know them, even though you know the stories they’re telling.
As for the special guests, I guess someone might find it interesting to see David Beckham pop up to talk about how he thinks he’d be a member of the Geller family, or Lady Gaga come to put a full production on “Smelly Cat” but the segments felt very jumbled and lacking a cohesive narrative. Most of the guests who weren’t connected to the show in some way felt like an excuse to pad an already long run time for the special, and the guests who WERE connected to the show mostly show up for less than a minute as a way to acknowledge “this is a person who was also on Friends!” before disappearing again. Overall, the whole special did not feel well planned or executed, even if there are some fun and sweet moments from time to time. But, you do get to see Cindy Crawford wear Ross’s infamous leather pants and Matt LeBlanc repeats the wearing all of Chandler’s clothes gag. No word on if he was commando or not.