Should You Watch ‘Friends: The Reunion’ Even If You’re Not a Fan?
With the idea of a talk-show peppered with nostalgia, the Friends reunion created something for everyone.
Alert: This article contains spoilers.
Less than half an hour into the show, Jennifer Aniston asks Matthew Perry, "Could you BE any later?" If there is a line that describes the reunion, it is that. Friends is one of the most popular sitcoms, maybe ever. A reunion special, 17 years since the last episode, is much too long, even if you're not a Friends fan.
The reunion special promised a nostalgia trip and it delivers, but what about people who aren't die-hard fans? What if you've only watched one season, or none? Should you still watch the reunion? Judge for yourself.
What makes a good sitcom? A situational comedy is expected to be funny (obviously), goodhearted, sensitive, and aware enough to take on social issues. Rightfully critiqued, the show Friends doesn't meet all the criteria.
If the reunion was just another episode, it would have been a people-pleasing attempt at closure and nothing more but with the talk-show format, it steers clear of that possibility.
There are people who believe the reunion was unnecessary- why fix something that isn't broken? Friends: The Reunion achieved something that wouldn't have been possible with Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey.
What They Did Right
It was common news that the original cast would reunite for the special. Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, and Matt LeBlanc come together and immediately fall into seamless camaraderie. They talk about their memories of the show, recreate scenes, and walk through their old sets, teary-eyed.
The reunion didn't want to mess with the show at all. It actually seems to operate in a universe outside Friends and in many ways, it is. In Friends, Ross is inseparable from Marcel. In the reunion, David goes into a passionate rant against the monkey. With James Corden's questions, the reunion special focuses on the most important aspect the show - the people and the lives.
The Real F.R.I.E.N.D.S
By not forcing the actors to maintain the smokescreen of their characters, the reunion helps every viewer feel fondness for them. You might have hated Ross but it's tough to hate the disarmingly hilarious David. You might've found Chandler annoying, but Matthew is charming and sometimes timid.
Every actor walks across those sets and you're overwhelmed by the fondness they share for each other. Fans of the show who appear in clips during the reunion give you a glimpse into the lives the show has changed. The stories go beyond loving the characters and the humour. It's about a son losing his father, a support system, and finding your soulmate - all because six people played characters on a screen.
This wouldn't have been possible in an episode. Every gag, game, and guest star appearance was possible because the characters sat on a couch, surrounded by an audience.
Where They Went Wrong
Friends has a huge following but that doesn't mean it was universally loved. There are people who dislike the show with a vengeance. If your reason for dismissing the show is its tone-deaf nature, the reunion won't change your mind.
Friends: The Reunion subscribes to the same idea of easy comedy that the show succeeded in. It relies on its reputation as a 'simple, light-hearted comedy' to probably paint the reunion special in the same colour. It's a sitcom reunion; would these 'serious' topics make it less appealing?
Friends in 2021
The cast has been criticised for being all white and the jokes were often based on body-shaming, homophobia, and sexism.
Apologists make a very common argument - the show is a product of its time. Even if you do buy into that argument, it's difficult to ignore that the reunion provided a perfect stage to address some of those shortcomings but they don't. The 'product of its time' argument is feeble especially since contemporary shows like The Golden Girls, and Frasier dealt with their queer characters with respect and sensitivity.
Take the example of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. 25 years after the show wrapped up, the cast reunited in a meticulously crafted set to touch base. While Bel Air was also a sitcom that relied on many of the tropes as Friends, the reunion did not shy away from discussing the heavier issues. Janet Hubert, who played the role of Aunt Vivian on the show, opened up about her experience on the show.
She talked about losing trust in those around her and how Hollywood "disowned" her based on rumours surrounding her exit from the show. It would've been refreshing to see the actors talk more about their lives and their struggles during the show, even if they didn't want to address the larger issues.
Friends: The Reunion attempts to establish a nostalgic personal conversation between the cast and the audience but there is something missing. Despite every scene tugging at a fan's heartstrings, it feels superficial for someone who hasn't followed the show with passion. But if those are things you can overlook, the reunion special is a revelation. With the safe distance it maintains from the original show, the reunion created a space for every viewer.
Even if you're not a die-hard fan and couldn't care less about the "break" Ross and Rachel took, the humans involved in the show's making and every person's life the show touched is worth the watch. Friends might not be for everyone but the reunion is, perhaps intentionally.
If that isn't enough, the special currently streaming on Zee5 in India, hosts a stellar guest cast including Lady Gaga, David Beckham, Kit Harrington-Geller, and BTS. That's where the show is no longer just a talk show, it's an experience.
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