The answer to the most obvious question is “no.”
No the HBO Max reunion of Friends isn’t worth the reported $2.5 million dollars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer each received to participate in the 1 hour and 44 minute special. (The accounting major in me wants you to know that is a rate of $24, 038 per minute).
I don’t fault the six stars—who pioneered the “all for one and one for all” salary negotiations in the series’ heyday—for getting as much money as they could. But, let’s be honest, unless they found the cure for cancer and figured out a way to end world poverty, nothing in the special would justify that outrageous price tag.
To back up: Friends: The Reunion was originally supposed to air last May 27th, timed to the launch of HBO Max and the beloved sitcom’s move from Netflix to the new streaming platform. Of course, COVID got in the way of those plans. And a funny thing happened on the way to this reunion: so many casts, from The Office to The West Wing to ER, got together for free to raise money for various causes. Granted it was over Zoom and not on some fancy set. But still, the novelty of cast reunions and table reads has definitely dimmed.
But here the original sextet are back on the stage that made them famous with the set meticulously recreated. The Friends haven’t really left the public eye since the series ended on May 6, 2004. There have been successful second (and third and fourth) projects (Cougar Town, The Comeback, and Episodes to name a few), commercial endorsements, and countless tabloid covers. We already know who has aged well and who hasn’t (or who has had good plastic surgery and who doesn’t). At the beginning of the special, we are told “Since the finale, the six cast members have been in a room together only once until now.” But the fact that they haven’t all been together seems more about busy lives than any bad blood. There are so many happy tears—particularly from Aniston, Cox, and Kudrow—during the reunion that you know the love the cast feels for each other is genuine.
In honor of the 10 seasons Friends ran, here are my 10 takeaways from Friends: The Reunion:
There is very little new ground covered. Unless you somehow didn’t know that Schwimmer HATED Marcel the monkey, there’s nothing new to see here. (Schwimmer is still furious about the creature all these years later, which is very funny). There are a couple of things HBO Max doesn’t want me to tell you, but they are so low stakes, and its clear they are really grasping for the reunion having a big reveal.
Friends is still a really funny show. It’s telling that I laughed the hardest during clips of the original series. All these years later, Scwhimmer screaming “Pivot! Pivot!” LeBlanc lunging commando while wearing all of Chandler’s clothes, and Kudrow screaming “My eyes! My eyes!” is still hilarious. I laughed as if I was seeing these scenes for the first time.
Don’t worry about James Corden. Ever since the trailer dropped last week, fans have been in an uproar about Corden hosting the reunion. First of all, he’s fine. It’s not like he breaks into a song from Cats. But more importantly, he’s only small part of a show that jumps around among table reads, the cast on the set reminiscing and playing trivia, and Corden and the Friends outdoors in front of the iconic fountain with a masked audience. (I would have felt better if the reunion had stated their COVID protocols, but I’m just going to assume there were a ton.)
With one notable exception, the celebrity cameos are brief. Some are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them. Some are only allowed to wave and not even talk. Many of the show’s most famous guest stars and pivotal characters aren’t part of the special.
“The One Where Everyone Finds Out” remains one of the best television episodes of all time. It was a perfectly timed farce, and having the cast read through the pivotal scenes again was a sheer delight. Ditto for Aniston and Schwimmer recreating the moments that lead up to Ross and Rachel’s first kiss.
Jennifer Aniston refers to her ex-husband as “Pitt”. It happens so fast, but the cast is discussing all the great guest stars that appeared on the show and Aniston says, “Pitt came. Did one.” As if it wasn’t the biggest thing happening at the time and we all might have forgotten.
Only happy memories here. If there was tension on the set at any point, you aren’t going to find out about it here. Just the law of averages means there had to be some moments of unhappiness during the decade it was on the air, but not according to this special. Perry had some well publicized difficulties during the run of the show which are not referenced. (Perry’s affected speech during the special is apparently due to dental work that was performed right before filming the special). If they ever fought, if they ever didn’t like a story line, if any guest cast (besides the monkey) annoyed them… all of that remains in the Friends vault.
The show wasn’t diverse but its fans are. Also not discussed is the show’s problematic legacy. It was not diverse. It was, at times, homophobic. Plus, none of them could have afforded that apartment. But the special does feature fans of all backgrounds from all over the world saying things like “Friends is what I came home to“ and “They have saved more lives.” And it has some very famous fans: watching Malala Yousafzai and her best friend giggle over Friends is delightful.
The behind-the-scenes footage and bloopers are special. It’s particularly lovely to see the cast behind the scenes during the filming of the series finale.
There will never be another show like Friends. Friends averaged 25 million viewers a week. 52 million people watched the series finale. TV is way too scattered and diverse today to ever achieve those numbers.
Ultimately, the cast is pretty clear this kind of reunion won’t happen again. None of them want to revive Friends. Everyone from the creators to the producers to the cast seems to know that trying to revisit these characters two decades later isn’t a good idea. The lighting in a bottle magic of the series must be preserved, not corrupted.
But Friends will always be there for us in reruns. It will always be finding a new generation of fans. Its humor is timeless. Technology and fashion will always evolve and change, but the way Friends captures the time of young adulthood is enduring. And it’s lovely to spend 104 minutes with the gang again. Could we be any happier?
Friends: The Reunion premieres Thursday, May 27th on HBO Max
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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