UK TV review: Friends: The Reunion
Katie Smith-Wong | On 29, May 2021
In 2004, more than 52 million American people tuned into The Last One, which was the series finale of Friends. Since then, the popular sitcom was revived through streaming services to win over a new generation of fans, while feeding rumours and hopes for one more chance to bring the gang back together. It may have taken a while, but we have finally gotten there.
Friends: The Reunion sees the original cast reunite on-screen for the first time for more than 15 years to celebrate the show, with the help of several guest stars such as Christina Pickles and Elliot Gould (who played Monica and Ross’ parents) and James Michael Tyler, who played Central Perk’s lovelorn barista, Gunther.
On the face of it, Friends: The Reunion is targeted at younger viewers or those who were introduced to the show after it finished in 2004. We are now living in a different time compared to when Friends was a huge TV hit, which saw the cast plastered across newspapers and magazines worldwide. Newer fans may appreciate the special as they may not comprehend its longstanding cultural impact, but the question remains: is a reunion necessary?
While the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion late last year offered a sense of closure on certain dark spots (notably Smith’s feud with Janet Hubert-Whitten), Friends: The Reunion evokes a sense of deja vu as the majority of it feels like familiar territory. The special splices together sections from three key settings – an interview with James Corden, the infamous apartment game and the cast touring the rebuilt set. Therefore, the reunion jumps from hysterical laughter to tears, resulting in an imbalanced and confusing tone.
Given the show’s 10-year history, there are so many things to celebrate. However, the reunion showcases a handful of key moments such as Ross and Rachel’s first kiss and Phoebe’s song Smelly Cat. Although these are classic moments, they deny the smaller albeit dramatic instances that make the show more than your normal sitcom, such as Ross and Rachel’s torrid break-up or Monica and Chandler’s child issues. In addition, several notable guest stars such as Bruce Willis, Paul Rudd and Giovanni Ribisi are not in attendance and celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are not enough to bring back fond memories. Even recurring guest stars Tom Selleck and Maggie Wheeler are sadly fleeting attendees.
While his enthusiasm is evident, James Corden comes across as an unessential host/moderator so the interview and audience interactions feel like another episode of The Late Late Show – unsurprising as the reunion is directed by its co-executive producer, Ben Winston. Despite delving into the ‘Ross and Rachel’s break’ debate and potential off-screen romances, Corden’s questions feel all too familiar and the segment comes across as lacklustre. Even a brief yet cringeworthy fashion show featuring some of the most memorable costumes in the show fails to lift the spirits.
However, the key aspect of Friends is its continued cultural significance 15 years on. Reminding audiences of simpler times, the whole show feeds on nostalgia and after 20 years of its first airing on TV, there is a lot of it. Having fans from across the world share their memories and emotional connection with the show highlights its power, but what makes this reunion so special is seeing the cast meet and greet each other on set while tearfully reminiscing about their time on the show. Hearing their own personal memories shine a new light on their experience as a group of emerging stars while reminding us and themselves that it was a key part of their respective lives, not to mention their careers.
While Friends: The Reunion sidesteps the rumours of a film, it brings a hefty slice of comfort that will appease fans that want to see the gang back together. In a way, it is like a slice of cheesecake – you don’t need it but you can’t help but indulge. Just don’t eat it off the floor.
Friends: The Reunion is available on Sky One. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.