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The ‘Friends’ Reunion: Could It Be Any More Overdue?

Photo by Ilse Orsel (from Unsplash)

Culture Editor Alex Blank reviews “Friends: The Reunion” and discusses the show’s relevance today.

When I first found out about “Friends: The Reunion”, I didn’t know what to expect. I did not read anything about it or watch any trailers; I wanted to be surprised. And when I saw David Schwimmer entering the old set, walking past memory lane—I must admit, I was disappointed. I was counting on a new story. I wanted to come back to the world of “Friends”, the fictional one. But eventually, the sappy-enough film grew on me, I stuck through, and ended up wanting more.

Although today the show could be considered outdated, as it follows a group of conventionally attractive, white, heterosexual, cis-gender, always-happy protagonists, it is undeniably a part of the cultural zeitgeist, and the reunion only reminds us of it. Part talk show hosted by James Corden, part documentary, the film includes the cast and the creators of the show, but also contemporary cultural figures, such as Kit Harington and Lady Gaga, examining why the series is so successful or singing “Smelly Cat” along with Lisa Kudrow, respectively.

One reason why I might have been sceptical about this approach was that, like so many other people, I used “Friends” to escape reality, and I didn’t want reality to impose on any part of it, especially not on the long awaited reunion. But in the 2021 film, fact and fiction continuously blur, as the reminiscent cast recreates the infamous quiz from season four’s “The One with the Embryos” or table reads some of the most famous scenes from the series, including the first Ross and Rachel kiss.

Having worked together for ten years, at a certain point we might begin to wonder if it’s even possible to separate fact from fiction entirely. During the talk show part, Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer reveal having had a crush on each other when shooting the earlier seasons, but never coming together during the show. In more amusing terms, we find out about the script bits Courtney Cox was hiding on the table of Monica’s apartment or about Matt LeBlanc’s many failed attempts to walk into Central Perk. We might call it off-screen could-have-beens or bloopers, but it seems as though the real-life romance and comedy have seeped into the fiction and, to an extent, informed it.

In the times everyone keeps referring to as difficult, we need the sitcom’s tension relief more than ever. Looking at the universe of “Friends” now, it seems almost impossible. Sitting in a coffee shop for hours without going to work? Leisure without work sprinkled into it, even in off-hours? Spending time with each other without a smartphone at hand? The series is fast-paced and filled with one joke after another, but also unbelievably slow, as all the characters do is sit around in their apartments or coffee shops, which these days is almost impossible. In its escapism, it seems almost futuristic: a world where you have time; a world where you can afford a relatively big Manhattan apartment; a world where everything just magically works out. Instead, we have a world in which Justin Bieber dresses as a sputnik-potato and Cara Delevingne as the Holiday Armadillo in the special-edition “Friends” fashion show. Maybe that’s as good as it can get.

There is, however, one depressing thought that lingered in the background as I was watching: the fact that my peers and I are currently at around the same age these actors were as they were launching their careers, and I can’t help but feel the pressure of continuation, expansion, achievement. Though it has become an exhausting cliché, the times we live in are difficult, and the notion of success, fame, stability, or whatever it is that we strive for, seem more fraught and uncertain than ever. That’s why, instead of letting these thoughts overwhelm me, I’m simply grateful that a show like “Friends” exists, that it’s celebrated, and that its theme song cannot help but light up even the darkest of moments.

“Friends: The Reunion” is warm and nostalgic, giving us an inside look into the cast as they used to be, starry-eyed and intimidated by one another, and into a story that turned out to be one of the most memorable shows of the last few decades. As sceptical as I may be about the reality-show display of celebrity friendships, and as much as I wanted to roll my eyes when I saw the cast members hug each other at the start of the film (as if they really haven’t seen each other in seventeen years), I couldn’t help but get emotional enough to drop my walls and step back into that world of giant coffee cups, background laughter, and uncomplicated friendship dynamics. If only real life was as simple as that.

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