“Where is everyone?” David Schwimmer wisftfully asks as he tours Stage 24 on the Warner Bros. lot. “Come on, I want to see everyone!”
There were a lot of ways HBO Max could’ve messed up Friends: The Reunion. Its announcement was a head-scratcher from the jump - an unscripted tour down memory lane, instead of a fully-fledged extra episode of the series? I wasn’t down for that at all. As time went by though, curiosity got the better of me. Friends started airing in 1994 and ended in 2004, lasting 10 seasons and earning quite the long-lasting legacy. Its stars haven’t been together in the same place for years upon years. Wouldn’t it be fun to see them get back together and reflect upon all that time spent in Central Perk?
Sure it would, if the special would only stop getting in its own way.
It’s important to set expectations. Friends: The Reunion feels like something you’d find in the ‘Special Features’ section of a DVD boxset. It brings back the sitcom’s creators and main cast - David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow solely as themselves in a series of interviews, talking heads, trivia games and even fashion shows. There’s certainly enough room in the 104-minute special for all these shenanigans, and darting from one segment to the next sets a fun pace.
Things kick off on a sweet note. A specially remade version of the Friends set has been prepared on the Warner Bros. lot, and we get to watch the cast slowly reunite as they shuffle inside one after another. The magic of watching them exchange hugs and reminisce on the set is worth watching on its own. They point out that the set still includes an item that one of them took home after the series finale. LeBlanc and Perry kick back on the chairs in their old room, and Kudrow tells everyone else amusedly, “Oh, they’re sitting in their chairs.” Yes, they are! Why does that make me feel so emotional?
There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes trivia to be had as the cast reminisces on their time on the show, and then there’s an actual trivia game hosted by Schwimmer where they’re forced to remember the finer details. These are the best parts of the reunion by far - when the main cast is just huddled together, fondly recalling old memories and talking about how none of them saw the show's insane popularity coming. For those more interested in the behind-the-scenes of it all, creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman speak about the inspiration behind the show and its characters via a series of talking heads. The show’s cast has understandably overshadowed its crew now, but it’s really nice to see what the creators think of those 10 seasons too.
The worst parts of Friends: The Reunion thankfully don’t weigh it down too much, but that doesn’t excuse their inclusion. When the special was announced, we learned that it would feature a ton of eyebrow-raising guest stars. There’s someone here for everyone. K-pop fans have BTS, soccer fans have David Beckham and the denizens of hell have James Corden. Jokes aside, they don’t get in the way too much - but they still feel quite unnecessary. BTS and David Beckham for example, pop up with other celebrities in talking heads to talk about what the show means to them. Seeing as none of them had anything to do with the show’s production, their appearances amount to little more than skippable filler.
James Corden pops up later for a cast interview next to the iconic water fountain, which he savvily demonstrates he can turn on or off at the push of a button. The actual interview isn’t very interesting, but we do get the revelation that Schwimmer and Aniston crushed on each other hard for the show’s first season - but bad timing always got in the way. It’s sweet, in a way, that the early will they/won’t they Ross and Rachel romance was echoed behind the scenes for a short time. The rest of the interview is significantly less interesting, culminating in a fashion show that has celebrities trot out iconic costumes from the show’s run. LeBlanc dons all of Chandler’s clothes once again and that’s fun, but the rest just isn’t.
The best parts of this reunion simply boil down to the cast messing around again. Table reads of iconic episodes are fun as these stars bring the same gusto to years-old jokes, and one particularly memorable segment has them sit down in front of the TV and watch old behind-the-scenes footage from the set. We see everyone cringe as LeBlanc walks them through the episode he dislocated his shoulder in real life, and then collapse into laughing fits while watching bloopers of Schwimmer yelling, “Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!” non-stop. It’s so good.
Your enjoyment of Friends: The Reunion well and truly depends on your love for the show. If you watched the original run just because it was on and nothing more, you’ll probably get a kick out of this special and forget about it tomorrow. If you’re a fan on your fifth rewatch of Friends (or more, we’re not judging), you might just cry when Courteney Cox throws, “We’re not doing this again in 15 years,” out there. Honestly, though? If the special leaves you emotional, the original show’s always there for you - and you’ll be there for it too.