HBO’s Friends: The Reunion

As someone who watched Friends casually, in the background, when it was on cable in my kid and teenage years, tuned in absentmindedly but never became and active, engaged fan of the series, I have to say that Friends: The Reunion is kind of brilliant and can be greatly enjoyed by someone who isn’t quite a hardcore disciple of the show itself. Friends is a lynchpin sitcom that meant and still means a lot to a lot of people who fell in love with these characters, watched every week and got swept up in the cultural phenomenon of a sitcom that became a way of life. So, what made this such a hit for someone like me who isn’t a super fan? It’s the way they go about this reunion, that being the key word. This isn’t a reboot, continuing season, cap-off feature film, animated series or otherwise fictional addition to the canon, it’s simply a loving documentation of these six actors having a catch-up, an emotional, totally unscripted trip down memory lane on detailed recreations of the sets they lived, worked and made core memories of for decades and I think the format here is kind of a stroke of genius, really, and that employed just right for any show’s reunion will be a showstopper. Jennifer Aniston, Matt Leblanc, Courtney Cox, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and eternally lovely Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe was always my personal favourite character) have come such a long way since Friends, their lives are very different now but watching them get together in the same sacred space where they changed the history of television feels like they never left their evening cable slot and really just brought me back to former times in my life when I’d get home and watch Friends, That 70’s Show and others all in a giddy lineup. This reunion spends a reverent opening segment just letting these actors play, rediscover their characters and touchstone areas of the set that hold significance to them while clips from the show are spliced in in parallel fashion. There’s also a more formal, organized part where they sit and discuss various things by that iconic fountain and yes this sequence is hosted by that James Corden dude and yes he’s annoying as ever but oh well. There are some shocking celebrity cameos that no doubt come from a place of love as they’re mostly people who would have themselves grown up with the show but I much preferred video testimonials from fans all over the world who give their thoughts and feelings on why the show was so important and what it means to them personally. Say what you want about Friends, I know it’s become one of those things that it’s just cool to hate on (never a good look, honey) but there’s no denying the fact that it pioneered a subculture of television and pop culture, and did a lot of good for a lot of people who may not have had much else in their lives to hang onto at the time. This reunion is a loving testament to that, a life affirming, blessedly nostalgic and just plain happy look back for six actors whose careers were defined by it.

-Nate Hill

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