There will never be another season of Friends, as Lisa Kudrow confirms at the end of Friends: The Reunion (Sky and Now TV). "You have to grow up," says the actor who played the generation-defining airhead Phoebe Buffay. "At my age, to be saying 'floopy'? Stop!"
It’s 17 years since Friends ascended to the great rent-controlled apartment in the sky. And, as Kudrow confirms, that is where it will say. So this feature-length special aims to be the next best thing: a sentimental catch-up with the six stars of a sitcom that has transcended its status as a fixture of 1990s culture to become the world’s go-to comfort viewing.
Nostalgia is the big draw, and, goodness, does Friends: The Reunion dish it out. For two hours we are invited to stomp around in a fountain of old memories. And for Friends fans – or even anyone old enough to clearly remember the 1990s – it makes for a moving and occasionally even joyous watch.
We learn the cast had never met before their first table read but forged an instant bond. More than a bond for Schwimmer and Aniston, who crushed on one another yet were never in a position to take their friendship to the next level
What is Friends: The Reunion? It is, at one level, an essay on growing old and trying to hold on to your younger self. That’s certainly the feeling evoked as the cast, variously crinkly, creaky and Botoxy, arrive one by one on the old set. They wander around the Central Perk cafe and the hallway between the apartments. Soon everyone is crying, apart from Matt LeBlanc, who appears genuinely thrilled to be here. (Maybe he’s happy just to be no longer presenting Top Gear.)
“After the initial shock, we all just fell into our same old joking around,” says David Schwimmer. “We’ve regressed.”
The reminiscing is spliced in with a more formal interview segment where LeBlanc, Kudrow, Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and Matthew Perry snuggle up on a couch and shoot the breeze with James Corden. It’s a proper Friends frenzy, with the fountain from the title sequence twinkling over their shoulders and regulars such as Maggie Wheeler (Janice) and Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles (Ross and Monica’s parents) chiming in.
This is a hagiography and not a deconstruction of Friends. So Perry’s struggles with addiction are glossed over. (In and out of rehab, he claims not to remember Friends seasons three through six.) And there is nothing about Friends’ lack of minority representation, much less a debate on Monica’s fatsuit or all those gags about Chandler being gay.
But who truly would want that? Instead we have a celebration of Friends and of friendship. We learn that the cast had never met before their first table read – but that they forged an instant bond. More than a bond in the case of Schwimmer and Aniston, who crushed on one another yet were never in a position to take their friendship to the next level (as they were in other relationships). That simmering longing carried through to the screen when Ross and Rachel shared their first onscreen kiss.
A truthful moment of another sort is revealed as the cast watch an old clip in which LeBlanc dislocates his shoulder jumping over a sofa. There is also a Friends trivia challenge, with Schwimmer as game quiz-master, and a performance of Smelly Cat by Kudrow.
She is gatecrashed by Lady Gaga, who turns the song into an angsty epic. Gaga also does the most millennial thing imaginable when praising Kudrow for playing a character who represented outsiders and those on the margins. Kudrow, a quintessential Gen Xer, sort of rolls her eyes and says something to the effect of “well, whatever… nevermind.”
There are guest turns, which are largely pointless and take us away from the core pleasure of the cast bantering on their sofa. David Beckham explains he’s “like Monica” because he’s a neat-freak. The Korean pop group BTS thank Friends for helping them learn English. Millennials beam in from around the world to explain how and why Friends means so much.
There is no doubt a darker history of Friends to be told, taking in the dizzying wage demands of the stars in the series’s final seasons, and the struggles of Perry, who, shuffling and hoarse, cuts a slightly tragic figure amid his more upbeat chums.
Friends: The Reunion isn’t that broadcast. It is a sunny-side-up serving of nostalgia and a homage to the sitcom’s remarkable longevity. And yet, at the end, the tiniest chill descends. The Reunion is a comeback. It’s also definitively the final curtain.
“This will be the last time that we’re ever asked about the show as a group – that we will do this,” says Cox. “We’re not going to do this again in 15 more years.” And there it is. From this moment on, all we will have of Friends are the memories – and the never-ending reruns.
Friends: The Reunion is on Sky One at 8pm today, and available on Now TV