Our Take: 2 Stars
On May 27 on HBO Max, “Friends: The Reunion” brought the original main cast of the iconic sitcom “Friends” together for the first time since the show ended 17 years ago.
“Friends” is an influential piece of pop culture that perfectly encapsulates the ‘90s and has continued to strike a chord with subsequent generations.
The reunion was slated to drop in tandem with HBO Max on May 27 of last year, however, due to the pandemic filming was delayed twice, so the special was released a year later.
Rather than continuing the series and the stories of the characters, the reunion provided fans with an exclusive gathering of the cast to reminisce. But even if fans had only been presented with a healthy dosage of nostalgia, the final product might have been better than it was.
The initial 20 minutes of the special whizzed by, showing the original cast reunite the set and pick up as if no time had passed. The idle chit-chat and jokes emphasized the strong connection between the cast, and helped to highlight the fact that not much of the chemistry present on “Friends” was fake.
In reality, the cast was already quite close and the emotions on screen were more realistic than many might have assumed.
However, the illusion broke as soon as James Cordon entered. The show seemed much more hollow and the reunion started to feel like a poor excuse for a cash grab. Given that Cordon spoke more than the cast, who were sitting statically and awkwardly, and the rough transitions throughout the interview, the raw emotional aspect of the reunion broke down to make way for artificial interactions.
The reenactments and table reads of the scenes, however, were wonderful. The flawless editing between past and current reads coupled with some teary-eyed moments made for a delightful experience. The uncut footage coupled with behind-the-scenes commentary was eye-opening and induced a stronger emotional response to the original show.
Though some of the guest star appearances helped to communicate the show’s timelessness, the sheer quantity of them felt forced. For example, Justin Bieber dressing up as Spudnik didn’t really add anything to the show, whereas seeing Matt LeBlanc lunge in Chandler’s clothes again brought back a hilarious scene. Even with a run time of over 135 minutes, the reunion didn’t provide enough screentime to guest stars took away from characters more directly related to the franchise like Mr. and Mrs. Geller. Even Janice was reduced to a few laughs and “CHHHaaanDDlllleeeRRR BBBBiiiinnnnGGG!?!”
Because of “Friends”’ legendary status, it was impossible for the reunion to be met with bad press. However, the reunion might have been more enjoyable if it had focused more on the original main cast rather than depending on gimmicks like guest stars.“Friends” is a cultural phenomenon based solely on the life of six friends living in New York, but it seems like the same TV executives that initially feared that the show would not do well had the same doubts with the reunion. This time they made sure to add more to it, but one could argue that they only succeeded in taking away from the show’s original charm.