FRIENDS Reunion: The HBO Max Special Manages a Few Surprises and a Whole Lot of Emotions - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

FRIENDS Reunion: The HBO Max Special Manages a Few Surprises and a Whole Lot of Emotions

May 27, 2021 by  

Friends Reunion review

Friends Reunion Special – Photography by Terence Patrick

[Warning: This post contains spoilers for the FRIENDS reunion special.]

More than 17 years after FRIENDS went off the air, the comedy is, frankly, pretty inescapable.

If you love it (as I do), it’s frequently a comfort. It’s still regularly referenced in pop culture, there are new events happening practically every year, and crazy merch for virtually all aspects of your life. In terms of watching it, the full series is streaming, it airs for hours every day in syndication, and if you’re old-school (also like me) and care about physical media, they’ve managed to put out a truly incredible complete series set that features an impressive documentary and essentially a bonus episode of the show that had to be pulled pre-air.

If you don’t love the show, well, maybe those things aren’t the most enjoyable to be constantly surrounded by.

But because the show has never quite left the zeitgeist, it mean the long-awaited reunion felt like it could very easily fall short. Sure, seeing the cast together for the first time in almost two decades would be incredible, but what could they do to really make it feel special? And after a year that saw countless shows reunite via Zoom during the pandemic, could this experience really live up to the hype?

Personally, I was blown away.

One of the shortcomings of big cast reunions is what the actors–or people involved—don’t remember. This is absolutely not a knock on them, but their relationship with the show is, naturally, different. So when they reunite for panels, so frequently the refrain is how much they don’t remember the show itself.

The FRIENDS reunion effectively avoided that by making the 104-minute special more than just a conversation. Could Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer have sat on the couch and talked about the show and their experience the entire time? Absolutely. The producers even managed to weave in some fun bits, from Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles asking a “question,” Maggie Wheeler‘s cameo, and James Michael Tyler‘s brief interview via video chat.

But, my goodness, the other elements to the reunion were magical. Watching the cast return to the Friends Stage, where the sets had been recreated? Emotional. Seeing them take that in and reunite with each other, as alone as possible with a camera crew documenting your every move? Well, that’s when I first started to cry.

As needed as the moderated Q&A was, there was something special about watching the actors reminisce amongst each other in a place they essentially called home for a decade. And it was a brilliant move to have them watching bloopers and outtakes, including the horrifying moment when LeBlanc injured himself while filming “The One Where No One’s Ready.” Honestly, give me a CELEBRITY WATCH PARTY of the FRIENDS cast rewatching old episodes and bloopers and I’d be freaking delighted.

I’ve never been one to want a scripted FRIENDS reunion, but there was something special about watching the group recreate, via a table read, some of the memorable moments for the show. (Kudrow’s “My eyes” will forever be perfect.) It managed to give us the perfect amount of the cast getting back into character without actually risking it damaging the specific spark they had during the show’s run.

The trivia game was also a fun idea, as it allowed us to see who remembered what…and how competitive the cast got with each other, while never feeling mean. And the FRIENDS fashion show was unexpectedly fun, highlighted by LeBlanc donning all of Chandler’s clothes and doing some lunges.

And, look, it would be easy to be cynical about the sheer number of guest stars listed as appearing in the special, but it felt like they struck the right balance. Each star had a quick spot, and it didn’t take over the special. Were the non-FRIENDS people absolutely needed? No. But it didn’t detract much time, like I worried it would.

But as someone who has been devouring FRIENDS content for more than two decades and has been covering its legacy over the past decade, what meant the most was that there was, somehow, new information in the reunion. The headlines, naturally, will be about Aniston and Schwimmer’s mutual crush, and the BTS footage of them being adorable was absolutely precious. However, my jaw dropped with the aforementioned LeBlanc injury reveal. I had no clue it happened on set and meant it took much longer for the episode to be completed because they literally couldn’t finish the installment until he healed; I’ll never look at the end of the episode the same way.

And it was incredibly moving to see the moments after they called cut on some of the biggest scenes, including the series finale’s final shots and Chandler/Monica’s London hook up. If you’re going to do a special like this, you should go into the archives for elements that have never been shared. Much like the Blu-ray documentary, this felt both accessible for casual friends, but a real treat for the ones who could probably recite a large portion of the dialogue by heart.

It’s bittersweet to know, as they note, this is likely the last time this group will ever be together talking about this show in this way, but HBO Max sure delivered a grand slam with their one shot. 


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