Friends: The Reunion—What You Missed From The Long-Awaited Special Episode
It has been a long time coming. Watching Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, and Matthew Perry as they walked onto their old set at The Friends Stage aka Stage 24 at Warner Bros. Studios in California, it was hard to hold back the tears (for both the cast and I)–and that was only the trailer.
Friends: The Reunion is a dream come true, 17 years in the making. For two decades, fans, journalists, and TV hosts alike have been badgering the cast and the powers that be for a reunion but to no avail–until now. So, this one-hour-and-39-minute special would mark the first time that the entire cast is on screen together since the Friends finale in 2004, which concluded 10 amazing seasons.
Like many fans, Friends was my life. I often joke that, being very much of a homebody these days, they're the only friends I socialise with. So, was the reunion everything that I had imagined it to be?
Coming home to The Friends Stage
It opened with the cast of Friends visiting The Friends Stage for the first time in 17 years. Wide-eyed, they entered the soundstage they once called home for 10 years and marvelled at their surroundings (here’s the one where we all start crying). Together, they reminisced the good times in the apartment and Central Perk which, by the way, turned out to be side by side at the soundstage (no wonder they were always there!).
Throughout the special, they explored every nook and cranny. “Ah, Matty, it’s good to see you man,” Perry said to LeBlanc as they sat in their plush Barcaloungers and had their own moment. “The choreography was incredible,” Schwimmer said as he took us around the soundstage and pointed out the multi-cam setup which made the multiple award-winning sitcom's magic happen.
We see Aniston revealing her dressing room, which had its own hardwood floors (we wouldn’t have expected anything less from Rachel, would we?), we had a peek at craft services (where they keep the ‘sustenance’ for the cast and crew) before the cast sat down to reenact a scene from one of their favourite episodes out of the 236 that they filmed.
“That quiz was really fun and really devastating,” Cox said, in reference to the quiz that Ross invented in The One With The Embryos episode. It was through the quiz that Monica and Rachel famously lost their apartment to Chandler and Joey so of course, they had to play it again sans big white dog and with a pleasant twist.
With each question and answer, familiar faces zipped in and out of the set including Mr Heckles (Larry Hankin), the barbershop quartet from The One With All The Jealousy, Richard (Tom Selleck) with his trademark moustache, and Joey’s hand twin (Thomas Lennon).
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Selleck came armed with a bonus question through which we quickly discover that Aniston still thinks that Chandler was a transponster. Seventeen years on, it’s still 'not even a word' and in another universe, they would've lost the apartment–again.
Other Friends cameos who showed up throughout the special include Elliott Gould (Jack Geller), Christine Pickles (Judy Geller), Reese Whiterspoon (Jill Green), Maggie Wheeler (Janice), and James Michael Tyler, whom we all know as the lovable, silver-haired barista at Central Perk, Gunther (yes!). This was probably the only time Gunther finally had this many lines (I cheered so hard for him) and it was well deserved.
The iconic fountain
The Late Late Show host James Corden did the honours of introducing the cast to a socially distanced crowd (we’re still in the middle of a Covid-19 pandemic after all) on a stage right by the iconic fountain from the opening credits. They gushed about getting together again, all six of them, and how they just fell right back into it–like old times.
To the question of being together again, Schwimmer said, “Really emotional, really fun actually. I felt, after the initial shock of just being in the same room together, just..I think we all just fell right into our same old, kinda joking around like we’re family. We regressed.”
Also present in the audience were the friends who helmed Friends, Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. “We really were intrigued with the idea of doing a true ensemble. It’s not like there’s a lead and they had friends. No, it’s just about the friends. We’re following all their stories equally which we felt like we haven’t seen before. The one-sentence pitch is... it’s about that time in your life when your friends are your family,“ Crane said.
The cast talked candidly about dealing with overwhelming fame and about how neither their families nor friends could relate. “The fact is, no one was going through what we were going through except the other five,” Schwimmer said.
“I think it kind of created, imprinted in our neural pathways this sort of, like, we’re actually family,” Aniston added.
Casting the friends
Crane revealed that casting the friends, however, was actually really hard. There were many scenarios where it wasn’t going to be six of them and it would’ve been a completely different show. The creators wrote Ross with Schwimmer’s hangdog expression in mind but getting him on the show was difficult as at the time, Schwimmer had given up on TV. “I believe we sent him gift baskets,” Kauffman said.
For the role of Rachel, the creators initially had Cox in mind, but the role ultimately went to someone else after Cox explained that she was more of a Monica. That someone else was Aniston.
At the time, Aniston, an actress with 'a graveyard of pilots', had already signed on for another show, but the creators cast her in Friends anyway in a ‘may the best man win’ move. “I just remember sitting with these five other people and thinking, this is the greatest group of people, the greatest script, I have to do this!” Aniston revealed, adding that she went to the producer of the show she was on and begged them to release her from the show and well, the rest is history.
To quote Reese Whiterspoon: “If you think about Monica or Phoebe or Rachel, each one of them is a leading character but, together, you get this great repartee, all the actors at the top of their game and great chemistry.” We couldn't agree more.
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The beauty of Friends has always been the fact that the actors pretty much already embodied their characters, which made it all look so effortless. The fact that they became best friends in real life? Amazing.
While watching a bunch of never-before-seen outtakes freshly released from the Friends vault, we learnt that LeBlanc experienced an on-set injury while filming The One With The Jam. His sling for his dislocated shoulder was later written into the show. However, there were times that the cast had to go through moments that extended beyond just physical pain.
Perry revealed that he really struggled with not being funny enough, which I'm guessing stemmed from constantly seeking the audience's validation, on top of the nature of playing Chandler. "I felt like I was going to die if they didn't laugh and it's not healthy, for sure. But I would sometimes say a line and they wouldn't laugh, and I would sweat, and go into convulsions. If I didn't get the laugh I was supposed to get, I would freak out. I felt like that every single night,” he revealed.
On the flipside, Schwimmer revealed that his struggles revolved around having to deal with Marcel, the pet capuchin Ross had in season one. ‘Struggle’ is lightly putting it–he hated the monkey. On top of constantly missing its mark, which meant that the cast had to redo scenes all over again, the monkey would also leave remnants of live grubs all over Schwimmer.
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Schwimmer may not have been a fan of Marcel, but there’s one other key character he was definitely a fan of. “The first season, I had a major crush on Jen, and I think at some point we were both crushing hard on each other, but it was like two ships passing because one of us was always in a relationship and we never crossed that boundary,” Schwimmer said.
In response to the major bomb that Schwimmer just dropped, Aniston said, “Honestly, I remember saying one time to David, it’s going to be such a bummer if the first time you and I actually kiss is going to be on national television. Sure enough!”, in reference to Ross and Rachel’s first kiss in The One Where Ross Finds Out. “So, we just channelled all our adoration and love for each other into Ross and Rachel,” Aniston added. Could they be any sweeter?
Though the initial reaction from some fans to Friends: The Reunion was, “What, an unscripted special? That's it? It’s not a continuation of the show?”, after watching the special and crying, and laughing, but mostly crying like The One Where Chandler Can’t Cry levels of crying, I’d say this was everything.
So, thank you, Ross, Rach, Mon, Chandler, Joe, and Pheebs for coming together to do this tonight. For now, my ‘friends’ remain frozen in time in reruns that’ll always be within reach.
I know they’ll always be there for me.
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