Laughter, tears and memories: 'Friends' reunion takes fans on sentimental journey

Friends, which began in 1994, was the top-rated comedy for six years and aired in more than 200 nations

Reuters May 27, 2021


K-pop band BTS said they improved their English by watching it, football player David Beckham says the show makes him smile "almost to the point of crying," and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said a friend got her hooked on the comedy.

Friends may have ended its run in 2004 but the appeal of the comedy about six friends living in New York City shows no sign of waning and is reflected in a reunion special on HBO Max on Thursday. The show's blend of farce, fantasy and aspiration has created a new generation of fans, many of whom, like Yousafzai, weren't born when Friends began in 1994 yet have become devotees by watching re-runs.

James Corden, host of Friends: The Reunion, said the show has been watched more than 100 billion times across all platforms, influencing fashion and hairstyles. Like Seinfeld, it was one of the first American TV comedies to focus on young adults, rather than families or shows set in workplaces.

Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman said the writers were themselves trying to make a living in New York City when they came up with the idea for the show. "We definitely pulled from our lives," Kauffman says in the reunion special.

Despite the lack of diversity on the series - the characters are all white - the reunion features fans from India, Ghana, Mexico and other nations talking about how watching Friends has helped them cope with depression, loneliness and family trauma.

Guest star Lady Gaga thanks Lisa Kudrow for her role as the zany Phoebe Buffay and "being the person for all of us on 'Friends' that was the different one." Game of Thrones star Kit Harington praised the show's comic timing. "These six actors are masters of physical comedy," Harington said.

All the success has made it difficult for many of the actors to leave their Friends characters behind. "It was so hard for people to see Matthew Perry as anything but Chandler, or David Schwimmer is anything but Ross. That's the Catch-22 with a show that has that kind of intense fandom," said Sisco King.

Friends - the phenomenon:

From “Smelly Cat” to whether Rachel and Ross were “on a break,” the Friends reunion takes fans of the hit TV comedy series on a sentimental journey down memory lane.

Friends: The Reunion brings stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc back to the set for a tearful get-together 17 years after the final episode of the show about the lives of 20Somethings in New York. A reboot of the series itself, or a movie, is not planned. All six actors are now in their 50s.

“They ended the show very nicely,” said Kudrow, referring to the 2004 finale when the characters moved out of their Greenwich Village apartments for new adult lives. “I don’t want anyone’s happy ending to be unraveled.”

“It was life-changing, and it forever will be. Not just for us but for the people who watch it, and that’s such a great feeling to carry forever,” said Cox.

Friends, which began in 1994, was the top-rated comedy in the United States for six years and aired in more than 200 nations. The finale was watched by some 52 million Americans, eight million more than watched the Oscar ceremony that year. Re-runs gave the comedy a new life and a new generation of fans, and streaming platforms extended it.

Aniston recalled being told when she was cast as spoiled Rachel Green that Friends was “not going to make you a star.” After the first couple of seasons, the six previously unknown actors had become household names as well as genuine friends.

“No-one was going through what we were going through, except the other five,” said Schwimmer of the sudden fame. “Our family couldn’t relate, our closest friends couldn’t relate... but the only other people who really knew what it was like were the other five.”

HBO Max, which hopes the special will drive subscriptions to its year-old streaming platform, is holding outdoor screenings of the reunion special in Los Angeles and New York City, as well as a live-streamed online event for fans.

The special also will be shown on local outlets in countries including India, the UK, Australia, Taiwan and much of Europe.

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