Reviewing Friends: The Reunion is tricky. It’s difficult to judge whether the nearly two-hour reunion show gives fans what they want. At the very beginning, the Ben Winston directed special tells us that the six friends have only been in a room together once in the seventeen years since they left the soundstage in Burbank California.
It starts promisingly. The friends arriving at the soundstage and getting a genuine thrill at seeing the sets bought back to life. David Schimmer is first, followed by Lisa Kudrow and so on and the whole sequence did give me goosebumps. It’s clear that the friends on Friends are friends. Seeing them reminisce, embrace each other hold back tears is genuinely moving. The sequence, that opens the special is sadly the best and most sincere this reunion special ever gets.
There are a lot of good ideas here that fans will get a kick out of. The cast answering trivia questions about the show as they did in the famous episode where the girls lost their apartment. There’s also an interview section where the cast sit on the orange couch in front of ‘that fountain’ to chat with host James Corden about their favourite moments, share memories of the casting process and all too briefly reunite with key guest stars.
So where does it go wrong? Sadly it goes off the rails quite quickly. All of these elements that work perfectly fine on their own are irritatingly mashed together. At times it can be an exhausting watch because the show never really lets itself relax. It all feels very safe. Every time the cast is on the verge of saying something meaningful or surprising the action will move on to another segment of the quiz or creators Kevin Bright, Marta Kaufmann or David Crane chatting about the casting process. Perhaps unsurprisingly from the team behind The Late Late Show relies annoyingly heavily on celebrity guests telling anecdotes about their favourite episodes or characters.
Too often the special forgets that viewers want to spend time with the six people they love and having to sit through David Beckham reminiscing on the brilliance of ‘The One Where No One’s Ready‘ or Kit Harrington admitting he’s ‘more of a Monica’ only served to distract from what we were here for. An embargo prevents me from talking about the full extent of Lady GaGa’s involvement but suffices to say it is as self-indulgent and ridiculous as you’re imagining. Then there’s a fashion show that sees Justin Beiber gleefully model the ‘spudnik’ Halloween costume and Cindy Crawford sporting the leather pants that gave Ross so much trouble. It’s a segment that the cast seems to get a kick out of, but it was another example of how so often the special takes the spotlight away from the people we’re here to see.
The fact that the bits on the soundstage, the bits with the quiz, the bits with James Corden, the bits with the celebrity fans and the bits with Bright Kauffman and Crane all play their part makes the whole thing feel rather overproduced. At times it can feel like someone has changed the channel or fast-forwarded to another section of the show. David Beckham gets more time on screen than Geller patriarch Eliott Gould. A brief appearance by Richard actor Tom Selleck is a nice surprise but he’s never asked about his time on the show or what it was like playing the older man in a brand new cast.
There felt as if there were lot of missed opportunities. I would have liked to have known how or if the cast supported Matthew Perry through his many struggles across the run of the series. In perhaps the most honest, but quickly glossed over part of the show, Perry admitted “I felt like I was going to die if they didn’t laugh,” says Perry. “I had sweat and convulsions if I didn’t get a laugh. I felt like that every single night.” It’s a genuinely surprising admission and one that takes Lisa Kudrow by surprise, but like so much of the special this quite important moment is glossed over because there’s a fashion show to be getting on with.
On the positive side, there is something really special about seeing the cast together again. The sequences that focus solely on them and their friendship are the real gems of this reunion. They’re calm and sweet and exemplify that it was this group of ‘friends’ that made the show the megahit it was. It’s just a shame that there’s so much noise around the rest of it as I all I really wanted to do was spend as much time with the ‘Friends’ as possible.
Watch Friends: The Reunion on Sky One and streaming service NOW from Thursday 27 May