Letting go of Friends – why it’s sometimes better to leave well enough alone

15 years since the NY-set sitcom ended, isn't it time we accepted its loss?

Friends

It’s been a decade-and-a-half since Friends departed our screens, but it feels like we’re still in the first stage of grief.

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Promoting a new TV project on Howard Stern’s Sirius XM Radio program on Monday, Jennifer Aniston (who played Rachel) was, of course, asked the inevitable question about a Friends revival – the same question that she and her former cast-mates have faced in almost every single interview for the past 15 years.

“I really think there is an idea if there is a reboot of the show, it won’t even be close to as good as it was,” she said. “So why do it? It would ruin it.”

It’s a similar response to the one that she and the rest of the former Central Perk gang have been good-naturedly trotting out whenever the question crops up.

Matt LeBlanc (Joey) suggested back in 2012 that any sort of Friends reunion would be a “bad idea”, Matthew Perry (Chandler) has said he wouldn’t want to “risk doing something bad” and “tarnishing the [show’s] image” and Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe) went so far as to suggest that a Friends movie featuring the cast in their 40s and 50s would just be plain “sad”.

The question, though, keeps getting asked. Forget anger (“Why did they cancel Friends?!”), bargaining (“How about just a one-off reunion movie?”) and depression (“Watching the repeats just isn’t the same…”) – 15 years after the show ended and it feels like we’re all still firmly stuck in denial.

Isn’t it time we stopped asking? Series co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman – who would, after all, be the ones to make any call on resuscitating the show – have had to fend off revival rumours as frequently as the cast, and have been unwavering in their insistence that it’ll never happen.

Just last year, Crane told RadioTimes.com that, as far as he and Kauffman are concerned, Friends will never be revived or rebooted.

“It’s done, it’s done,” he insisted. “We put a bow on it, it’s done. We had 10 great years. God knows, if you want to see Friends, it’s on television…

“I think it’s giving into a notion of what people think they want, but if you give people what they want, how can it not be ultimately be disappointing?”

Unsurprisingly, he’s got a point. Do we even really want what we’re asking for? Matt LeBlanc has taken to making the same gag (who can blame him?) every time he’s asked about playing womanising Joey Tribbiani again in his mid 50s: “I don’t think anybody wants to see Joey at his colonoscopy!”

The joke might be getting old, but again, he’s right.

Matt LeBlanc in 2019
Randy Holmes via Getty Images

Bringing Friends back now would require wrenching it out of its ’90s nostalgia bubble and planting it firmly in 2019, and even if some of its more problematic elements (gay jokes, fat jokes, a painful lack of diversity) could be addressed, the six main cast are now all aged between 50 and 56.

The original show was about the experiences of six 20 to 30-somethings. Now, their priorities, their personalities, their entire character would be different. The show itself wouldn’t the same.

Possibly a Friends revival with an older cast could be brilliant, funny and poignant – like a New York-set Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? – but it probably wouldn’t be what most fans would want.

Let’s not forget either that the only real attempt to continue the Friends franchise since 2004 was the short-lived spin-off Joey – a famous misfire pulled from the air before it could even air all of its completed episodes, the only reason it did relatively little to damage the original show’s reputation is because it was so forgettable.

Warner Bros, Sky pics, TL

All 236 episodes of the original show still exist and, as Crane implied, they’re in pretty much constant circulation on terrestrial television (with streaming additionally offering us the opportunity to revisit the series any time we like). What’s more, the first stab at wrapping up Friends – 2004’s two-part ‘The Last One’ – was a reasonably popular and uncontroversial ending to a long-running series, a minor miracle in television.

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Like Aniston says, why risk spoiling that?