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The Friends reunion is like the show itself – flawed but irresistible

It's stuck in second gear, but we love it anyway.

Friends reunion
HBO Max
Published: Thursday, 27th May 2021 at 8:54 am

So, it's finally here. The hotly anticipated Friends reunion.

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Once we'd got used to the fact this wasn't a scripted episode, and breathed a sigh of relief that Ross and Rachel wouldn't find some other reason to split up, we spent months wondering how it would feel to see those six stars back together on that iconic set all these years later.

And it turns out it felt wonderful, magical even. Watching David Schwimmer well up as he entered Monica's flat for the first time in nearly two decades made us oddly emotional from the outset. Seeing the genuine ease and love between them was amazing (especially for the same generation that has lived through the Sarah Jessica Parker/Kim Cattrall feud).

Much like the show itself (now often criticised for its dated viewpoints and a lack of diversity) it was a joyous, if imperfect experience.

If you didn't see The Fresh Prince of Bel Air's criminally undersold reunion show, seek it out on BBC iPlayer. It's a glowing example of how these sorts of programmes should be done. For a start, there wasn't a host, and no celebrity cameos were required: it was just the cast, sitting on set, sharing memories. Of course there was a producer somewhere, pulling the strings, but it felt authentic. The best moments of the Friends reunion are when the six stars are on their own, reminiscing. It's the closest we get to seeing what these megastars are really like when they're not performing, and to see their real relationships: the true bonds that created TV's greatest on-screen friendships.

Likewise, Will Smith knew he couldn't gloss over the difficult moments in Fresh Prince's history. He addressed the rift with former cast member Janet Hubert, confronted how he behaved as an overly confident young star and gave us a genuinely revealing insight into what was going on behind the scenes. Friends however, leans away from the elephant in the room - there's no mention of Matthew Perry's health struggles and how that must have affected the cast. Or the pay negotiations that led to them reportedly being paid $1 million per episode. Of course this is a celebration of the show, but there are unanswered questions (even after two hours). It's not the warts-and-all documentary we might have hoped for.

Friends reunion

Matt LeBlanc is the real revelation of the show. He looks relaxed, has all the best anecdotes and isn't afraid to poke fun at his castmates (his reaction to Schwimmer and Aniston talking about their feelings for each other is priceless). It's easy to see how he created such a loveable character in Joey.

There are tonnes of interesting details for fans to savour. We'll forever be looking at Monica's kitchen table to see where Courtney Cox hid her lines, and we'll laugh all the harder at Ross dressed as a potato, knowing this is Schwimmer's only chance to act opposite his hero Sean Penn. It's fascinating to hear the writers talk about creating and casting this series, which has meant so much to so many of us.

But you get the feeling we're only scratching the surface. Wouldn't it be great to skip the bit where David Beckham talks about watching Friends in a hotel room, in favour of some more anecdotes or a few difficult questions from a more probing host? Lisa Kudrow's duet with Lady Gaga was cute, but was it at the expense of a deeper conversation?

The impression the cast gives is that there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but what about the harder days they don't want to tell us about? We're all friends here, spill the beans...

Ultimately none of these criticisms matter. Fans will love learning some behind the scenes secrets, seeing the Super Six reunited, and getting proof that they really are mates in real life (this is the biggie). It could have been a better programme, but that's not the point. Nobody's real friendships are as idealistic as the ones we see on the show, but we don't come to Friends for gritty realism. The reunion offers the same joy and optimistic spirit of the series itself, and who could say no to that?

Read more: Paul Rudd isn’t in the Friends Reunion special, but here are all the guest stars

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Friends: The Reunion is available to stream on NOW and will air on Sky One tonight at 8pm. To find out what else is on, check out our TV Guide.

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