Friends reunion: Worth all the hype

A moment from Friends Reunion

Since the finale, the six cast members have been in a room all together only once. Until today…. That was how it began… and ended up giving us 100-odd minutes of smiles, tears and a whole lot of good ol’ nostalgia. The much-awaited Friends Reunion — titled, in true Friends fashion, as The One Where They Get Back Together — was worth all the hype, giving fans cooped up at home across the world and spanning generations, something that has both feel and familiarity. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer came back on Thursday to reminisce about the show whose influence and popularity remains unchallenged 17 years after the last episode went off air. The Telegraph picks its favourites from the Reunion (now streaming on Zee5). And yes, we want more! A movie, please!

The first meeting

The first few seconds are enough to give one goosebumps as we spot Ross (David Schwimmer) walk on to Stage 24 at the Warner Bros Studio in Burbank, California, the original Friends soundstage, and poke around the famous set that became an indelible part of the lives of every Friends fan for a decade. The familiar keyhole frame from Monica’s apartment, the orange couch from Central Perk come into view. And then, one by one, we spot them all….

“I am getting the chills,” says Joey (Matt LeBlanc) as he looks around, after exchanging high-fives and hugs. “This is where Jen and I had our first kiss, that’s where Lisa played the guitar,” smiles Ross.

“Remember when we could all fit in through that door,” laughs Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), even as they talk about the memorabilia from the set they took back on the last day of filming…. For the record, Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) plucked the cookie jar from the top of the fridge, Rachel took home a neon-coloured mug, Joey took one of the balls from the foosball table. There is an interesting anecdote about how there would always be a script left in the sink… and that invariably belonged to Monica (Courteney Cox). It’s 10 minutes of taking us back to the ’90s once more, with Aniston summing it up aptly with, “Where’s the tissue box?” The first meeting gives way to the strains of the show’s iconic theme song — I’ll Be There For You — which gets an upgrade, but still feels familiar.

The quiz… rehashed

Remember The One with the Embryos, aka Episode 12 in Season 4, where Rachel and Monica mess up a quiz and end up losing their apartment to Joey and Chandler? Well, a large chunk of the Reunion is devoted to rehashing that iconic quiz, with Ross once again assuming the role of the gamemaster. A lot of wrong answers, a few right ones, some winner appearances from the likes of the grumpy Mr Heckles, the singing quartet that Ross had sent to Rachel on her first day at her new job, Joey’s ‘hand twin’ and Tom Selleck (who played Richard), and simply seeing the six go back in time, made this pure gold. And by the way, this time the girls won the quiz!

The sit-down chat

The best thing about the Reunion episode was the intercut between the cast’s time on set, reminiscing, watching and sometimes reenacting some moments, a table read (more on that later) and a sit-down interview in front of the memorable ‘Friends fountain’ with a socially-distanced live audience watching on. Anchored by James Corden (the Reunion episode is directed by Ben Winston, the man behind Corden’s smash-hit The Late Late Show), the chat brought out some little-known facts from the shoot. Like how Ross hated Marcel the monkey and how for the first few years, all the six members of the cast ate almost every meal together and watched the show together. “We are family,” they say, and claim to stay in touch. “We all know that every time you text or call someone, they will call up,” says Lisa Kudrow. To which Matthew Perry quips, “I don’t hear from anyone!”

The presence of creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane in the audience made the cast troop down for a hug, but it was Elliot Gould and Christina Pickles (who played Jack and Judy Geller on the show) who brought on the tears when they said that they considered all the six to be their children and “looked out for them like parents

The moments on set

The six buddies pottering around on set and remembering the times gone by was smartly interspersed with actual moments from the show. Like Joey and Chandler lounging on their armchairs and refusing to get up. Or for that matter, the two of them fighting over the sofa and Joey dislocating his arm socket for real on set, prompting the writers to include scenes which featured Joey with a sling. We laughed the loudest when they spoke about the time when the six had to get ready and go out for Ross’s speech and Joey ended up wearing all of Chandler’s clothes! (Which makes an appearance later in the Reunion episode).

The table read

We had been given a hint of the six actors sitting down for a table reading of parts of the episode The One With the Jellyfish. But they actually did two more. We absolutely loved Phoebe’s shocked reenactment (“My eyes! My eyes!”) of that moment in the episode The One Where Everybody Finds Out where Phoebe, Rachel and Ross, well, find out that Monica and Chandler are seeing each other after spotting them making out through the window of the opposite apartment.

The other winner of a table read is the episode called The One Where Ross Finds Out where Rachel and Ross fight in the restaurant, he stomps out, she angrily bolts the door, he comes back, she somehow opens the door and they kiss. By the way, in the chat with Corden, Aniston and Schwimmer said that they had feelings for each other on set, but channeled it into Ross and Rachel. To which LeBlanc quipped, “Bullshit!”

The back stories

Creators Kauffman and Crane chip in at vantage points to talk about the show’s behind-the-scenes moments. The most interesting, of course, is the story behind the casting of the principal characters. Ross was the first to be cast, with David’s perpetual hangdog expression convincing the creators that he would make for a good Ross. However, he had to be lured back to TV, having moved back to Chicago to do theatre. Lisa Kudrow reportedly not only nailed her audition, but also elevated the material, while Matt LeBlanc had only 11 dollars in his wallet when he auditioned for the part of Joey. Matt shared a fun anecdote about getting drunk and hitting his face on the toilet seat between auditions and still managing to land the part. The creators revealed that casting Rachel was the toughest and took them a long time. Jennifer Aniston fit the part like a glove but she had to initially divide time between shooting for Friends and another show, which she eventually quit midway. Courteney Cox was initially thought for Rachel’s part, but she felt she fitted Monica better.

The creators also shared how they initially planned for Monica and Chandler to only have a one-night stand, but the unending claps and cheers from the live audience on set convinced them to make the two a pair. Thank God, we say!

Speaking of live audiences, Matthew Perry revealed that he had moments of extreme anxiety on set when the audience didn’t respond to a line or a joke from him. “I thought I was going to die,” he reveals to his shocked former co-stars, for the first time.

The guests

There was many a spot-the-famous-face moment with some celebrities making appearances, while others popped in to say what they loved about Friends. Lady Gaga walking in guitar in hand, to sing her version of Smelly Cat, with Phoebe, was a definite highlight. We loved how Reese Witherspoon (who had a guest appearance as Rachel’s sister on the show) spoke about how she fangirled over Joey greeting her with his trademark ‘How you doin’?’

David Beckham called himself “a definite Monica” because he’s a cleanliness freak while Malala Yousafzai — whose Friends favourite moment is Monica and Ross doing ‘The Routine’ — came in with her best friend, who described Malala as “Joey with a hint of Phoebe”. Korean pop sensation BTS also made an appearance and so did Game of Thrones star Kit Harington who said he always felt like he was a part of the Geller family. Reason? “Always neurotic and wearing very tight pants”.

The guest appearances were cue enough for the Friends cast to reminisce about the big names who had been a part of their show. Danny DeVito’s name came up and so did Julia Roberts’. The cutest was when one of the actors turned to Aniston and said, “Her fella was also on it” and Aniston replied, “Yes, (Brad) Pitt was in one episode”. Awwww!

The impact

What was heartwarming was seeing voices of common people, cutting across generations, talking about the influence and impact that Friends has had on them. From a girl in India saying that Monica proposing to Chandler by going down on one knee prompted her to do the same for her boyfriend, to a set of twins in Ghana saying how watching Friends enabled them to make friends. Another boy from India said that watching Friends during his dad’s terminal illness cheered him up like nothing else could.

The finale

Drawing the curtains on a memorable 100 minutes was a fashion show at the venue of the Corden chat, with the popular costumes from the various seasons of the show being modelled. So out popped Cara Delevingne sporting Rachel’s pink bridesmaid dress and Cindy Crawford in Ross’s tight leather pants. The maximum cheers were reserved for Justin Bieber in Ross’s Sputnik costume, with the holiday armadillo also making an appearance. And then out came Matt LeBlanc himself… wearing all of Chandler’s clothes and famously saying, “Could I be wearing any more clothes?!”

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