It’s hard to have been tuned into pop culture in the last 20-odd years without stumbling across Friends. The very-90s sitcom about six 20-somethings making their way in New York City has been on endless re-runs since it went off air 15 years ago, and its appearance on Netflix sparked so much joy in the 30- and 40-something set that we can almost taste the coffee at Central Perk.
Me, I was a fan, I guess. I was a 90s teen, so I lapped up the early series. I wanted my own Marcel. I can still be heard humming Smelly Cat every now and then. But, for me, it ran out of steam long before it ended. I lost interest in Friends around the time Ross married Helen and Chandler and Monica got together. I started missing episodes and not worrying about it, until I realised a whole season had gone by and I couldn’t take part in the watercooler chat. I could not tell you what happened in the last few seasons; I’ve never seen the finale.
Needless to say, I haven’t re-watched any episodes, mainly because I’m just worried about what I’ll see. I’ve heard enough chatter about how badly Friends has aged that I just don’t want to go there.
And then they announced the reunion. Cue internet fireworks and much sharing of memes.
For a long time I’ve felt like the odd one out – the one who doesn’t get many of the references my own generation makes; the one who’d rather watch something I haven’t seen than revisit something that was never really a favourite to begin with. The recent frenzy of OMGs about this reunion has amplified that feeling. Just another way I’m not part of the mainstream, yet not part of the counterculture either.
But now it’s emerged the “reunion” will actually be an unscripted, chat show-style one-off special, I’m really struggling to see the excitement. Wow, six people on a couch together! I can see it already: a recreation of the iconic Central Perk set, and much debate about the order in which they sit on the couch. Maybe an odd Guenther appearance to bring in the drinks. An inane “host” just there to encourage gossip and bantz and reminiscing about the old days.
If you’re one of the ones excited about this, then good luck to you – I hope you enjoy it, and it reveals all the secrets you’ve ever wanted to know. Me, I’ll just channel my inner Chandler (he’s never far away) and get snarky about age and nostalgia. I mean, it’s not like these people haven’t randomly appeared together since in various permutations, and it’s not like there’s been a massive feud or animosity (openly) between the various players. Sure, some have fared better than others in the post-Friends world, but that was the case even during the show. And I get that it’s a big deal, but I just don’t see why it’s so big that it gets to be the selling point for a new streaming service. I’d ask HBO to explain the thinking, but the inches and inches (pixels and pixels?) of media that’s been dedicated to this reunion does the talking for them.
An actual reunion, one where the cast actually reprises their characters as middle aged New Yorkers, would actually be interesting – but only if those characters were on the same arcs they were in the 90s. How would Ross cope with the #MeToo era? Would Phoebe still be seen as the ditzy comic relief in an era where wellness and following your dreams is the Instagram lifestyle? Would we still laugh at flashbacks of “Fat Monica” and Rachel “before the nose job”? And what would the modern world make of Chandler’s embarassment about his apparently-transgender father?
You might accuse the nay-sayers of being snowflakes, but the world has moved on. The kids born during Friends’ run would now be having kids of their own – that’s the equivalent of the Peaky Blinders crew dealing with the emergence of rock’n’roll. Societies change, things ebb and flow. But these oh-so-90s 20-somethings making their way in the Twenties as they approach their 50s? Now that’s a reunion I might actually get excited about…