Unless you purposely ignored something related to ’90s New York sitcoms (but actually shot in LA), you may have heard of this little happening now known as the Friends Reunion.
Since Friends ended 17 years ago, the American comedy has remained original and new to fans – and people who have re-watched the series at least 16 times are not uncommon animals.
It’s truly a cultural phenomenon that spawns tons of buzzwords, memes, merch, and themed pub quizzes. And obsessions. So many obsessions.
Tell someone that Chandler Bing’s TV Guide profile is Miss Chanandler Bong and they will get a smile on their faces.
But are friends worthy of worship who inspire them, or are they all a little crazy?
Ahead of the Friends Meeting, which will air at 5 p.m. AEST on Binge *, writers Poppy Taylor and Wenlei Ma from news.com.au will discuss this very important question at the heart of all human existence.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how excited are you about the Friends Reunion episode and why?
When the show ended nearly 20 years ago, a significant hole the size of friends remained in my heart. Fifty-two million people around the world tuned into the final episode – that’s more than double the total population of Australia.
The fans have been begging to see you again for years and we finally have one – without saving any costs. The original set has been completely rebuilt down to the smallest detail.
Some may be disappointed that the reunion isn’t a « The One Where They All Grew Up » episode, but seeing the six friends return to the same rooms is certainly emotional.
WENLEI: No, not at all excited. I feel like everyone is out of their minds – and not in a good way.
Honestly, if this much-touted reunion episode had been a reunion with all six actors in character and we’re going back to the lives of the fictional people, I would be more excited. Well, I’d rate it at least three out of ten.
What is it like to meet friends stars again who are sitting on a couch and sharing memories? This is a DVD special or an extended episode by Jimmy Kimmel. Why is everyone hanging out for a clip show and some memories? And after 26 years, are there really fresh stories from the set that haven’t been raked over tons of times?
I don’t want to be a total antagonist, but the histrionics of a non-canonical reunion with friends is exactly what is wrong with so many parts of pop culture – a tendency to cling to what came at the expense of new experiences.
Why is Friends still such a cultural phenomenon after all this time – and does it deserve this status?
POPPY: It was summed up in the last episode, « Look around you guys, » Chandler tells his two newborns as he and the rest of the gang say goodbye to the apartment for the last time.
« This was your first home. And it was a happy place full of love and laughter. But more importantly, because of the rental control it was a bloody bargain! »
Even after decades, the happy place Chandler describes feels like home to many – it’s the comfort food of television. Though the show ended 17 years ago, its magnetic pull draws a whole new generation – everyone tweeted, wrote, and used tinder.
Still, they accept it. Maybe it feels like an idealism of the past to them – something that seems incredible, a place where friends sit in a coffee shop to catch up after work, rather than on social media.
Monica’s iconic line in the pilot is relevant to this day. « Welcome to the real world. It sucks. You’re going to love it, » she says to Rachel. The line appeals to every new generation trying to find their feet.
The legacy of friends isn’t the pile of awards and reviews – it’s how the show managed to convey the simplicity of worldly life. While we sat in our own living rooms, the cleverly designed little set of the show felt right at home.
The show took advantage of our collective neurosis like no other sitcom before. Friends indulge in the idea that nothing is too « crazy, » no quirk, or flaw too much for your close friends to handle.
Rachel, Ross, Monica, Joey, Phoebe, and Chandler were six of the most relatable characters of the nineties and early nineties.
WENLEI: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Friends is a bad TV show. In fact, I think it’s a good TV show.
I’ve seen it all the way through, at least a time and a half. I remember watching the show on Channel 9 Monday night when I was growing up and then buying some seedy DVDs while on a trip to Asia about 15 years ago and watching it all over again – (no pirate, kids, it is wrong).
It’s a warm, relatable series of quotable jokes and characters that are easy to invest in. They’re not perfect people, but it’s the mistakes that make them interesting.
But, and that’s a big but (no different from Emma Gellar’s favorite song – yes, I’m full of friends’ trivia) – it’s not the best TV show in TV show history. It’s not even the best American sitcom of the ’90s – Frasier was a much sharper series that had as much hilarity and heart as Eames loved armchairs, and there’s a very strong argument for the absurdity of Seinfeld. Throw even a little love for NewsRadio.
The fact that friends remain a cultural phenomenon to such an extent is confusing. How did a series that ran out of steam at the time of Ross and Rachel’s second re-pairing provoke such mad devotion? I shake my head and even write this sentence.
On an objective level, I understand why people are still so married to the show. It is a simple watch that is generally harmless and unchallenged, and nostalgic for what is called a less complicated time.
(Of course there is no such thing as a « less complicated time », just rose-tinted glasses sitting between blinkers – that’s another joke.)
And now that we’re living through a time of so many entertainment options thanks to 15+ streaming services in Australia alone, election paralysis is a real thing. Stopping by friends again means not having to make any further decisions. Yes, I understand it.
POPPY: In the time since the series began, children have been born and are now adults. Even so, we’ll still see and see the show again. We find ways to include “PIVOT!”, “My Sandwich”, “Joey Doesn’t Share Food” and “Oh, my God” in our conversations.
Today, Friends is notable for spanning the nineties and what it meant to be young and moving around the big city, but it’s now also notable for what it doesn’t have: smartphones, social media, dating apps and a lack of different characters.
One might expect the show to be buried deep in a barrel of nostalgia of the nineties, along with other cultural antiques. Instead, the show lives on with a whole new generation of young people enjoying their joys.
WENLEI: I could point out all the ways friends forgive me in retrospect – the fashion, the gay panic, the fat shame, and the whiteness of their main and secondary cast.
But it’s also absolutely a product of its time – sure, we all should have known better then, but most of us didn’t know, and nothing can change about that. The show can exist as it is without being stuck with this baggage.
Where it is more uncomfortable is the laughing track. It’s actually so strange to think about how new it was that sitcoms with multiple cameras and studio audiences were the norm rather than the outlier.
We’ve all seen these clips on YouTube where they take out the laugh track and how stilted the comedy and jokes are because of the endless pauses. Ooph, shudder.
After two decades of comedies that revolve (!!) around more realistic single cam setups and a faster pace of joke setups, the format is much more blatant than the nineties values. I mean, it’s just so broad and exaggerated that it could be pantomime.
POPPY: There are few things more satisfying in life than sitting down to a guaranteed giggle, and that is exactly what the Friends theme melody evokes. It takes me to a familiar place that is free from worry and full of laughter.
Theme melodies are designed to be catchy, and Friends theme melody was and is everywhere. Everyone knows the lyrics and everyone claps along in the right part – even if we quickly press forward on the remote control.
The Rembrandts recorded the song thinking no one would ever know it was them, oh how wrong they were. The single spent 11 weeks at the top of the charts and the band still receives royalties when an episode airs.
There couldn’t have been a more perfect text: « I’ll be there for you, » and of course friends were always there for us.
WENLEI: I remember cutting the lyrics for The Rembrandts’ song out of a Smash Hits magazine, so it’s certainly associated with a lot of nostalgia. I still get a ping when I hear the song.
But do you know what else I get every time? A reminder that almost three decades after this catchy tune entered our lives, people are so strangely obsessed with friends. Go on guys.
If you could just watch one show again for the rest of your life, would it be friends?
A sitcom like Friends was perfect for the 1990s. A coming-of-age show full of nostalgia for tinder – floppy hairstyles, giant cell phones and canned laughs.
It is reminiscent of a time when people actually wrote down their details on paper napkins in bars and cafes.
I enjoy the show’s enduring charm, there is very little about the world of friends that exists in the world today. Friends is a safety net, I know exactly what I’m going to get. Almost every episode is a stand-alone microcomedy, full of life lessons, style inspiration, and iconic one-liners.
Whether I’m sitting on my sofa, in a friend’s house, on a plane or in a hotel, when I hear the lyrics: « I’ll be there for you » always brings me home.
WENLEI: Aha, that’s a trick question – I know because I set it. This tenacious determination to hold on to this one thing is exactly what frustrates me most about the friendship phenomenon.
While I don’t give people the convenience of revisiting something they know and love (God knows, I’ve seen Buffy and 30 Rock more than once), the fact is that it comes at the cost of new experiences that makes me want to scream.
In the time it takes to get another watch from Friends, you could fit Fleabag, Utopia, You’re the Worst, Happy Endings (a series heavily influenced by Friends) and have 16 hours left to spend on Flight of viewing the Conchords a time and a half.
I don’t like the whole revival trend – do we really need to know what Carrie Bradshaw has to say about New York 2021? – although I have no problem with remakes because we should give another generation a glimpse into a story if they have something to say about it through the prism of our present world.
And every time a television station injects millions and millions of dollars on a revival or reunion, it’s a less fresh idea that it could have commissioned from a new voice.
The tendency to hold onto something you know means that you are not opening up to whatever else is out there. It’s like always going on vacation to the Gold Coast and never thinking of San Sebastian.
I know the world is scary and it is a risk to take a risk for something new. What if you don’t like it? What if you wasted those 30 minutes of your time?
But what if you find your new favorite series? Or have you been introduced to a different perspective that you hadn’t considered before?
As we grew up, most of us watched Play School and each episode took us through the windows and into a different world.
And that’s exactly what storytelling gives us the opportunity to experience worlds that are different from those we know. Think about what you are missing.
You can share your thoughts on friends with @poppyblue_ and @wenleima on Twitter or comment below
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