How we’ve missed our favourite Friends! After 17 years apart, the gang returns for one night only… CHRISTOPHER STEVENS gives the reunion four stars
- Friends: The Reunion airs on Thursday on HBO Max in the US UK viewers will be able to stream it on NOW from 8am BST
- The special will also air on Sky One on 27 May at 8pm BST
Friends: The Reunion
Once in an eon, all the planets align. That’s what Friends: The Reunion is like … not so much a TV show, more an accident of astrology. Courteney Cox, who played Monica in the sitcom that defined the Nineties, is emphatic in tonight’s two-hour show: ‘We are not going to do this again.’
And Lisa Kudrow, who co-starred as the ditzy Phoebe, looks aghast when host James Corden diffidently suggests there might be another series or even a movie.
Never, she insists. She wants to remember the characters as we left them, saying: ‘I don’t want anyone’s happy endings unravelled.’
Weepy: Matt LeBlanc dries Courteney Cox’s tears as Jennifer Aniston looks on. Once in an eon, all the planets align. That’s what Friends: The Reunion is like, writes Christopher Stevens
Since it has taken 17 years to get the six stars on screen together, we’ll have to accept these denials. Friends fans, this is your lot.
Why has the get-together taken so long? All six insist they adore each other, speak regularly on the phone and meet for dinner. Matthew Perry (the acerbic Chandler) claims that whenever one former Friend bumps into another at a party, they spend the rest of the evening chatting, to the exclusion of everyone else. And tonight’s special certainly involves endless cuddles, hugs and hand-holding. They’re a tactile bunch.
So it’s a mystery why they’re adamant it’ll never happen again. True, this event feels heavily scripted but there is nothing very complicated about it. One by one, the stars arrive at a studio where their old set has been lovingly recreated.
‘Oh, weird,’ says Jennifer Aniston. ‘Well, where’s the tissue box?’ A lot of viewers will have just the same, lump-in-the-throat reaction. It is strange to see the sets remade as museum pieces.
Matt LeBlanc, who played Joey, picks up a period laptop the size of a breeze block. ‘This is how old we are,’ he says, hefting it. (The show ran for ten seasons from 1994 to 2004, a total of 236 episodes.)
They sit on the sofa in the girls’ apartment. They sit on the sofa at Central Perk coffee house. They sit on a sofa in front of the fountain from the title sequence. In every possible sense, they are never out of their comfort zone. And with each actor paid an appearance fee rumoured to be up to $2.5million (about £1.8million), you can’t blame them for looking satisfied.
Some have worn better than others. Aniston is still sporting a version of her famous ‘Rachel’ hairstyle. Cox and Kudrow are imperceptibly older, at least by comparison to how they were in the finale.
David ‘Ross’ Schwimmer would still fit into his leather drainpipes. But LeBlanc looks like he’s enjoyed a well-fed lockdown. He’s still got those Italian good looks but now he’s less Frank Sinatra, more Antonio Carluccio.
Sofa so good: Five of the Friends back in the comfort zone of Monica and Rachel’s apartment
Perry, whose health and addiction problems have been well documented, sometimes appears unwell, slurring his words. (A source close to the actor has since attributed this to ‘an emergency tooth procedure’ on the day of filming.) His co-stars support him, staying silent when he speaks, perhaps to make it easier for his lines to be honed in the editing suite.
And it is Perry who strikes the only sorrowful note in an otherwise cheerful show.
Describing the anxiety he felt performing before a live audience, he says: ‘I felt like I was gonna die if they didn’t laugh. It’s not healthy. I would sometimes say a line and they wouldn’t laugh, and I would sweat and go into convulsions. I felt like that every single night.’ The secret of Friends was always its big emotions. There’s nothing subtle about the characters and their feelings. Ross always looks like a wet-eyed puppy begging for a treat. Rachel is perpetually on the verge of hysterics, Joey is forever realising how randy he is.
That makes it easy for fans to develop a bond with one or other in the ensemble. During the reunion, celebrities queue to tell us which is their special Friend.
Turn back time: Courteney Cox (Monica) greets Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe). One by one, the stars arrive at a studio where their old set has been lovingly recreated
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai reckons she’s like Joey, because she loves making her room-mate laugh with unexpected quips. David Beckham watches repeats in hotel rooms: ‘I have to say, I’m most like Monica because I’m a clean freak.’
He cites the episode where Chandler and Joey fight over an armchair: ‘It makes you smile almost to the point of crying.’
Reese Witherspoon, who guest starred as one of Rachel’s sisters Jill, makes a flying visit. So does Elliott Gould, who played Monica’s dad, and Tom Selleck, her first serious boyfriend Richard.
Others are seen only in flashback, such as Ben Stiller and Danny DeVito. We even glimpse a young Brad Pitt – though Jen refers to her ex-husband by his surname only.
You’d have to be a true devotee to know all the special guests, actors who win whoops and shrieks from the sparse and socially distanced audience. But then, if you don’t know who Janice, Gunther or Mr Heckles are, why would you be watching?
Why? Perhaps because no other sitcom in TV history has warmed our hearts quite like Friends. Good to see you guys again. We’ve missed you.
Friends: The Reunion is on Sky One at 8pm today.
Friends Reunion only on Binge in Australia at 5:02pm AEST. You can sign up to Binge here.
Friends reunion brings ‘flashes’ of cast magic but is ‘bloated’ with ‘tiresome filler’ and ‘banal’ questions from James Corden, critics claim in early TV reviews
The highly-anticipated Friends reunion has been branded ‘bloated’ and jammed with ‘tiresome filler’ by critics in early TV reviews.
And James Corden has been widely panned for his interview with the show’s stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer and Matthew Perry, with one slamming his ‘banal’ questions.
The HBO Max special, which airs this Thursday, sees the cast return to the famous set where they filmed the series over 10 years.
‘Banal’: Critics have slammed James Corden’s (L) interview of the Friends cast during the reunion special, which is set to air on HBO Max on Thursday
They received a reported $2.5M appearance fee for the TV special.
Entertainment Weekly gave it a grade B noting there were ‘flashes of reunion magic’ during the show, but added: ‘Unfortunately, the bloated, 104-minute (!) special sandwiches these flashes of reunion magic between a lot of silly, tiresome filler.
‘Corden’s interview is banal, though he manages to unearth one (obviously thoroughly vetted in advance) revelation about two of the stars.’
The Hollywood Reporter noted the 42-year-old Late Late Show host was only able to draw out ‘superficial conversations’ from the cast which resulted in ‘glibness’ rather than ‘introspection.’
EW gave it a grade B noting there were ‘flashes of reunion magic’ during the show, but added: ‘Unfortunately, the bloated, 104-minute special sandwiches these flashes of reunion magic between a lot of silly, tiresome filler’
THR noted the 42-year-old Late Late Show host (L) was only able to draw out ‘superficial conversations’ from the cast which resulted in ‘glibness’ rather than ‘introspection’
Deadline claims the reunion will satisfy ‘hardcore’ fans only, noting: ‘If you don’t have a standing order at Central Perk, you’ll probably want to skip the much-hyped, almost two-hour-long shindig that is way more filler than killer, to put it kindly.’
The New York Times called Corden’s interview ‘peripheral’ in the ‘sweet, shaggy special’ but it gets ‘better when it gets out of the cast’s way and shows us what drew us to them, and them to each other.’
‘There’s plenty you won’t hear about,’ NYT critic James Poniewozik wrote.
‘The contentious contract negotiations; criticisms of the show for casting mainly white actors; personal or health issues. When an audience member asks what the actors disliked about making the show, Corden jokingly chides, “Way to keep it positive!”‘
When an audience member asked what the actors disliked about making the show, Corden jokingly chided: ‘Way to keep it positive!’
‘It felt like every night like I was going to die if they didn’t laugh’: Variety reported Matthew Perry (2-L) – whose addiction struggles impacted his time on the show – brought a ‘palpable unease’ to the special
James likely got the gig thanks to the Friends: The Reunion director Ben Winston, who also happens to helm CBS’ Late Late Show With James Corden.
Variety said the ‘Corden weirdness eventually devolves into a fashion show that ‘can only describe as “unhinged.”‘
‘The live-audience component is ostensibly why HBO Max held off on producing the special earlier,’ Variety critic Caroline Framke wrote.
‘And yet throughout the reunion’s impressive run time of over an hour and a half, it also proves to be the least essential.’
IndieWire noted: ‘The opening shots are the most powerful by far, as each star walks through the studio doors into the recreated NYC apartments’
Ben Travers wrote: ‘Random celebs vouch for the show’s bona fides, as if their fandom somehow speaks to the show’s value: “Popular people endorsing a popular thing makes them both… more… popular?” Seriously: Why is David Beckham here?’
Framke said Matthew Perry – whose addiction struggles impacted his time on the show – brought a ‘palpable unease’ to the special.
‘When his castmates talk about staying in touch with each other, he cracks a joke about how he doesn’t hear “from anyone” so dryly that it’s impossible to tell if it’s actually a joke,’ Variety reported.
‘Later, as the rest of the cast laughs about the takes they messed up and how the audience reacted, Perry remembers how he felt every night “like I was going to die if they didn’t laugh,” and acknowledges that “it wasn’t healthy, for sure.”‘
CNN called the 104-minute special ‘big, slightly bloated, and unapologetically nostalgic valentine to fans.’
Among the celebrity guest highlights were Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai being described by her best friend Vee Kativhu as ‘Joey with a hint of Phoebe’ and K-pop boyband BTS revealing they learned how to speak English watching Friends
Snapped back into fine form: Critics seemed to agree on the six stars’ recapturing their chemistry during script readings of episodes ‘The One Where Everybody Finds Out’ and ‘The One Where Ross Finds Out [That Rachel Likes Him]’
‘It’s inevitably hard-pressed to justify the hype,’ CNN critic Brian Lowry wrote.
‘Working best when it lets the cast casually reminisce, while getting carried away with cameos, some of which, well, couldn’t be more random.’
IndieWire gave it a grade of C- and said that ‘hiring Corden as moderator is an immediate red flag.’
‘Trotting out The Late Late Show host to toss softballs at the cast and cackle hysterically at mundane gossip is exactly the kind of thing that contributes to the perception of Friends as shallow and superficial,’ IndieWire’s Ben Travers wrote.
‘Random celebs vouch for the show’s bona fides, as if their fandom somehow speaks to the show’s value: “Popular people endorsing a popular thing makes them both… more… popular?” Seriously: Why is David Beckham here?’
However, Travers noted: ‘The opening shots are the most powerful by far, as each star walks through the studio doors into the recreated NYC apartments.’
Among the celebrity guest highlights were Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai being described by her best friend Vee Kativhu as ‘Joey with a hint of Phoebe’ and K-pop boyband BTS revealing they learned how to speak English watching Friends.
Critics seemed to agree on the six stars’ recapturing their chemistry during script readings of episodes ‘The One Where Everybody Finds Out’ and ‘The One Where Ross Finds Out [That Rachel Likes Him].’
Friends Reunion only on BINGE in Australia at 5pm AEST. You can sign up to BINGE here.
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