Karl Puschmann: Friends: The Reunion – remember old friends

OPINION:

If you want to feel old, take another look at that photo. This is what the cast of Friends looks like now. If you want to truly feel old, take another look in the mirror. This is what you look like now. Dear God, what happened to your face?

Allow me to answer. We all get old and start to look like s***. So no one told you life was gonna be this way? Sorry to bum out your Friday, but there it is.

I’m aware this is entirely not fair to the Friends. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc are all frozen in television at their youthful, attractive best. So it can’t help but be a shock to see them now. A little bit greyer, a little bit portly, a little bit too much plastic surgery.

I’m no oil painting myself so please understand there’s no judgment here, just my reaction at seeing the Friends all individually walking onto their famous set at the start of Friends: The Reunion.

This is the long-awaited special that ends the show’s 17-year break from our screens and is now available to stream on TVNZ OnDemand.

I’m fairly cynical towards Friends, I think mainly because once TV2 started screening the show way back in 1994, they never stopped. In that prehistoric era your choice of what to watch was dictated by whatever happened to be on. In TV2’s case what was always on was Friends. Familiarity breeds contempt and Friends was inescapable.

So, when I learned that the reunion wasn’t a new episode but was instead just James Corden interviewing the cast I was fairly skeptical towards it.

In this celebratory setting how honest could the Friends really be? And, if they could be as honest as they liked, and if they even had dirt to dish or scores to settle, why would they? They may be TV royalty but none of them are idiot enough to bite the hand that feeds.

I went into it expecting nothing more than, “we all loved working on the show and we all love each other,” and that’s exactly what I got.

But, as the show rolled on, I came to appreciate that that’s what made Friends, well, Friends. It was a nice show about nice people who loved each other on-screen and, as the Reunion shows, loved each other off-screen as well. Cynicism has no place in the world of Friends and this reunion is a cosy, comfy viewing experience.

Still, I could have done without the segments of random celebs and randos from around the world telling us about their favourite episodes. There’s not too much of that but it feels unnecessary.

Especially as the best part is when the camera just lets the old friends reunite. Their chemistry as people, so pivotal to the success of the show, shines. It also proves the most revealing.

Sitting on the Central Perk couch the gang are all smiles and laughs, reminiscing about how fun and rewarding it was to film in front of a live audience, until a glum Matthew Perry offers another perspective.

“I felt like I was gonna die if they didn’t laugh,” he says, looking down at his shoes. “It’s not healthy for sure. I’d sometimes say a line and if they didn’t laugh I’d sweat and go into convulsions.”

It’s a genuine revelation that momentarily shocks the Friends out of their happy place. Especially as Perry, who battled addiction to prescription meds for years, now speaks in a slow, slurred fashion. It’s stark contrast to the fast-talking snark of his character Chandler Bing.

“I don’t remember you telling us that,” Kudrow says, concerned.

“Oh yeah,” he answers. “I felt like that every single night.”

It could have led to deeper and quite real discussion, but you can almost hear the director hysterically shouting, “Pivot! Pivot!” as the mood darkens.

A quick cut and we’re back on the happy train as the cast chat with Corden, recreate bits from the show or do surprsingly funny/emotional table reads of famous scenes.

“If the show is about that time of your life when your friends are your family, once you have family of your own it’s no longer that time,” Marta Kauffman, the co-creator, explains of deciding to end the show.

This also illustrates why Friends: The Reunion is worth watching, even if the series wasn’t your bag. The show was on in the background of life for so long that every clip, story, and catchprase shakes off a little dust from the memories of your own life.

It’s not just a reunion for the actors, it’s an invitation to think back to who you hung out with, what you did, where you were and, heck, who you even were during that time when your friends were your family.

Chances are your job was a joke, you were broke and your love life was DOA. But even when the rain started to pour your friends were there for you. Like you were there for them too.

Good times. Good times.

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