Friends: The Reunion is now available to stream on HBO Max. The six cast members – Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer – gathered, not to film a sequel – “Where are they now?” – but to look back and reminisce about the ten years they spent filming the show. While many fans will enjoy watching clips from favorite episodes, table readings, guest stars, and bloopers, I was more interested in the focus on friends, not only among Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross, but also the close ties that developed between the stars.
Yes, Friends was a wonderful sitcom, but it was also a tribute to friendship. And this is the perfect time for us to think about our own friends and how they fit – or, maybe, no longer fit – into our lives.
Let’s be honest. Our friendships are being tested like never before. We have come out of a four year firestorm where politics sounded a death knell for many friendships. The year long pandemic separated us from our friends and now, coming out of that isolation, many of us are changed. What we valued before the pandemic, may no longer seem important to us. Some of us are suffering the after effects of Covid-19, either because of sickness, the loss of a loved one, or financial hardship. And we are still divided over masks and vaccines.
Writers for Friends kept the focus on what was happening in the personal worlds of the six characters. There was no talk about elections, wars, anything that might lead to a debate and create a rift. Twitter was launched in 2006, Facebook in February, 2004, one month before the Friends series finale. Social media, with all its power to drive people apart, never was a factor.
The six character in Friends share a unique time in their lives – GenXers trying to launch careers and find love. Turns out, that coming together was happening in the lives of the actors, too. No one expected the zeitgeist that the sitcom would become. Creator Marta Kauffman talks about walking through an airport just as the first season was ending. The cast was on virtually every magazine cover being sold in the shops. Yes, they hit the lottery. (More than 1,000 actors were screened during casting.) But in the special, Schwimmer says they were unprepared for becoming overnight celebrities. The only people who understood what they were going through were the six cast members themselves. Even family members, Schwimmer says, although supportive, couldn’t share that experience.
Isn’t sharing an experience, whether wonderful or awful, something that brings people together? Haven’t we all formed friendships in the workplace, as we dealt with long hours, pressure to complete an important project, or the boss from hell? Talk about it to an outside friend or even a spouse and they may not grasp what we’re going through. Only those on the front lines can empathize.
Courtney Cox mentions how they may not have kept in touch frequently over the years, but whenever they did get together, it was like those gaps didn’t exist. During the pandemic, I reached out to friends I hadn’t heard from in years – one in London, another in Houston. After the inevitable comments about the health crisis, we quickly fell into a rhythm that seemed familiar. A true friendship can withstand gaps in time and distance and still survive.
Matthew Perry made one observation that seemed startling, maybe even selfish, but one that I understood. If he goes to a party and sees one of the cast members, he knows he’s going to spend the entire evening talking to that person. He’ll apologize to the people he came in with and hope they understand. Often the temptation to catch up with an old friend beats out trying to make new friends at a gathering. Been there, done that.
Of course, Friends was fiction and the reunion presents the show and the cast in the best possible light. We don’t really know if these six actors are true friends or just going through the motions. (I like to think they remain close and support one another.) But we don’t have to buy into any fantasy about them or the show to take away some ideas for evaluating our own friendships.
As we age our friendship circles become smaller. It’s not always possible, or advisable, to maintain friendships that have run their course. And sometimes there are truly toxic people who need to be left behind for our own mental health. Now is the perfect time to make some changes going forward.
Even if you weren’t a fan, Friends: The Reunion is great fun. Grab a friend and watch. You’ll have plenty to talk about afterwards.
Top photo: Friends Reunion Special – Photography by Terence Patrick, courtesy of HBO Max, Warner Media