If someone told you Friends: The Reunion was going to be this way, would you have watched it? With James Corden slithering his way into a get-together of 1990s television stars, the smooth-sailing plan of bringing these former cultural forces together was already falling apart. There were, inevitably, going to be bumps in the road. Times have changed, audiences too, and the longevity of Friends has turned a tad sour. Friends had a remarkable grip on the landscape of television comedy, the likes of which had been seen a few times before. Perhaps that should be its legacy. Not this, whatever this is. Television documentary? Comedy? Roundtable discussion? Who knows? The cast certainly don’t, they’re just happy to be there. As are the fans.
Friends: The Reunion is mired by an expectation of its audience to hold love and nostalgia for the show. That should not be an issue, for the documentary does rely on some relationship with the original work, but it also means director Ben Winston is not going to reveal anything of either controversy or interest. It interviews creators and cast, those who influenced the show and those that were influenced by the show. A series of talking-head interviews follow, with generally drab and rehearsed responses. “The one time in your life when your friends are your family,” is the pitch David Crane, creator of the show, gives us. That much is true, but this blend of documentary and slightly re-imagined moments from the show is a dud. It never approaches the meaning behind the intimacy Crane speaks of, nor does it get anywhere close to replicating it.
“Each character could hold the show by themselves,” Reese Witherspoon (one of many talking head interviews) says. Clearly, she has not seen the ill-fated Joey spin-off. Then again, who has? Table reads of classic moments, adaptations of classic moments to make little spots to fill in the gaps between Corden shooting his mouth off and fluffy emotional pockets, Friends: The Reunion is a disappointment not because the times have changed, but because the actors have. They do not seem to have moved on, and there are glimmering seconds within Friends: The Reunion where it seems like they wish to return to their most defining role, not because they wish to, but because it still defines them to this day. Few of the core cast was able to branch off and find major success on a level to that of Friends.
It is the Seinfeld effect. Actors who were big on television struggling to make the transition into something equally as extraordinary. Granted, the likes of Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow have had clear, popular success, but it is never as mighty or defining as their timeless material on a show that re-runs constantly on Comedy Central. Emotional for those who enjoy the show and value it as more than a hangover, comfort television, Friends: The Reunion is emotionally tacky but displays enough genuine appreciation for the show’s cultural impact. It is, inevitably, crushed under the weight of its own nostalgia.