An unscripted Friends reunion would be a diabolical mess

The beloved gang are in talks for an HBO special likely to be so bad it could ruin your day, your week, your month or even your year

They said a Friends reunion would never happen. They said it was too risky, that it would only dilute the magic of the original. But hold on to your horses, because it’s finally happening. The Friends reunion is go. Except it isn’t really a proper reunion and it isn’t properly go and it might not even happen anyway. But still, exciting!

According to the Hollywood Reporter, all six of the Friends leads – along with creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman – are in talks for an unscripted reunion special that will air on the upcoming streaming service HBO Max. Which is all well and good, except that the Hollywood Reporter goes on to say that “a deal is far from done” and that “the talks could fizzle out and the whole concept could fall apart”, which is a very Chandler way of thinking.

Serious, life-changing amounts of money … Matt LeBlanc as Joey and Matthew Perry as Chandler in Friends.
Serious, life-changing amounts of money … Matt LeBlanc as Joey and Matthew Perry as Chandler in Friends. Photograph: Channel 4 Picture Publicity

Still, the fact that this is even being considered represents a turnaround by the Friends cast, who have spent the last decade dutifully informing every single interviewer they’ve come across that, no, there will never be a Friends reunion. In 2013, for instance, Lisa Kudrow told Conan O’Brien “That’s never going to happen.” Last year David Schwimmer brushed off questions about the reunion, stating: “I just don’t know if I want to see all of us with crutches”. Just last month, Jennifer Aniston told Howard Stern that a reunion “won’t be even close to as good what it was, so why do it? It would ruin it.” Matthew Perry claimed to have had actual nightmares about a Friends reunion. Matt LeBlanc made Joey, so he already knows the horrors of returning to the scene of the crime. Only Courteney Cox has made a reasonable case for a reunion, saying: “I would do anything to be in a room with all of those people acting and having a great time.”

However, there have been signs that the mood is starting to shift. Aniston’s Instagram shot of the reunited cast might have looked like a suspiciously well-timed way for her to promote The Morning Show, but it also stirred up a rampant undercurrent of revival fever. Plus, don’t forget, there is money in this. Serious, life-changing amounts of money. The streaming era has underlined just how lucrative Friends still is. Last year Ofcom revealed that, despite its onslaught of buzzy originals, the most popular show on Netflix was Friends. It was so successful that Netflix paid between $80m and $100m to retain the rights. When it lost the rights to HBO Max – which paid $425m for a five-year deal – it was enough to send industry experts into a spiral of panic about the future of Netflix as an entity.

The amount of money that Friends still generates is staggering, which means that the cast will be extraordinarily well compensated for their reunion. And given that it’s going to be an unscripted special, which essentially means they’ll just clamber on to a stage and reminisce about Gunther for a while, it may very well qualify as the best paid afternoon of their entire lives.

The bigger question, though, is whether or not the Friends reunion special will be any good. At least this one is easy to answer. No. No, of course it won’t be good. An unscripted special is a horrible hinterland of an idea. Look at when The Inbetweeners reunited for a similar special on New Year’s Day. That whole thing was a diabolical mess from start to finish. The cast looked awkward and ill-prepared. The host kept confusing the actors with the characters they played. The audience – who thought they had been sold a proper, scripted reunion episode – were vocal about how cheated and short-changed they felt. And this was The Inbetweeners, for crying out loud. Imagine how much more painful it will be when it happens with a monolith like Friends.

Plus, we have a very good idea what an unscripted Friends reunion will be like, because one already happened in 2016. Five of the six cast members appeared on NBC’s Must See TV: An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows, and the fact that you cannot remember it speaks volumes. It was vapid. It was chummy. It was – in the case of no-show Matthew Perry’s taped appearance – an excuse to distractedly promote current projects. Nobody came away feeling like they had witnessed anything special at all. Another shot, even for a truckload of cash, would only further diminish what Friends once was. In the still very recent words of Jennifer Aniston, a reunion won’t be even close to as good what it was, so why do it?


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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