Like everyone, I had two main criticisms of last month’s Friends reunion special. The first is that, after almost 30 years of watching the cast suspended in the throes of perfect youth, the sight of their weird, cosmetically altered faces in HD came as such a shock that I would have preferred it to be called something like All Things Decay: A Harrowing Reminder That Everything We Love Will One Day Be Dead. The second is that James Corden didn’t make it enough about him.
Oh, sure, he made it plenty about him. He hosted the thing, despite having no tangible connection to Friends. And, yes, when the cast came on, he spoke for more than two minutes before bothering to ask them a question. But did he make it about himself, in a truly Cordenesque way? No, he did not.
This is because, it turns out, he was saving that for his own show. Inevitably, a Friends Carpool Karaoke has just dropped. On last night’s Late Late Show, Corden unveiled an 11-minute segment where he goofed around on the set of the Friends reunion. In fairness, a lot of it was an improvement on the actual reunion. The cast seemed more relaxed and less bewildered without the rigmarole of having to endure a parade of semi-forgotten guest stars. Corden had a much smaller crowd to play to, as well, which tends to suit him.
But let’s discuss the Carpool Karaoke itself. In it, Corden drove around the Warner Bros studio in a golf cart, picking up the cast of Friends. In a typical Carpool Karaoke, the guests would sing their hits. But the stars of Friends are not singers. True, Phoebe had that song about the cat, and in 2004 Warner Music Group released a double album entitled Friends: The Ultimate Soundtrack, containing songs such as Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton, Good Intentions by Toad the Wet Sprocket and Smooth by Carlos Santana featuring Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty. But would you want to see Matthew Perry sing an Eric Clapton song in 2021? Of course you wouldn’t.
So instead they just sang the Friends theme tune all the way through once, and that was it. Was it a good Carpool Karaoke? No. Was it filmed from such an angle that Corden’s head was by far the biggest thing onscreen, roughly five times larger than Lisa Kudrow’s head, 12 times bigger than Jennifer Aniston’s head and 25 times bigger than Perry’s head? Yes. But did it offer an insight into how the cast of Friends felt about being subjected to Carpool Karaoke? Oh, good God, yes.
In retrospect, it seems as if the cast had been deliberately seated in order of perceived enthusiasm. Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow, upfront, were by far the most game; not only singing every word but actually seeming to enjoy the experience. Matt LeBlanc, seated behind Kudrow, continued his newfound Lovely Uncle renaissance by acting as the de facto leader; hugging Aniston and constantly looking around to make sure everyone was just as happy to be there as he was. Aniston herself was far less comfortable. She looked genuinely mortified as the song began, and refused to sing some of it. Still, she gave it a shot. To a lesser extent, so did David Schwimmer.
Perry, though? Not a word. I’ve watched the segment a few times now, and for the life of me I cannot find a single frame where Perry attempts to sing even a sliver of the Rembrandts. Sometimes he smiles, sometimes he chats with Schwimmer, sometimes he just stares out of the golf cart with a look of mystified sadness, like he couldn’t believe he had agreed to demean himself like this. But he doesn’t sing.
Still, who cares? The main thing is that Corden had a nice time. He drove the cart. He harmonised. His head was perpetually 25 times larger than Perry’s. He was having a whale of a time, even if nobody else was. And isn’t that the James Corden experience?