Like it or not, Friends has left a lasting imprint in the cultural zeitgeist, and HBO Max was finally able to milk that nostalgia for all its worth with a long-awaited reunion special. The almost two-hour long Friends: The Reunion is a reminder that while most of the NBC sitcom’s 1990s humor might feel dated today, the iconic show is still able to tug at heartstrings, thanks to its six primary cast members. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer retain their friendship and chemistry as they pore over old Friends memories, episodes, and sets 17 years after the series ended. Most die-hard fans probably know everything shared in the reunion about how the six Friends were cast and bonded instantly, so the special might be more meaningful for younger viewers who recently discovered the show.
The most enjoyable parts of Friends: The Reunion, though, aren’t when James Corden is moderating their conversation—although he does find a way to get some juicy gossip out of them that we’ll get to in a minute—it’s when the stars are back in their familiar settings like Monica and Rachel’s apartment, Central Perk, or Chandler and Joey’s comfy chairs as they reminisce. They talk about their customary group huddle before filming every episode except for “The One Where No One’s Ready,” when Matt LeBlanc suffered an on-set injury. The actor has spoken about it in detail in the past, but the episode includes some never-before-seen footage.
Despite some truly random guest appearances (Malala? Kit Harington? David Beckham?), it’s nice to see the mustachioed Tom Selleck, a.k.a. Richard, and Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles as Jack and Judy Geller again even briefly. While an undeniable celebration of the original series, Friends: The Reunion (now streaming on HBO Max) isn’t without its notable moments and takeaways—the most obvious one being that Lisa Kudrow (and her infectious laugh) will never age.
Host James Corden pulls a Janice and asks the cast if anyone ever got together in real life. That’s when Aniston and Schwimmer reveal that they had a huge crush on each other as early as season one, but they were apparently never able to act on it because the timing never worked out or they were seeing other people. Clips from behind-the-scenes footage show the two actors being all cutesy with each other. The other four cast members reveal that they totally knew about this massive crushing, and Cox points out that their onscreen chemistry might not have worked as well if the actors did decide to get together. Aniston and Schwimmer say they channeled their feelings into their performances. It’s a sweet moment of reflection for both of them that pays off in the reunion later on when they reenact the scene of Ross and Rachel’s first kiss at Central Perk, even though in lieu of the actual kiss, they reach out to each other from across the table.
Can you imagine a world in which Chandler Bing and Monica Geller do not end up together and overtake Ross and Rachel as the best couple on the show? In the reunion, show creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane reveal that they originally planned for Chandler and Monica to hook up and then play it off for jokes. But the studio audience’s uproarious reaction to the reveal that the two slept together in season four’s “The One With Ross’ Wedding” is what convinced the creators to explore Monica and Chandler’s romantic journey in-depth. To everyone who was watching that episode taping live: wise choice.
Maggie Wheeler was a pure joy as Janice Litman-Goralnik, Chandler’s on-again, off-again girlfriend (and Ross’ one-time hook up, let’s not forget) on Friends. Her pointed “Oh, my God!” and awkward laughter were always memorable, and Wheeler joined the cast and Corden on the special briefly to reveal where Janice’s high-pitched laughter came from. She said that Perry was so funny to work with that she knew she wouldn’t be able to control breaking while filming their scenes, so she created this piercing, weird style of laughing and it stuck with the character.
One of the most famous Friends’ episodes is season four’s “The One With The Embryos.” The title refers to Phoebe getting pregnant with her brother’s triplets, but the center of the episode is the legendary Friends-centric trivia game hosted by Ross, which resulted in Monica and Rachel giving up their apartment to Chandler and Joey. The reunion special features the actors playing an upgraded version of the game with the same categories (including “It’s All Relative”) but new questions. The welcome revisit leads to cameo appearances by Selleck, Larry Hankin as Mr. Heckles in his disheveled robe (even though none of the cast members remembered the name of their annoying downstairs neighbor), and Thomas Lennon, who played Joey’s “hand twin” in season five’s “The One In Vegas.”
The Holiday Armadillo? Spudnik? Leather pants? David Schwimmer apparently was game for a multitude of strange fashions on the show. During the reunion, some of these Friends outfits are modeled by the likes of Cara Delevingne, Cindy Crawford, and yes, Justin Bieber, while the cast members and studio audiences cheer them on. LeBlanc also walks the ramp in all of Chandler’s clothes as a shout-out to “The One Where No One’s Ready,” but fingers crossed that he isn’t going commando this time around.