Friends: The Reunion | Following the release of the long-anticipated ‘One Where They Get Back Together’, Esyllt Sears reflects on growing up with Friends, what the show got wrong, and its legacy.
I was 13 when Friends first came to our screens; I was deemed too young to watch it, but I managed to sneak a few episodes through a crack in the bedroom door of a static caravan in Nefyn during a family holiday. My parents were laughing a lot. Quietly, but a lot. I was intrigued.
I can’t remember when I started watching it legitimately – maybe a year or two later? But I do remember hearing the now-iconic song by The Rembrandts on Radio 1 before I realised it was that theme tune.
Soon enough, I was devouring each double episode broadcast during the graveyard slot on S4C and, once a year, would wait patiently for Woolworths to open so I could buy the latest VHS release (there was a big delay between episodes being broadcast in the US and the UK and the tapes would often be on sale before the full series had aired on TV… I’m SO old).
To me, Friends was more than just a sitcom, it was the soundtrack to my formative teenage years and early adult life. I fell in love, broke my heart, left home, moved in with a boy for the very first time, all with Friends as a constant in the background. It was the sound I’d fall asleep to when homesick at university and then when I later moved to London for work. Like an iconic album, I can recite big chunks of dialogue with perfect pauses, emphasis and key changes.
Jennifer Anniston as Rachel was the first photo I took into a hairdresser with me, demanding I be transformed… with layers; I had a massive coffee cup a la Central Perk from which I would drink my Ovaltine; my boyfriend at the time bought me a huge baked American cheesecake with ‘Mama’s Little Bakery, Chicago, Illinois’ printed on the box for my birthday (which I devoured all to my greedy self).
Having said all this, I wasn’t THAT excited about a reunion. I’m more of a “leave things be” kind of fan. I especially didn’t want them to film a brand-new episode. But I must admit that the reunion which aired this week put a huge smile on my face as well as tears in my eyes. Amongst my most notable moments were Mr Heckles’ appearance and Matthew Perry revealing that, even now, if the Friends see each other at an event, they’ll sit together for the rest of the night..
It was never a perfect comedy series. Even at the time, the episode where Ross has an issue with his daughter’s nanny being a man and Rachel giving in to it, enraged me – as did the episode where Ross, again, didn’t like his son playing with a Barbie. It also seems mad to me that a seemingly fresh, modern take on young people trying to navigate adult life in cosmopolitan and liberal New York features next to no black characters. The series itself was semi-biographical for producers Kauffman and Crane and maybe (trying not to sound like I’m making excuses for them) they were innocently drawing on their own experiences and the social group they were familiar with? But still, as the series progressed, they really could have done more to rectify this.
I was talking to someone last week about this – how having Friends streaming next to Schitt’s Creek and Motherland on Netflix – only exacerbates its irrelevance in today’s world.
If it were made today, of course, the approaches to race, fragile masculinity, sexism, trans women and fat-shaming would be completely different, or at least you have to hope they’d be. If nothing else, maybe we should view it as a stepping stone from the still problematic early ‘90s, to a more enlightened late noughties?
Watching it in its true context as a teenager, it felt fresh and contemporary. It had an openly gay couple on the show, the female characters were on a par with the men – the actresses were paid the same, had the same amount of screen-time and were portraying women who were trying to work out what they wanted in life, made mistakes and had sex with multiple partners – something that was trail-blazed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Seinfeld. That is what I took from it at the time, and it was reassuring to see a new generation of fans from all across the world find the same meaning in it, declaring their love for the programme anew in tandem with the reunion show.
Friends: The Reunion is streaming exclusively on Sky and NOW TV.
Friends: The Reunion