The One About Nostalgia
A multi-million dollar catch-up with your old Friends.
I was never a fan of Seinfeld. I can count on one hand how many episodes of Seinfeld I’ve watched. I hated every single character on that show. I didn’t get anything about it. It was not a show for me. The show ran a bit before I graduated college and a few years after. In the early 90s, I was in my 20s and could not care less about this group of “friends” who looked like they were in their middle 30s experiencing a life with no connection to mine.
If there were to be some Seinfeld reunion special where they hugged and cried in a recreation of their sitcom set, famous guest stars would appear, and a tired late-night host would ask them questions they’ve already answered for years, I would not watch it. To be fair, I’ve probably watched about the same number of episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and I did not tune in for that reunion special either.
However, I did watch the Friends reunion. Why? Well, I liked Friends. Here was a show about six 20-somethings living in New York in a time post-college that felt like something similar to my experiences in downstate Illinois. My job was a joke. I did not have a lot of money, and my love life was DOA. On the other hand, I had a few terrific friends who were there for me, and that was enough.
I’ve seen every episode of Friends and likely several episodes multiple times. I was never an uber-fan, and I don’t watch it in reruns now, even though I’m pretty sure I can catch it every day. I do not remember all the things that happened on the show, but I remember loving the characters and laughing a lot.
So after a year of COVID-19 delay and 15 million for the six to come back, the special is now available to watch, and it almost brought me back to that time and place in my life. It just kept interrupting the sweet nostalgia with dumb questions from the audience and short bits where the cranky neighbor stops by and the actress who played reoccurring character Janice gets to say her catchphrase and laugh for a few seconds. Tom Selleck enters Monica and Rachel’s apartment looking like he wandered over from the Blue Bloods set. There is an extended “Smelly Cat” segment that is mostly interesting to watch how embarrassed Lisa Kudrow seems to be throughout and interstitial cuts of “famous” people from David Beckham to Malala Yousafzai to BTS to random international “fans” who get to dote on their favorite show and explain why it made such an impact on them.
The good parts are when the six are reminiscing on the recreated set. There was some real emotion being evoked there. The “remember when” stuff was gold. Matt LeBlanc remembering erasing Courtney Cox’s written lines on the kitchen table. Matthew Perry and LeBlanc having fun in the chairs made me smile. These sections of the special feel like a high school reunion, and everyone is back roaming the halls and getting hit with the “how it used to be” vibe. Everything else that isn’t the six stars on the set is basically fluff or like the bonus material on a DVD box set back when DVD box sets sold themselves with these types of extras. I wanted more tears and hugs. Less Justin Bieber and Cindy Crawford catwalk.
The table read of the present-day actors reading sides from incredibly famous moments from the show started slow, and then obviously the actors just decide to really go for it, and it became bonkers and touching. Case in point, when Kudrow recreates Phoebe’s “My eyes!” scream and when Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer reenact Ross and Rachel’s first kiss scene.
I enjoyed watching creators Marta Kaufman, David Crane, and Kevin Bright talk about the beginnings of the show and some of the casting choices, yet I wanted more behind-the-scenes dirt. I would have loved questions about how a show like Friends today would work or how they feel today about the way it’s perceived. When the special showed snippets of the cast and crew working, I kept wanting more of that story. Sure, I enjoyed the commentary track quality of it, but it never really dug very deep. I’m sure I’m naive to think the special might actually address how an audience of 20-somethings today would view the lack of diversity and transphobia.
Additionally, the special ignores what actually happened to the cast over the ten-year run, like Matthew Perry’s addiction or Aniston blowing up. The biggest revelation of the first-season crush between Aniston and Schwimmer seems tame. After watching it, I was really put off by Perry’s slurry speech. I had to go to the internet to learn the special was filmed the very day he had emergency dental surgery, which seems like a good reason to either reschedule or at the very least address it in the special. I was genuinely worried.
Overall, there’s a sense of melancholy throughout the special. It’s like everyone knows they aren’t ever going to do this kind of thing ever again, and they feel the weight and possibly the relief. Anytime it looks like they might explore something new, interesting, or juicy, we immediately return to the clip show aspect or a special guest on the video screen.
I was surprised how this silly retrospective made me feel old. There’s no doubt Friends is a microcosm of that time and place. The late 90s and early 2000s is a time the audience who is going to watch this (like me) might actually look back at fondly, and the special ramps it up. My friends were everything then, and I miss those days of crushes and unrequited love and never really worrying too much about the future. Today, I’m the same age as the cast of Friends, and I can see the gray hairs of my beard just as clearly as Matt LeBlanc’s silver fox look in this special.
It’s fun to go back and revisit the places where you felt invincible or where you started to make your mark. There are moments in my past I’d love to go back and see. There are a few I’d like to relive. But that’s the thing about looking backward… you can see all the different roads you had before you, yet you know the path you took. You know how it turns out. I know I romanticize my past, and I feel nostalgic about books, movies, and even television shows from my younger days. I don’t allow it to take away from my present, but I miss it from time to time.
No one told me life was gonna be this way. Oh, wait. Yes, they did.