Gen Z probably won’t ever understand what it’s like to have your evening plans shaped by a rigid TV schedule. To take your landline telephone off the hook, gather the entire household in the lounge, and set aside everything for 30 minutes at 7pm every Wednesday evening.

Unless you’d set the video machine timer, of course.

For a decade, from 1994 to 2004, this was the reality for South Africa’s army of Friends fans. You dropped everything to tune into MNET, and watch the American sitcom that was more than a zeitgeist of the era. Friends was a global pop culture phenomenon that remains a perennially rewatched comfort show for many.

Seventeen years later, as 90s pop culture starts to take over the nostalgia spotlight from the 80s, it’s time for Friends: The Reunion. This almost 2-hour unscripted retrospective brings back the cast and creators of the hit series, with plenty of celebrity guest appearances, (including Lady Gaga, BTS, Cara Delevingne, David Beckham, and Malala Yousafzai) thrown in for good measure.

Fans probably would have preferred a special scripted “Seventeen years later” episode of Friends, catching up with beloved characters Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross after they all moved on with their lives, and out of their iconic New York City apartments. However, as stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer make clear towards the end of The Reunion, this celebration is as close as viewers are going to get to that wish.

There is a trade off at least. Through present-day table reads, intercut with series footage, the cast revisit fan-favourite scenes, Kudrow performs Smelly Cat as Phoebe, and the actors discuss where their characters would be today. The banter between the stars is also on point, especially from LeBlanc, reflecting comedic talent that hasn’t faded at all.

Regardless of anything else, Friends: The Reunion does an excellent job of establishing how truly special the Friends ensemble was, bringing together six impossibly good-looking twenty-somethings with a rare knack for comedy.

The question is whether Friends: The Reunion is worth your time? Is it better leaving the series blurred in the mists of wistful memory, instead of hauling it out into the stark, unflattering light of today? A glance at the cast now is a stinging reminder that 17 years have passed. Schwimmer and Kudrow look like they’ve barely aged, but Cox and Perry have a stretched, filler-saturated appearance common in Hollywood stars striving to keep time at bay. Aniston sits somewhere between the two extremes, while LeBlanc has a dad bod and silver hair, but is otherwise still Joey.

That said, whether you’re a Friends stalwart or not, there is something to be gained by watching The Reunion. The special is split into essentially three parts: a candid reunion of the cast on the Friends set, a more formal documentary centred on the making and legacy of the series, and a stage interview moderated by James Corden.

The stage interview reeks of hyper-managed artifice, although Corden’s most obnoxious tendencies are roped in for those who loathe him *cough, Darryn.* The documentary component and set visit are far more interesting and entertaining, though, showing the powerful uplifting influence of the series, and how it touched so many people around the world in the same way. In these polarised times, that sense of shared experience is worth revisiting.

In South Africa, Friends: The Reunion will air this Sunday, May 30 on M-Net (DStv channel 101) at 8pm. The special will stream on Showmax from the following day, Monday, May 31.

Last Updated: May 28, 2021

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