Matt LeBlanc was not all wrong when he said there was no chance Friends would head back to the small screen.
It was 2018 when we were chatting and, despite fellow sitcom Will & Grace’s successful return to our screens, and plans underway for Roseanne and Murphy Brown reboots, it seemed highly unlikely LeBlanc’s most famous character Joey and his gang – Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Monica and Phoebe – would get back together.
“I don’t think so, not that I’ve heard, but maybe you know something that I don’t?,” he told me down the line from Los Angeles.
“I just don’t see it happening … in all the powers-that-be opinions, it’s just not a show that’s revisitable.”
He was certainly spot-on there. While it would have been nice to see for ourselves if Joey Tribbiani managed to find love and settle down — LeBlanc assured me he’s doin’ OK, living in California and feasting on sandwiches every day — can you imagine the gang from Friends, who are now in real life aged between 51 and 57 years old, still sitting on that well-worn orange sofa at the Central Perk?
That shared-apartment living and other typical sitcom shenanigans would be a little hard to swallow – just like the rather unfortunate meat trifle Rachel made for Thanksgiving.
However, as an uber fan of the uber-sitcom, it’s so very exciting that he was also kinda wrong.
After almost 16 years of hope and rumours, our prayers were answered when plans for the reunion were first announced last year.
“Guess you could call this the one where they all got back together — we are reuniting with David, Jennifer, Courteney, Matt, Lisa and Matthew for an HBO Max special that will be programmed alongside the entire Friends library,” Kevin Reilly, chief content officer at HBO Max said at the time.
The reaction was intense and immediate. The dedicated Friends audience was still there, and still loyal to the six friends and their complex relationships, developed over a decade and 236 half-hour episodes: Ross’ son Ben, his and Rachel’s daughter Emma, Phoebe’s marriage to Mike, Monica’s to Chandler, and, ultimately, Ross’ reunion with Rachel.
Friends: The Reunion is not a reboot, nor even a single episode of the show. The cast appear as themselves, not in character, for an unscripted special event.
But it will not only bring together the six stars of the most successful sitcom of the 1990s and early 2000s, it could possibly finally answer the question which continues to challenge generations of TV viewers … were Ross and Rachel really on a break?
It appears, from the trailer released by HBO Max this week, that indeed, as claimed so often over the years, and usually by Ross, that his, well, slip-up with the hot girl from the photocopier place, during a supposed pause in his relationship with Rachel, was sanctioned by the fact that they were on a break.
It seems the clue is even in the episode title: The One where Ross and Rachel Take a Break.
That became one of the enduring through-lines of the series, and propelled the pair through will-they-won’t they situations right to the heart-stopping final episode when *spoiler alert* Ross and Rachel were finally reunited.
It’s also a query that perpetually followed the actors long after the series wrapped.
“It’s not even a question,” Schwimmer told talk show host Jimmy Fallon last year.
“They were on a break.”
Reunion host James Corden presses Aniston and Schwimmer to answer the age-old question. “Yes!” Aniston says onscreen.
The unscripted one-off show, directed by The Late Late Show executive producer Ben Winston, features a slew of special guests, many of whom — but not all — featured in the show over the years.
Maggie Wheeler (Janice) will make an appearance, as well as Tom Selleck (Richard), Reese Witherspoon (Rachel’s sister Jill), Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles, (Monica & Ross’ parents), James Michael Tyler (Gunther), Thomas Lennon (Joey’s identical hand twin) and Larry Hankin (Mr Heckles).
There’s also Cara Delevingne, Lady Gaga, David Beckham, Justin Bieber, BTS, Mindy Kaling, Malala Yousafazi and Cindy Crawford.
While fans mostly took to Twitter with excitement at the teaser, there was some disappointment that Aniston’s ex-husband Brad Pitt, who famously appeared in the eighth season as Will who was the President of the I Hate Rachel Green Club in high school, and Marvel star Paul Rudd, who married Kudrow’s character Phoebe, wouldn’t appear.
Some social media attention also turned to Perry’s looks and voice. But many were quick to jump to the actor’s defence, pointing out that Perry had “struggled with addiction and been through so much” — and been open about it.
“It’s really disheartening whenever Friends is brought up and people feel the need to talk s … about Matthew Perry’s appearance,” one wrote.
“Let’s not use the friends reunion to make fun of the way matthew perry looks these days. people age, funnily enough,” another commented.
The original series is considered one of the most successful of the streaming era: it was the most-viewed series on Netflix between 2015 and 2019 until Warner Bros took back rights to the series in preparation for its launch on the studio’s own platform, HBO Max — and on BINGE and Foxtel here in Australia.
So it’s fair to say that few shows have entered our lives via the small screen and been as fundamentally formative as Friends has. And it continues to be passed down like a treasured heirloom.
My teens and I have steadily worked our way through the 10 seasons. It’s hard to narrow down which of The One withs … is my favourite, but include The One with Monica and Chandler’s Wedding, The One with Ross’ Tan, The One With the List and of course The Last Ones Part 1 and 2.
I certainly don’t want to tally how many hours I’ve spent watching pretend characters deal with pretend scenarios about pretend dramas. But I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to watch Ross Geller shout “PIVOT” at Rachel and Chandler for the eleventy-billionth time in preparation for the reunion.
Friends: The Reunion airs on BINGE at 5.02pm AEST on May 27, direct from the US. To watch the special or the other 236 episodes of Friends, visit Binge.com.au
New customers get a two-week free trial.
Originally published as Surprise guests at the Friends reunion