I—and most everybody that still cares enough about this 27-year-old show to tune into a nearly-two-hour special about it—recovered months ago from the fact that this wasn’t a sitcom reunion in the traditional sense. It has been said repeatedly—and it’s reiterated during The Reunion, lest we get any ideas—that there will never, ever be another episode of Friends. So what we have to settle for here, instead, is six entertaining people who used to play six hilarious characters, appearing together for the first time in public since 2004 and making each other laugh.
The interview with James Cordon is distinctly so-so—except during one genuinely funny portion where David Schwimmer angrily vents about how much he hated working with Marcel the monkey in season one. (“I would like you to be more serious about this,” Perry quips.) So too is a living room trivia quiz (based on the one from Cox’s favorite episode, “The One With the Embryos”) more contrived than it ought to be. There is, however, something genuinely moving about seeing the reunited cast on their old set, verklempt and reminiscing about old times. It’s in these more candid moments that some of the interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits emerge. (The graffiti LeBlanc left on the set after the final episode is a particular treat.)
Many of the most insightful revelations unfold, not via the cast, but rather through documentary-style interviews with Friends’ creators, writers and producers, Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. These encompass the original inspiration for the show, casting decisions, and on-the-fly plot pivots. (PIVOT!) When Bright reveals he only discovered Lisa Kudrow because she’d made an appearance on Mad About You while his husband was writing for it, you appreciate just how precarious the show’s successful chemistry was. Also testament to that is the fact that the guy Joey tries to pass off as his identical twin in “The One With Unagi” was played by an actor who very nearly got the part of Joey himself.
Padding out all of this are a wealth of delightful appearances from former cast members. These include Reese Witherspoon (who played Rachel’s sister Jill), Tom Selleck (Monica’s boyfriend Richard), Christina Pickles and Elliott Gould (Ross and Monica’s parents), Maggie Wheeler (Janice!), James Michael Tyler (Gunther!), Thomas Lennon (Joey’s identical hand twin!) and Mr. Heckles himself, Larry Hankin. Paul Rudd is a glaring, unexplained absence difficult not to be bummed out about.
But the cameos don’t stop there. Justin Bieber makes an appearance that will have you really liking Justin Bieber. Cindy Crawford shows up. So does BTS. And when Cara Delevingne emerges, Jennifer Aniston’s jaw literally drops. On top of that, David Beckham, Mindy Kaling, Kit Harington and Malala Yousafzai pick their favorite episodes. Oh, and the musical guest who shows up to sing “Smelly Cat” with Lisa Kudrow is so special, I don’t even wanna spoil it.
So yes, this reunion is an enormous amount of fun. And there is plenty for fans to chew on here. Plus, of course, the warmth between the former castmates all these years later is legitimately a joy to behold. But where the reunion stumbles is in its unwavering commitment to keeping things light. Especially since Perry in particular seems genuinely overwhelmed by memories of that period in his life. He talks the least out of anyone else on set, and his occasionally slumped posture and difficulty enunciating hint at darker things going on beneath the surface. Occasionally, he tries to acknowledge them out loud, but these moments quickly pass.