The One With Everything That Happened on Friends: The Reunion

Photo: Terence Patrick/HBO Max

“It’s not that common, it doesn’t happen to every [show], and it is a big deal!” Is this a quote about Ross Geller’s problems in the bedroom? Yes. Does it also apply to the cultural phenomenon that is Friends? Also, yes! Fans across the globe are riding the sweet high of seeing Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer — forever our Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross — all back in the same room together for just the second time since the series ended in 2004. After 17 years, the crew reunited on May 27 for HBO Max’s Friends: The Reunion, a loving, fun, emotional gift not just for fans, but for the cast and creators (Marta Kauffman, David Crane, and Kevin Bright were all on hand) too. Throughout the almost two-hour special, we watch our core six tell stories while hanging out on the rebuilt Friends set, give us some juicy tidbits about the show during a more formal sit-down with James Corden, welcome surprise guests, and read and re-create iconic scenes from the series. We even get to watch our “I’ll Be There for You” opening credits again (why am I crying? I literally consumed three episodes of Friends yesterday afternoon just because). The reunion couldn’t possibly encapsulate everything from a decade of television dominance (nor does it even try to touch on some of the show’s failings), but it certainly gets close! Here are some of the major highlights and slight disappointments.

I’ll be there for … watching the cast of Friends tearfully wander around the rebuilt sets.

The first few minutes of the reunion special are dedicated to each of the cast members arriving to the old Friends soundstage and walking in to find the show’s sets rebuilt and waiting for everyone to arrive. They then proceed to walk around and tell stories about memories they have about specific episodes or filming in different locations. There are tears. So many tears! Okay, well, mainly it’s tears from Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox, who start crying almost immediately upon entering. At one point, Matt LeBlanc is wiping Courteney Cox’s tears for her! So now I’m crying! Anyway, the whole thing has a very “you and your friends wandering around your high school during a reunion dinner after getting buzzed at the open bar and telling old stories that you’ve probably told hundreds of times” vibe. By which to say, it’s so fun and charming and wholesome. Plus, when Matthew Perry walks in last, Jennifer Aniston says, “Could you be any later?” and that’s just a solid comedy callback.

I’ll be there for … Hugsy the penguin.

Those rebuilt sets are stacked with Easter eggs from the series, but I was most delighted when my eyes peeped THE Hugsy the penguin hanging out on Joey and Chandler’s couch. Would I have enjoyed an entire segment dedicated to Joey’s bedtime penguin pal? What a dumb question, the answer is “of course.” We could make it an entire avian-related Friends montage and include the chick and the duck, just to get the waterworks really going.

I’ll be there for … reliving “The One With All the Embryos.”

Part of the reunion is framed by re-creating the iconic boys versus girls quiz from “The One With All the Embryos,” in which Monica and Rachel lose their apartment to Chandler and Joey. And, yes, David Schwimmer is our game-show emcee (no lightning rounds this time, unfortunately). It’s a great mechanism to bring back old Friends friends: Larry Hankin returns as Mr. Heckles; Matt LeBlanc correctly picks out his identical-hand twin’s hands from a lineup as Thomas Lennon shows up; and, yes, even the mustache himself Tom Selleck arrives, and it feels right to let Richard inform us all that no one really knows what Chandler’s job was. But the best part of this segment is realizing that Matt LeBlanc and Jennifer Aniston are Friends superfans. They immediately know that Ross’s letter to Rachel after their breakup was “18 pages, front and back!”

I will not be there for … not being able to watch the pilot episode of LAX 2194.

Elsewhere in the special, executive producers and creators Marta Kauffman, David Crane, and Kevin Bright chat about how difficult the casting process was for this show, and it’s alarming now to think about how close we were to not having this group of six actors as our Friends. The two closest to being cut were Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry, both of whom had been cast in different sitcoms that season. Aniston’s was something called Muddling Through and Perry’s was, oh, wow, something wild called LAX 2194. You know, just your typical sitcom about airport-baggage handlers in the very distant future. The pilot surprisingly didn’t get picked up, but there is tape of it, and we deserve to see more than the quick, truly terrible clip they show. Regardless, it all worked out, and our six Friends as we know them all came together thanks to a couple sitcoms tanking and Matt LeBlanc getting blackout-drunk the night before his audition and cutting his face on a toilet seat.

I’ll be there for … learning that Malala Yousafzai is a “Joey.”

A lot of famous people show up to talk about why they love Friends, but none are as endearing as activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Her best friend Vee got her into the show, and Vee is on hand to blow all of our minds by informing us that Malala is definitely a Joey (with “a hint of Phoebe,” naturally). Apparently it’s because of how silly she is and not because she has an undying love for sandwiches or cries while reading Little Women. Malala does not say, “How you doin’?” which feels like a missed opportunity, but she does let us know that her favorite episode of Friends is “The One With the Routine.”

I will not be there for … so little time with Mr. and Mrs. Geller.

Over the course of ten seasons, there were tons of guest stars and beloved recurring characters that populated the Friends universe, and to have them all back for the reunion would’ve been impossible (still: Paul Rudd and Christina Applegate, where art thou?). They had to move this thing along, but wow, do we get so little time with the people who pop in. James Michael Tyler Zooms in to say his time as Gunther was “the most memorable ten years of [his] life,” and Maggie Wheeler, who seems like a delight, stops by to tell us that Janice’s laugh was born as a way for her not to break in scenes with Matthew Perry. But the two we really needed to hear more from are Christina Pickles and Elliott Gould, Monica and Ross’s parents, who are out in the crowd during the more formal sit-down. They tell a sweet story about really feeling like the parents of the cast, but that’s it! I hope they got to hug them backstage or something!

I will not be there for … having to watch Matt LeBlanc dislocate his shoulder on set.

I blame David Beckham — a self-declared Monica, by the way — whose favorite episode is the classic bottle episode “The One Where No One’s Ready,” for putting us through this moment. The Friends tell us that during the taping of this episode, which features a story line about Joey and Chandler fighting over a chair, Matt LeBlanc did a take where he jumps into the chair and ends up dislocating his shoulder. And then the six of them watch the footage of this happening right there in Monica’s living room! But why? The anticipation of LeBlanc’s shoulder popping out is worse than when it actually happens (for us, definitely not him), but still! A shoulder should not go down that far and his moan from offstage was full of pain. Because of his injury — which had to get written into the show; do you remember Joey falling while jumping on his bed? — an episode that was supposed to be budget-friendly and easy to shoot ended up being crazy complicated. Still, it was all worth it: Matthew Perry calls the episode, which is more like a play done in real time, “one of the best episodes we ever did.”

I’ll be there for … these table reads of iconic scenes. 

Admittedly, I’ve watched “The One Where Everybody Finds Out” more than any human should be allowed. It’s my go-to when I need a laugh and I will have Lisa Kudrow’s perfect “not without you, lover” playing on a loop in my brain for the rest of my days. So watching the actors gather around to read the scene from that episode when Phoebe spots Monica and Chandler doing it while she, Rachel, and Ross are in Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment cleared my skin up immediately. It’s a wonder to watch how easily these six slip back into these characters — highlighted by the fact that they overlap the actors reading the dialogue now with the actual scenes from the episodes. All the scenes they choose to get this reread treatment are great. Aside from the “My eyes! My eyes!” of it all, they read the scene from “The One With the Jellyfish,” when Monica, Chandler, and Joey tell the story of how Chandler had to pee on Monica after she got stung by a jellyfish, and yes, Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer read the Ross and Rachel first-kiss scene from “The One Where Ross Finds Out.” Of course, one of the biggest stories to come out of this reunion is Schwimmer and Aniston admitting that they both had feelings for each other in the early seasons of the show but never acted on it, instead using it in Ross and Rachel’s relationship. When the two actors read this scene again, you can feel all of that chemistry all over again.

I’ll be there for … Lady Gaga in Phoebe Buffay cosplay.

It’s really not all that surprising to learn that Lady Gaga is a huge Phoebe fan, but to see her walk into Central Perk in full Phoebe getup and play “Smelly Cat” alongside Lisa Kudrow — backed by a choir, no less — was another level. Okay, fine, Kudrow-as-Phoebe thinks the song is much better when it’s just her, but still! Lady Gaga proceeds to thank Kudrow for being the one on Friends that was “the different one or the one that was really herself.” Kudrow thanks Lady Gaga for carrying that torch and then they end the segment before everyone starts crying. Just kidding, I already am!

I’ll be there for … watching other people watch their own blooper reel.

There’s just something about blooper reels, ya know? And, apparently, there is just something about watching other people watch blooper reels of themselves. It’ll make your face hurt from smiling. The gang watches a bunch of bloopers (again, while sitting on Monica’s couch, which brings me infinite joy) and are crying laughing, awash with memories. The whole section kicks off with Kit Harington — he says he’s a mix of Ross and Monica, an honorary Geller, if you will (but I’d like to make it clear that Jon Snow is definitely a Rachel) — praising the masterful physical-comedy skills of the entire cast. He calls out the “PIVOT!” scene from “The One With the Cop” as the perfect example (he’s not wrong). The blooper tape from this scene alone is enough to make your heart grow three sizes.

I’ll be there for … honestly, any mention of Ross’s leather pants.

THE LOTION AND THE POWDER HAVE MADE A PASTE. Speaking of being masters of physical comedy, when the gang starts talking about who has seen every episode (sounds like LeBlanc, Aniston, and Cox) and who hasn’t, Matt LeBlanc talks about catching the episode with Ross’s leather pants one night and making his daughter watch because David Schwimmer is just so good here. The big takeaway from the whole section is how big of fans the six of them are of each other as actors … but also, the big takeaway could be that the leather-pants scene is iconic.

I will not be there for … Justin Bieber in the “Spudnik” costume.

You’ll get zero context on this one and you’ll like it.

Now, Matt LeBlanc in all of Chandler’s clothes? Could I be any more there for that?

No, no I could not. I’m all there for that.

I’ll be there for … Matt LeBlanc’s final message to his Friends family.

On the night of the finale, as the set was being taken apart, the cast and crew signed the flats of some of the rooms with nice, loving, probably warmly funny messages. LeBlanc signed, “I shit here.” It still makes him and Schwimmer roll with laughter when they find it 17 years later. Classic Joey, honestly.

I’ll be there for … Lisa Kudrow putting the kibosh on any new Friends episodes.

“I don’t want anyone’s happy ending unraveled,” Lisa Kudrow says, making the astute case for why they should never make another Friends episode. Listen, I love Friends. I watch Friends all the time. I do not need new Friends. Some things should be left alone! This is basically what Kudrow says when Corden asks her if she ever thinks about making a new episode or reviving the series. Ultimately, she points out, it’s up to creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane, but, as she’s heard them say before, they wrapped up the show “very nicely,” with everyone getting some sort of happily ever after — and to make new stories about these six people, those HEAs would have to be undone to some extent. Who wants that? Am I almost swayed when Courteney Cox imagines that today Monica would be running the PTA at her kids’ school and Matt LeBlanc says Joey would own a sandwich shop in Venice Beach? I mean, sure, I’m only human, but none of the Friends team seem particularly eager to revisit this world, and why should they? As Kauffman explains, this show was meant to be about a specific time in a person’s life when their friends are their family and that, like so many good things, has a natural end to it.

I’ll be there for … oh God, the huddle. Always the huddle.

Early in the special, the cast talk about the one ritual they had: Right before the episode taping, the six of them would get in a huddle. The huddle. They walk over to the spot where this used to take place and gather together for old times’ sake. Then, at the end of the episode, as the credits roll, the six of them get into their huddle one last time. A symbol of the bond between them. I guess we’re all crying again?! Okay, I need to go watch “The One Where Everybody Finds Out” to level off a bit.

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The One With Everything That Happens on Friends: The Reunion