Debuting in 1994 on the NBC network’s fabled “Must-See TV” Thursday night line-up of shows, Friends would go on to become a television juggernaut, transforming its cast from relative unknowns to the (then-) highest-paid actors on TV. Entering the zeitgeist at the crest of the same Gen X wave that produced big-screen introspections like Clerks (1994) and Reality Bites (1994), the show represented a time in every 20-something’s life when their friends were more of a family to them than anyone they were actually related to.
The fact that all the characters were straight white people in one of the world’s most recognized melting pots was (at the time) irrelevant — audiences all over the world fell in love with Joey (Matt LeBlanc), Chandler (Matthew Perry), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Monica (Courtney Cox), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), and Ross (David Schwimmer). Through sharp writing, killer comedic timing and a flair for the farcical, Friends would end its run with 236 episodes over 10 seasons.
From hit TV show and pop culture icon, to nostalgic comfort viewing material, Friends has, for the most part, retained its position as one of the most beloved (and watched) sitcoms of all time. It was with this in mind that Warner Bros. paid a reported $425 million to secure the series for its HBO Max streaming platform (the show had been on Netflix, previously). In February 2020, the studio announced that one of HBO Max’s initial offerings would be a Friends: The Reunion, which would see the original cast assembled for only the second time since their show’s 2004 finale.
While many still managed to be surprised by the Reunion’s unscripted nature when the first trailer dropped last week, the buzz surrounding the special was undeniable, as fans all over the world celebrated the imminent return of the characters they’d fallen in love with.
A tonally varied cocktail of emotional recollections, classic clips, celebrity testimonials, and an ill-advised interview portion, the Reunion was a heady mix of nostalgia and insider info. Thus, without further ado, here are our picks for the 8 Biggest Reveals From The Friends Reunion:
David Schwimmer (and almost everybody else) HATED the monkey
When asked what they disliked about shooting the show, nearly everybody’s answer pointed to Ross’ pet capuchin, Marcel, who was written off the show following complaints from the actors of the monkey’s inability to hit his mark or take direction. Even knowing that, it was amusing to see the one least in favor of the monkey was Schwimmer himself, who detailed the monkey’s habit of snacking on crushed grubs while perched on his shoulder, and then pawing the remains on the actor’s hair and face.
Marcel, we never missed you.
“Smelly Cat” is one of Lady Gaga’s favorite songs
Lis Kudrow (Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion) busting out an acoustic rendition of “Smelly Cat” on the Central Perk set was one thing – Lady Gaga joining in with performance-level vocals and a gospel choir just took the moment to a whole other level! The icing on the cake was Gaga revealing that “Smelly Cat” was one of her favorite songs, before giving Kudrow a heartfelt thank-you for, “being the person for all of us on Friends that was the different one.”
Friends helped BTS’ RM learn English
Credited onscreen as the Biggest Boyband on the Planet, BTS was among a series of celebrities and fans who gave testimonials on how Friends affected them. Sadly for fans of the K-Pop phenoms, a performance wasn’t forthcoming, with BTS’ contribution coming in the form of member RM’s story of how, “My mom bought me the DVDs of the whole series when I was in elementary school. Friends really had a big hand in teaching me English, and the show really taught me the things about life and true friendship.” The segment ended with BTS announcing, “I Love Friends!” to the camera.
Matt LeBlanc dislocated his shoulder on set
In a segment taking place on the set of Monica’s apartment, the cast is shown watching and reacting to their old outtakes, including one cringe-worthy bit where, during filming of “The One Where Nobody Is Ready”, LeBlanc’s Joey had to leap over a coffee table to land in a seat. On the fourth take, LeBlanc miscalculated the jump, dislocating his left shoulder, which pushes Cox (in the present) to exclaim, “I don’t want to see pain!”, while Aniston buries her head in a pillow on Kudrow’s lap, rather than watch the injury unfold.
In addition to Joey being forced to wear a sling for a couple of episodes (explained as the result of jumping on his bed), LeBlanc revealed that he injured himself during the only taping where the six actors didn’t do their pre-show huddle before stepping onstage. From that point on, LeBlanc would insist on the ritual because, “I don’t want anything else falling off!”
The Chandler-Monica tandem wasn’t supposed to be the endgame
In the finale of Season 4 (“The One With Ross’s Wedding, Part 2”), while in London for Ross’s latest wedding, the audience witnesses a post-hook-up scene with Monica and Chandler. According to producer Marta Kauffman, the response from the live studio audience so strong and sustained that the creative team was grateful that they had the upcoming season break to figure out how to move the (now-)fan-approved relationship forward.
The Janice laugh was a matter of necessity
Though the actors playing secondary characters didn’t get much screen time in the special, one of those who did was Maggie Wheeler, who portrayed Chandler’s ex-girlfriend Janice. While Wheeler shared that her character’s New York inflections were inspired by people she grew up around, Janice’s infamous laugh came about as a way to stay focused, lest Perry’s antics had her break character.
Schwimmer and Aniston crushed on each other in real life
Up until Chandler hooked up with Monica, the will-they-won’t-they nature of Ross and Rachel’s relationship was the closest thing Friends had to an ongoing romantic arc, a storyline that the producers stretched out all the way until the 2004 finale. When questioned by host James Corden on whether any of the actors paired off in real life, it was Aniston’s passing the burden of answering to Schwimmer that had fan Twitter go into overdrive as it was revealed that, yes, the two had eyes for each other in the show’s early days!
“It was like two ships passing,” said Schwimmer – while they were certainly attracted to each other (to the point of their castmates noticing!), they were never able to act on it, not with either one or both involved with other people at any given time. Thus, despite LeBlanc’s casual declaration of, “Bullsh*t!”, the first time the two kissed was in Season 2, “The One Where Ross Finds Out”.
This is it: There will NEVER be another reunion special
Among the many tearful revelations in the show, perhaps the most surprising (aside from the Aniston and Schwimmer confession!) was Cox’s declaration that they would never again reunite in this context, compounded by Kudrow’s saying that they would never consider doing a movie or reboot: “Everyone’s lives are very nice and they would have to unravel all those good things in order for there to be stories… I don’t want anyone’s happy endings unraveled,” said Kudrow, with her former co-stars and their producers nodding in agreement. The 57-year old threw in, “Also, at my age to be saying like “floopy” — stop. You have to grow up.”
Following Kudrow’s statement, Corden asked each actor what they thought their characters would be doing at this point in time, with answers ranging from the predictable (Ross and Rachel are married, with the former still playing with bones), while Chandler and Monica are happily raising their children, with Cox’s character indulging her competitive side in school events. Of the final two, Phoebe would be pioneering arts and music programs at the school of her children with Mike (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man, Avengers: Endgame), while Joey would settle down from his dreams of stardom and open a sandwich shop in Venice Beach.
In any case, it’s probably for the best. After all, LeBlanc had his Joey spinoff, and the less said about that, the better. The Friends finale ended on the perfect note and, given the entire premise of the show, a middle-aged rehash of things we saw two decades ago just sounds like a bad idea from the get-go. While the shoe-horned celebrity appearances and out-of-place talk show segments prevented Friends: The Reunion from consistently reaching the highs of the similarly-intentioned Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion, for those who grew up on the show, it was a nostalgia trip well worth taking.
Perhaps the most striking part of the special is just how much genuine affection these actors have for one another and the time they spent working together. The reunion’s opening, when they first set eyes on their restored sets after nearly two decades is a moment more moving than any reboot could have conjured up. Indeed, the best parts of the reunion are when the former castmates are on their own, enjoying each other’s company, and just reflecting on the remarkable journey that the six of them shared.
If, however, this truly is the last time we will see these performers on these sets, then we’ve more than enough to look back on, reminisce, and remember a time when the world was just a tiny bit more innocent, the internet was in its infancy, and the biggest question in pop culture was whether or not Ross and Rachel were on a break. (They were.)
From the bottom of this writer’s heart, thank you, guys. That was one hell of a curtain call.