‘I’ ON CULTURE
Weren’t you excited to hear about the special retrospective of the TV show Friends? I was so excited that I forgot to put catsup on one of my fries. I mean, how can you reminisce about something that has never been gone? Reruns have been available pretty regularly ever since the show went off the air 17 years ago. It’s like reminiscing about an ex-husband who moved in next door after the divorce.
Even more to the point, the whole “special” was planned be a big opener for the streaming service HBO Max when it started up. But the pandemic hit, so it got delayed. But after a lot of advertising, the whole idea floats like a pile of lead balloons.
The show, for those living off planet for most of the 1990s, featured six 20-somethings hanging out together and generally living more or less together in New York City. And there were many people who were really fascinated by the problems of Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) who, until relatively near the end, were drawn toward each other but somehow never could connect. People laughed at the antics of really-not-normal Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and not-too-bright Joey (Matt LeBlanc), as well as the two prime neurotics, Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica (Courteney Cox).
Millions of people watched the show; it was a highlight of Thursday night at a time when Thursday night really seemed vital. More than twice as many people normally watched the show than generally watch anything now. Of course, back then we weren’t watching nearly as many different channels. The cable channels tended to run shows that were older at that point. Now, with all sorts of streaming services, the whole viewing pattern has been shattered.
Still, this might have been a good show. When I heard about a retrospective, my first thought was that it might be fun to see the characters a decade and a half later. Are they still friends? Are the married couples still together? What happened to the kids? Did Joey ever make it in show business?
Instead, we had James Corden running what seemed like an interminable discussion about the “good old days,” as the now 50-something cast reminisced about the great fun they had. Wow, wasn’t it great to know that one time when LeBlanc was hurt on set, the whole filming of an episode ground to a halt? And the discussion of whether or not Schwimmer’s crush on Aniston was real? Um, wasn’t that a big issue 25 years ago?
Aside from trying to stay awake through that, viewers have to watch a whole lot of people (meaning celebrities…if you’re not well-known, you’re not considered a person on TV anymore) tell us with straight faces how much the show meant to them. Frankly, I pity people who allow any TV show to affect them that much. Watching Lady Gaga singing an absolutely dreadful song Smelly Cat from the show was a reminder only of how bad it was.
And the actual series was far from perfect. It has been well-noted that all of the friends were white, and there was only one black character brought in for a significant group of episodes, and that was at the very end. For those who don’t remember, or who just don’t want to remember, homophobia ran throughout it. The stereotypes were everywhere.
But the show was funny, and there were surprises. No one would have thought Monica and Chandler would become a couple at the start. But feedback when they got together, presumably for something that would become a long-lasting gag, showed the public liked them, and they became a regular couple. So it would have been nice to have these veteran actors, who generally have not done very much close to as spectacular as this program (yes, Aniston managed a few good roles) make $2.5 million each for more than just showing up and pretending they’ll be there for you. Hint: Their theme song.
For that kind of money, they could have done a lot better, and we all would have been better off.