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The one with the reunion

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The TV event of the year – the Friends reunion will air on Thursday. But will we all be gripped asks Constantinos Psillides

They watched it when it aired on TV. They watched it on DVD. They watched when it went on syndication. They watched it streaming on Netflix and now they are gearing up to watch it again, this time streaming on HBO Max. Friends, undoubtedly the most successful sit-com ever made, has dropped a series of trailers for its reunion episode this week (Thursday) and the fan base has gone insane.

Despite original rumours, the reunion episode will not be scripted. Thankfully, HBO quickly side-lined that idea and instead decided to follow the Fresh Prince of Bel Air formula, another show from the 90s that recently had a reunion episode. Cast round-table talk, watching together clips from the show while giving commentary and having former guest stars over to discuss their time on the show. Friends will also see the cast recreate some of the show’s favourite scenes.

But even if it was just a Zoom call between the six actors, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, Matt Le Blanc and Courtney Cox, the fans wouldn’t care. They would still tune in to watch it.

“Can’t wait!” writes a fan, “we have been waiting for this for years”, writes another with a third lamenting the fact that HBO Max isn’t available in Cyprus so he would have to wait for someone to upload the special episode to watch it. With the odd “Never liked the show” and “Why bother?” thrown here and there, most people are excited for the reunion episode. Twenty seven years after it’s premiere in 1994 and 17 years after its season finale in 2004 (one of the most watched episodes in the history of TV) Friends still has a huge and dedicated fan base. HBO knows this all too well, which is why it forked half a billion to buy streaming rights from Netflix.

Why is this show a global phenomenon? Nobody has a definite answer. The most accepted reason is simply, luck. Being at the right place, at the right time. The thread of nuclear annihilation now forgotten, viewers of the 80s and 90s were looking for a show to identify with, a show free from the gloomy real world and instead had carefree days and a hope for the future. They found one where six good looking people in their 20s were living the dream in New York. Residing in multimillion apartments despite being unemployed most of the time, with no family obligations to weigh them down, with a group of friends always there to support them. When it comes to reality, Friends has about the same amount of it as Game of Thrones.

But the audience was mesmerised and fell madly in love with the characters. For people who grew up with this show, Friends can do no wrong. It’s their warm blankie, their bowl of soup when they are sick. It was always there for them, always cheering them up, even if it wasn’t their day, their week, or even their year. It was there for them and now they are here for it.

A strong emotional bond will be required to watch Friends in 2021 and not gasp at how badly it aged. Friends falls squarely in the ‘product of their time’ category of shows; if it premiered today it would never make it past the pilot episode. Its inclusiveness ratio is near zero, it celebrates fat-shaming and it is astonishingly homophobic and transphobic.

But that matters not. Like any flawed piece of beloved entertainment, its hardcore fans can forgive. It is not unusual for a show to have die hard fans but Friends is the probably the only show in history with such an wide fan base.

But in spite of everything, Friends still evokes sentiments of joy and laughter for millions of people. It is beloved and it probably will be for years to come.

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