‘Friends: The Reunion’ is a bloated fountain of nostalgia

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Could the “Friends” reunion special be any more hyped? 

After pandemic-induced production delays and rampant online speculation about its details, “Friends: The Reunion” finally hits HBO Max on Thursday at midnight PST/3 a.m. EST. 

Clocking in at an hour and 44 minutes, it’s a movie-length affair that reunites the hit sitcom’s core six stars: Jennifer Aniston, 52, Courteney Cox, 56, Lisa Kudrow, 57, Matt LeBlanc, 53, Matthew Perry, 51, and David Schwimmer, 54. 

Although they say that they’ve kept in touch since the show aired from 1994-2004 — except, perhaps, with Perry, who joked, “I don’t hear from anyone” — viewers are informed that this is actually among the few times that all six of them have been in a room together in 17 years. 

The unscripted special, which was originally intended to be part of HBO Max’s launch last May until its extended delay due to the COVID-19 restrictions, is self-indulgent. For the most part, however, it does a nice job of making the argument that it’s earned it.

For instance, there’s a spotlight on the show’s global impact in the form of a moving montage of fans around the world telling the camera about how “Friends” taught them English or made them laugh during trying times.

We’re also reminded that 25 million people tuned into each episode — staggering, considering half of that number is considered big by today’s standards.

LeBlanc says his newfound fame hit him around Season 2 (circa 1995), when he turned on a news station and saw the cast’s houses on-screen and heard a helicopter buzzing overhead filming — prompting him to think, “My roof is a mess!”

“Friends: The Reunion” jumps between various segments, including an outdoor cast interview with James Corden in front of an audience and scenes of the cast sharing memories while strolling through iconic sets such as Central Perk. They also play a “Friends” trivia game while they’re on the set of Monica and Rachel’s apartment, during which even Perry is stumped by the question of what his character Chandler’s job was.

Pre-taped documentary style footage is also included. The show’s creators, David Crane and Marta Kauffman, share stories and reveal that Monica and Chandler weren’t supposed to be a lasting couple. It wasn’t until the positive audience response to their hook-up that the storyline was changed. There are also celeb fans such as Kit Harington, David Beckham and Mindy Kaling gushing to the camera about “Friends” and, of course, clips aplenty from the show. 

It could all be chaotic — and it is a tad overstuffed — but the transitions between all the moving parts are mostly seamless.

Notables such as Beckham, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai and Korean boy band sensation BTS seemed random when HBO Max first announced the star-studded lineup — but their inclusion feels organic. Malala and BTS illustrate the show’s international impact, with BTS members noting that “Friends” helped the band learn English. Beckham talks to the camera about how he finds comfort watching “Friends” during his many stints in foreign hotel rooms, and his rundown of his favorite episode (Season 3’s “The One Where Nobody’s Ready”) leads to the cast and creators launching into a juicy behind-the-scenes breakdown of its making. 

Not all of the star-studded parts work — Lady Gaga’s cameo feels unrelated and distracts from the focus on “Friends.”

But there are revelations galore. LeBlanc shares that Cox used to write her lines out on the kitchen table, prompting a prank. (“Before we shot, I erased it all, and she got so mad at me!” he says). Schwimmer notes how he disliked working with his character Ross’ pet monkey Marcel (“It was time for Marcel to f – – k off!”). And Perry confesses that he suffered extreme “unhealthy” anxiety about whether his jokes would land, to which Kudrow exclaims, “You didn’t tell us that!”

For viewers who are lukewarm on “Friends,” the bloated special is unlikely to win any converts. For fans, however, it’s well worth the watch and is a fountain of nostalgia.

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