‘Friends’ Reunion: The One With the ‘Remember the One With … ?’

The episode titles in “Friends” had been distinctively generic: “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break,” “The One With the Monkey.” The template stated a number of issues about the present. This was a comedy that will by no means take itself critically; it was not going to call an episode “Ozymandias.” Its titles assumed that you’d neglect them. It understood how followers watched TV and the way they talked about it.

“Friends: The Reunion,” the candy, shaggy particular arriving on HBO Max on Thursday, makes one other factor about the titles clear: They’re pre-nostalgized. They’re written the manner you’d attempt to bear in mind the episodes, retrospectively, years later — say, at a reunion.

And after I say “you,” I embrace the actors who starred in them. “Do you remember the one where you guys were throwing a ball back and forth?” Jennifer Aniston asks her previous colleagues. (It was, in actual fact, referred to as “The One With the Ball.”) Later, Matt LeBlanc recollects being in his kitchen and seeing a rerun of “the one with the leather pants.” (Actually, “The One With All the Resolutions.”)

The “Friends” stars are, give or take a number of zillion and journal covers, identical to us. They simply wish to bear in mind. And this reunion is a remember-that machine. Central Perk, “Smelly Cat,” “We were on a break”; examine, examine and examine.

Nostalgia was constructed into “Friends” proper all the way down to the idea, which the co-creator David Crane describes right here as, “It’s about that time in your life when your friends were your family.”

In different phrases, it’s a present a few time that you understand will finish whilst you reside by it, that you’ll look again on later, with a brand new life and new tasks, romanticizing the days while you had been younger, sizzling and broke, but someway residing in an unreasonably massive house.

So this particular is the superexpressway of reminiscence lanes, an hour and three-quarters that sew collectively a number of codecs: a talk-show-style interview with James Corden; a celebrity-packed tribute; a group of behind-the-scenes clips; and a revisiting and re-creation of traditional scenes.

But first, the waterworks. “Friends” was at all times a stability of fine-tuned comedy writing and sentiment, and the reunion begins and ends on the latter. The forged members stroll onto the previous Warner Bros. soundstage one by one, to hugs and the swell of angelic music, as if they’re assembly in the afterlife — which, in the TV sense, they’re.

I doubt followers will begrudge them a bit sap. “Friends” could be the best-liked sitcom ever — by which I don’t imply “best” and even “most popular,” however merely that its overarching success was to create a way of genial affection towards itself and its characters. “All in the Family” made arguments. “The Simpsons” made an immense world. “Friends” simply made mates.

From left, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow in the particular, which recreated beloved previous scenes like the trivia contest.Credit…Terence Patrick/HBO Max

For this motive, the compulsory talking-head testimonies are good however superfluous — although it’s charming to listen to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai described by her greatest good friend Vee Kativhu as “Joey with a hint of Phoebe.”

Likewise, Corden’s interview feels peripheral amongst all the components right here, notably since so a lot of his questions boil all the way down to “Remember when?” and “What do you remember about?” (One query about offscreen relationships does yield a quasi-revelation competent publicity staff will attempt to trumpet prefer it’s proof of life on Mars.)

The particular is best when it will get out of the forged’s manner and reveals us what drew us to them, and them to one another. As the particular notes, they had been relative unknowns abruptly thrown into the superstar panopticon. Now they’re like an astronaut crew, certain by an otherworldly expertise. As David Schwimmer says, solely the six of them actually perceive what each other went by, and there’s a protecting really feel to their interactions now.

The neatest thing about the reunion is what it isn’t: The forged and creators are adamant about by no means making a where-are-they-now revival episode. (“I don’t want anybody’s happy ending unraveled,” Lisa Kudrow says, and thank God.) Instead, they recreate the expertise of the collection with set items, like a reprise of the boys-vs.-girls trivia recreation from “The One With the Embryos,” and, particularly, the desk reads.

“Friends,” in spite of everything, didn’t get the place it did merely on catchphrases and haircuts. The forged’s studying from “The One With the Jellyfish” — through which Chandler, Joey and Monica confess to utilizing the (legendary) pee-on-it trick to kill the ache of a sea-creature sting — reveals the expertise it takes to wring the laughs out of a comedy scene that’s written like a survivor’s horror drama. In a breakdown of the couch-moving sequence, a scene with scant dialogue turns into a traditional on the power of Schwimmer’s supply of the two syllables, “Pi-vot!”

If the complete affair feels a contact much less particular, it’s due to a glut in the nostalgia market. It was introduced, with fanfare and a reportedly hefty price ticket, in February 2020, simply earlier than the pandemic lockdowns. Since then, a slew of beloved collection — “Community,” “The Office,” “E.R.,” “Parks and Recreation” — have reunited over Zoom and on TV, for charity or simply as a result of they might.

But this reunion does make a becoming Gen X bookend to the reunion of “The Real World: New York” earlier this 12 months. (You may consider “Friends,” which premiered in 1994, as sort of a scripted reply to the unique “Real World,” which aired two years earlier.) That follow-up was extra keen to dig into the results of time, what has and hasn’t aged nicely in the unique season and the forged’s flaws and challenges (together with clashes on the set of the new present).

“Friends: The Reunion” will not be actuality TV, nor a information report. So there’s loads you gained’t hear about: the contentious contract negotiations; criticisms of the present for casting primarily white actors; private or well being points. When an viewers member asks what the actors disliked about making the present, Corden jokingly chides, “Way to keep it positive!” (The collective reply throws Marcel the monkey beneath the bus.)

But then, no person watched “Friends” to be reminded of the world’s woes. Those are what come after the finale, while you transfer out of that starter house and tackle a mortgage. This was about seeing the stars collectively, supposedly for the final time — “We’re not doing this again in 15 years,” Courteney Cox says. After which the reruns, the place the previous stays frozen in place, will likely be there for you.