REVIEW: ‘Friends: The Reunion’ fails to address the show’s history with racist, homophobic comments



This image provided by HBO Max shows Matt LeBlanc, from left, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow in a scene from the “Friends” reunion special. (Terence Patrick/HBO Max via AP)

We all like to remember the best moments of our lives. We all like to come back to those moments years later to recall those events. It can become easy to remember all the good. 

It’s also easy to forget all the bad memories. We try to forget all the negative experiences, but it’s a part of us — like it or not. 

And that’s what “Friends: The Reunion” is all about: remembering the good, forgetting the bad. After postponing the release of “The Reunion” last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it made its long-awaited debut on HBO Max on Thursday. 

The issue with the show, however, was that it glossed over some bad moments and only focused on what made the show so popular. 

Sitting on a couch in Central Perk, the six main actors from the original “Friends” — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer — went down memory lane to go through their rise to stardom. They were also joined by other stars like Justin Bieber and David Beckham, who are fans of the show. 

Through all the stories shared and the nostalgia that it proved, “The Reunion” failed to address the ugly side of “Friends.” 

This image provided by HBO Max shows Jennifer Aniston, from left, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc in a scene from the “Friends” reunion special. (Terence Patrick/HBO Max via AP) (AP)

It was disappointing to see that “The Reunion” glossed over the show’s lack of diversity and its history with homophobic, transphobic, racist and misogynistic comments. A true “reunion” doesn’t pick and choose what to remember and what to leave out. 

Maybe it’s naive to expect these actors to address a difficult topic when, according to Business Insider, they were each paid $2.5 million to appear in this show. And before the pandemic hit last March, this reunion was supposed to help premiere HBO Max.

The show was hosted by James Corden, which made for an awkward dynamic between him and the other actors. Corden would often bring back talking points already addressed by the other actors; he would have been better suited setting up a topic and allowing the cast to do the rest. 

There were moments when the six actors were given the space to talk freely and go over moments that were special to them. That would have been the perfect time to also discuss some of the troubling parts of the show. 

For example, in 1999, Amaani Lyle was one of the few Black women employed on the show, becoming a writers’ assistant who was fired after four months. She then filed a lawsuit, which was later dismissed, alleging that her supervisors told racist and sexually graphic jokes, including of other female members of the cast. 

This image provided by HBO Max shows David Schwimmer, from left, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc and Jennifer Aniston in a scene from the “Friends” reunion special. (Terence Patrick/HBO Max via AP) (AP)

These are issues that plagued the show for a long time but have largely gone untouched. Besides a couple of times where the writers of the show were asked to address these issues, it has mostly escaped any deep conversations. 

Considering the issues that America has been trying to tackle in the last year with police brutality and racism, this would have been the perfect platform to speak openly about the ugly side of the show. Alas, we got none of that. 

Instead, the show spent 105 minutes hearing from other celebrities who adored the show, which created some cringe-worthy moments, and occasional scenes where the cast got to speak to each other. In the scenes where the actors got the chance to open up — especially when Perry talked about the pressure to generate a laugh and the pressure of a joke landing — there were no extended conversations to explore further into these matters.

Maybe the cast isn’t as interesting when they are forced to be themselves rather than in character. Maybe that’s why Corden was there to keep everything moving along, even though it didn’t really work. 

In certain moments, it felt like that cast felt scared to get too personal with the crowd. Then what’s the point of a reunion?

And that’s the issue with “The Reunion” —  it didn’t involve much of the cast and it failed to engage in deep conversations. Given a year to produce this show, the production should have been better and the cast could have put in more effort to show they care about these issues.