Holy Holiday Armadillo, the Friends reunion is almost upon us. The cast is back, the stage-set is back and the trailer, which dropped last week, showed that, even 17 years after its final episode, there is still so much emotion wrapped up in this show.
In many ways, it’s easy to forget that Friends actually ended back in 2004. Thanks to endless reruns and its Netflix second act, it has remained embedded in our cultural framework, playing on a never-ending loop in the background of our mind. Endlessly quotable, searingly familiar. Friends is more phenomena than sitcom.
Of course, the longevity of Friends has also engendered a cultural rethink of late. A whole new audience came to it through Netflix when it landed back in 2017 and found its handling of gay or trans characters jarring, its portrayal of ‘Fat Monica’ harmful or its distinct lack of diversity somewhat baffling. Yet Friends also has an enduring appeal which, despite many of its dated missteps, has managed to get a foothold once again thanks to a whole new generation binging it with much more ease than their millennial counterparts who – like me – recorded it from the TV or saved up to buy the much-coveted VHS tapes.
These tapes were the teddy bears of my teenage years. Friends was what I watched on sick days, sad days, post-break up days. Friends was a comfort blanket, and – if I’m honest – remains so. I often play it in the background if I’m having trouble sleeping, or pop it on during those lazy hungover Sundays. It’s been the calming companion on days when I’ve been anxious. It’s been a, well, friend.
It’s because, at this point, for those of us who grew up with Friends, it’s not so much even a TV show anymore, but a sort of collective memory. We feel as though we lived in Monica and Rachel’s apartment, that we too lounged about drinking coffee at Central Perk, and played table football with Chandler and Joey. It is familiar, safe, warm and welcoming.
That is the true soft power of Friends. Though its central premise broke the standard suburban family sitcom mould at the time, it was never a game-changer in terms of culture, comedy or form. What it was, was a sharply written, brilliantly performed set piece with characters that instantly felt comforting and relatable, who were designed to become friends of ours over the show’s 10-year run. It worked. We cared about everything from Smelly Cat to whether Ross and Rachel were on a break, from Monica’s secret cupboard to Ross’ sandwich.
The appeal of Friends has only increased over lockdown, when many of us, shying away from the chaos and panic of life in a global pandemic, shrunk back into the familiarity of a comfort watch. Psychologically speaking, it’s been proven that re-watching familiar shows or films can be a form of easily tapped-into nostalgia that rewards your brain with a natural high – something we have been in dire need of in lieu of actual friends during lockdown.
The nostalgia of its premise is also attractive to millennials in particular, for whom the show is more than just a comforter of their youth, but a catnip snapshot of what life would be like if we really could just live with our friends. As we embody that stage in life where pals pair off, have kids, move away, it can be a wrenching signifier of change. The show exists as a sadly unrealistic freeze-frame; a millennial Neverland, where no one really grows old or moves on, where your friends are always just across the hall. This yearning for the companionship of a chosen family has only been fortified by the unnatural isolation of the past year.
The reunion will no doubt prod many of us back into binge-watching marathons. It may even prove the temperature gauge HBO Max needs to commission a new season, who knows? But what this cultural juggernaut has proven, time and time again, through generational revisionisms and beyond, is that it will always, always be there for you.
In need of some at-home inspiration? Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for skincare and self-care, the latest cultural hits to read and download, and the little luxuries that make staying in so much more satisfying.
Plus, sign up here to get Harper’s Bazaar magazine delivered straight to your door.
You Might Also Like