LOS ANGELES – After so many years — and episode re-watches — could there BE anything left to learn about “Friends”?
As the highly-anticipated, almost two-hour reunion special for HBO Max shows (and with apologies to Matthew Perry for continuing to borrow his lines), “Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.”
One thing that we didn’t need to learn (because we already knew it) was just how truly there these six characters were for the audience.
In the 1990s and early-aughts, the cast of “Friends” provided hours of joy — first just on Thursday nights when new episodes aired, but soon enough five nights a week in syndication. Within the past decade, diehard and casual fans alike could spend any time of any day with Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Perry and David Schwimmer, as the show became available on streaming services. This sextet has helped their audience get through so much, now including the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did “Friends” see a spike in viewership in the earliest lockdown days according to Nielsen, but also, just before the world fully reopens, they gathered together to shoot “Friends: The Reunion.”
“It was life-changing, not only for us but for whoever watched it, and that’s just such a great feeling,” Cox said of her experience on “Friends.”
Within the special, they reminisced over their time working together while walking around recreated versions of Joey and Chandler’s apartment, Monica and Rachel’s (turned Monica and Chandler’s) apartment and the Central Perk coffeehouse, as well as while sitting down on the ironic orange couch for an outdoors interview with “The Late Late Show’s” James Corden.
They performed scene readings from “The One Where Ross Finds Out,” “The One Where Everybody Finds Out” and the Season 4 premiere, “The One With The Jellyfish.” They also took part in a trivia game, designed and shot identically to the one in “The One With The Embryos.”
In doing all of these things, they revealed behind-the-scenes tidbits and showed off special relationship dynamics that expanded even the biggest fan’s knowledge of their favorite show. The one thing they did NOT do was dance in a fountain.
Here are 18 things learned from “Friends: The Reunion.”
The one where Ross and Rachel were on a break!
Corden asked the six stars to reveal whose side of that infamous argument they fell on, and they all agreed that Ross and Rachel were on a break when he slept with Chloe (Angela Featherstone). Admittedly, they all had different levels of enthusiasm about that belief, but the authorities have spoken, so debate no more!
The one with the crush
Borrowing a question that Janice (Maggie Wheeler) once posed to the six characters, Corden asked the six actors who became romantically involved with each other while filming. “The first season I had a major crush on Jen,” Schwimmer admitted. “It was reciprocal,” she shared. But, he went on, “It was like two ships passing because one of us was always in a relationship and we never crossed that boundary. We respected that.” LeBlanc piped up with a fake cough and a “Bullshit,” which sent the audience into wild applause. But he was joking, and Aniston clarified that she once told Schwimmer, “It’s going to be such a bummer if the first time you and I kiss is on national television.” But, “sure enough, the first time we kissed was in that coffee shop. So we just channeled all of our adoration and love for each other into Ross and Rachel.”
The one where Ross and Rachel almost didn’t end up together
“Friends” co-creator David Crane, who was sitting in the COVID-safe audience during Corden’s interview and gave in an off-site interview for the special, shared that in working on the final season, the writers’ room did consider more ambivalent endings about the status of Ross and Rachel. But ultimately love won out definitively because, “People have been waiting 10 years to see this couple get together, we’ve got to give them what they want, we just have to find a way to do it so the journey is unexpected.”
The one without a movie
For anyone holding out hope that the experience these actors had coming together for only the second time since “Friends” wrapped in 2004 would spark interest in more, we’re sorry to burst your bubble, but that is not going to happen. “That’s all up to Marta and David,” Kudrow said. “I once heard them say, and I completely agree, that they ended the show very nicely, everyone’s lives are very nice, and they would have to unravel all of those good things in order for there to be stories. And I don’t want anyone’s lives to be unraveled.” Kudrow also added, “At my age, saying like, ‘Floopy’ — stop. You have to grow up.” Aniston took things farther and said they probably wouldn’t even do another reunion like this.
The one with where they are now
Kudrow may have crushed many people’s dreams about actually seeing where the characters would be at this place in time, but she said she imagines Phoebe is still married to Mike (Paul Rudd), with kids, living in Connecticut. “I think she was probably the advocate for her kids…and all of the other kids who were a little different, creating the arts program,” she said. Aniston said Ross and Rachel got married and had some kids, and Ross still “played with bones.” Cox said she believed that because Monica is so competitive, she would still be “in charge of the bake sale in elementary school,” even though her and Chandler’s kids would be out of school by now. “She’s just got to keep things going, PTA. And you are still making me laugh every day,” she said to Perry. “Just wanted to make sure I factored in somewhere,” he replied. And Joey? “I think he probably opened a sandwich shop on Venice Beach,” LeBlanc said.
The one where the audience inspired Monica and Chandler’s relationship
The audience reaction was so loud — and long — at the reveal that Chandler and Monica slept together in “The One With Ross’ Wedding Part 2,” it made the writers re-think plans for that storyline. Originally, Crane said, it was going to be a “brief thing where we had fun with it afterward, ‘What did we do?'” Since that episode was the fourth season finale, the writers and producers had time to reflect on the reaction, and ultimately expanded it from being “just one night in London,” as Crane said it was originally meant to be. This opened up a wealth of stories, from dating in secret, to having multiple characters find out about the relationship at different times, to eventually getting engaged, married and adopting twins.
The one with the grudge against Marcel
When asked what part of the show the cast members did not enjoy, poor Marcel came to mind immediately. Cox clarified that this was because “the monkey scared me,” but Schwimmer had some serious complaints. “The monkey didn’t do its job right,” he said. Marcel (real name: Katie) was a trained working capuchin, of course, but Schwimmer noted there would be choreographed bits the human actors worked out that didn’t perfectly align with the monkey’s own timing to hit his mark, “so we’d have to reset, we’d have to go again, because the monkey didn’t get it right. This kept happening over and over.” But he didn’t stop there: Schwimmer also remembered how Marcel would be fed live grubs while sitting on his shoulder. “I’d have monkey grubby hands all over. It was just time for Marcel to [expletive] off.” (The irony is that the producers shared a story about how Schwimmer had such a bad time doing a previous TV show he had quit this side of the biz to only focus on theater and in order to get him to agree to do “Friends,” they had to swear up and down it would be different. And it was different, but not always better for him, judging by his still-palpable anger about the monkey all these decades later.)
The one with missing set pieces
As detail-oriented as the production design team and art department were in rebuilding the sets for this special reunion, they could not replace every item exactly. Cox pointed out that the cookie jar in Monica’s kitchen was different because the “original cookie jar is at Lisa Kudrow’s house.” Additionally, Aniston shared she took a mug from the original set and LeBlanc took the foosball from that iconic table. While those items are small enough that the casual viewer would never know, “Friends” fans have been re-watching the old episodes for years in anticipation of a reunion like this and certainly would have freeze-framed moments in the kitchen to call out that cookie jar, if nothing else, had Cox not said something.
The one with the beam
The beam should have been the seventh billed in the “Friends” reunion, as almost every cast member called it out when stepping onto the set of Monica’s apartment. In early episodes (and others that James Burrows directed), there was a wooden archway that separated the kitchen and living room sets on that part of the soundstage. It provided a convenient piece of story in Season 3’s “The One with the Giant Poking Device” when Monica banged her nephew’s head into it, but it limited camera angles and interfered with lighting, so it was usually absent, wreaking havoc with continuity and raising questions about just how much work a renter could do on a New York City apartment. It was restored in all of its nostalgic glory for the reunion special, truly bringing the experience full-circle.
The one with Courteney Cox’s cheat sheets
As LeBlanc walked through Monica’s meticulously-recreated kitchen during the special, he paused at the table and pondered aloud whether Cox’s line would still be written on it. Although he sounded like he was kidding at first, he revealed to Aniston, Kudrow and Schwimmer that he caught her doing it once and asked her what it was. “Mind your business,” he recalls her telling him. While he didn’t name what episode this happened during, it would not be a surprise if she did it often. The writers used to rework jokes during the live tapings so much that the show became notorious for its tapings running extremely late. Their bar for quality was so high, they would finesse as much as they could based on the live audience’s reaction on Stage 24 on the Warner Bros. lot, which required the cast members to be quick on their feet to absorb the new material immediately. Cox ended up joining the group as they were reminiscing over her keeping scripts in the sink and she added, “I had so much of my dialog within these apples,” while messing with the bowl on the table.
The one where they gambled on Jennifer Aniston
Don’t let Rachel herself know, but Crane referred to the character as “incredibly selfish, self-involved, spoiled.” He noted that, “In the wrong hands, you don’t like Rachel.” This is partially why she was the last character cast. When they found Aniston, they felt she was perfect but she was already committed to a show called “Muddling Through.” They hired her anyway and shot the pilot, as well as a few subsequent episodes, figuring they’d see what show won later. “If CBS would have picked [‘Muddling Through’] up,” Crane recalled, “we would have had to reshoot the first three episodes of ‘Friends.'” Aniston added that she loved “Friends” so much she actually went to her other producers and asked to be released from it. The response? “That show’s not going to make you a star,” she remembered being told.
The one with Janice’s laugh
Maggie Wheeler, who played Chandler’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Janice, shared that she created Janice’s iconic laugh (second only to her delivery of, “Oh my god”) because she was acting opposite Perry, who was so funny she knew she would end up laughing in the scene and potentially ruining the take. So she worked a unique laugh into the scene as Janice’s response to Chandler, and the rest is history.
The one with Matthew Perry’s confession
Perry revealed to his former cast mates that he often “felt like I was going to die if [the audience] didn’t laugh” at his jokes on tape night. “It’s not healthy, for sure, but I would sometimes say a line and they wouldn’t laugh and I would sweat and just go into convulsions. … I would freak out.” It was something he kept to himself while working on the show, but he said he felt like that “every single night.”
The one with technology
Schwimmer, who directed 10 episodes of “Friends” (and two of its spinoff “Joey!”) marveled at the sitcom cameras on the stage today, compared to what they used on “Friends.” These, he noted, could be operated by one person, but back then, each one required three. “It was a huge crew,” he said. ” four cameras, the choreography was incredible.”
The one with memory lapses
Much fun was to be had with the fading memories of cast members — but to be fair, they don’t binge their own show. In fact, a few of whom shared they never watch the show at all. “There are seasons I’ve never seen,” said Kudrow, which Perry seconded. Schwimmer said he only recently looked back at some episodes because his daughter has started watching the show. LeBlanc seemed to have the most details teed up and ready to be talked about (somehow he magically even correctly identified Joey’s hand twin just by looking at hands), but even he didn’t remember that the length of Rachel’s letter to Ross was 18 pages… front and back. Perry didn’t remember that by the end of the series, the foosball table had been destroyed; Aniston still thought Chandler’s job was a transponster; Schwimmer didn’t remember the titular plot in “The One With The Ball” (Season 5) even though his character started the challenge of not dropping the ball in the story. Nobody remembered Mr. Heckles’ name — though Kudrow knew the actor who played him was Larry Hankin (who made a surprise guest appearance, in costume) and no one could finish the lyrics to the barbershop quartet’s message from Ross in the third season episode, “The One With All The Jealousy.” Behind-the-scenes details fared better, though: Aniston even remembered what some of her fellow actors were wearing during the first table read.
The one with real-life friends as character inspirations
Co-creators Marta Kauffman and Crane have always talked about being inspired by their own lives in New York City in their 20s when creating the show, but here Kauffman revealed that the character of Chandler was even named after one of her friends. (We hope he didn’t take offense when, in the fourth season, Joey listed multiple reasons Chandler is a terrible name when he was trying to get Phoebe to name one of the triplets Joey instead of Chandler.) In this same interview package, Crane shared the one-line pitch for the show as being “about that time in your life when your friends are your family,” which seems both like a perfectly universal show any network would want and also way too broad to be sold on that alone today.
The one with the rough audition
The night before LeBlanc was set to audition for “Friends,” he told Corden, he was running lines with a friend who said that because the show was about a group of friends hanging out, they should go out drinking. They did, and LeBlanc crashed at his place after, where, after he “got up [to go to the bathroom] too fast, I kind of blacked out, as you do, and fell face-first into the toilet,” he said. “A huge chunk of meat came off my nose.” When he went in the next day, Kauffman asked what happened. “I told the truth and got the job,” he said. What made this story even more special was that executive producer Kevin Bright revealed in an interview package that the role of Joey, in the end, came down to LeBlanc and Louis Mandylor — who went on to play Carl, the guy Joey hired to pretend to be his twin brother to get into a medical science study in the sixth season.
The one with an on set injury
Not to make this all about LeBlanc, but the reunion special also revealed how he dislocated his shoulder during the third season of “Friends,” which resulted in him wearing a sling for a few episodes. In “The One Where No One’s Ready,” he had to dive for the chair after Chandler came back into Monica’s apartment fully dressed and vying for the vacated seat. During one take, which the cast watched raw footage of together, LeBlanc landed wrong on his left arm, resulting in production being paused so he could go to the hospital. Although they wrote the sling into a few episodes so everybody could go back to work, they didn’t finish filming this particular episode until LeBlanc’s arm was healed. “What started out the simplest ‘Friends’ episode,” Bright said, “ended up taking the longest amount of time to shoot.” If you’re superstitious, you might say the reason this episode went so wrong was because the cast didn’t do their usual pre-show huddle that night. “It was sort of early on, but then after that we’d say, ‘Do we need to do the huddle?’ And he’d say, ‘Yeah,'” Kudrow said of LeBlanc.