Why a Friends reunion won’t work without one crucial ingredient

The news that a Friends reunion is definitely happening has got everyone in a tizz. Could we be any more excited? Actually, no, says Michelle Davies, who once appeared on the show (series 9, episode 21) and spent time on set during its heyday

After weeks of teasing from Jennifer Aniston – first when she broke the internet with her Instagram debut snap of the six cast members hanging out, and then with her ‘we’re in talks’ comment on The Ellen DeGeneres Show– it appears a Friends reunion is no longer just a pipe dream for the show’s millions of multi-generational fans.

According to breaking reports, Aniston, Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow are close to agreeing a deal that will see them reunite for HBO Max, the new streaming service that has snaffled the coveted rights to all 236 episodes of the show from Netflix.

Except it won’t be The One Where Friends Reunite episode people are hoping for. Rather than a reboot, the reunion show looks set to be a one-off stroll down memory lane with the cast discussing their Friends experience with its creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane. But while the internet now sags under the weight of collective disappointment, I for one am not surprised or even disappointed they’ve stepped back from producing Friends 2.0. Because it will take more than just getting the six principle stars back together to make it a success – it would need the entire, original backstage crew reassembled as well to make it work.

Friends reunion

Michelle in Central Perk with Gunther (James Michael Tyler)

I say this as someone who was incredibly lucky to have spent time on the Friends set. My first visit was in 2002 when, along with a group of writers that included Cold Feet creator Mike Bullen, I spent a week behind the scenes watching how the show was put together for the magazine I worked on at the time. The following year I was invited to return, this time to experience what it was like being an extra (‘my’ episode is The One With The Fertility Test in series nine and, yes, I still squeal very loudly every time I watch it.)

The one thing I took away from both my visits – other than the fact Matthew Perry smelled divinely of soap and musk, like a scrubbed meadow, which I discovered when I accidentally ploughed into him at the end of my scene – was what a collaborative effort it was and I don’t mean just between the six leads. Every person working on the show was a vital cog in its success, from writers down to runners. Between takes there would be frequent hugging and back-slaps as the cast and crew shared private jokes, real games would be played on Joey and Chandler’s foosball table and Aniston and co – who bear in mind were the biggest TV stars in the world at the time, earning $1million each per episode – all joined in. ‘Everyone here works as family,’ prop master Marjorie Coster told me. (She and Lisa Kudrow gave birth to their sons on the same day in the same LA hospital and both boys were running amok in the studio while I was there). ‘That’s what makes the show so good.

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I suspect it’s that crucial ingredient which is stopping Crane and Kauffman going full throttle on writing new Friends material. If they can’t rehire everyone who originally worked on the show to recreate that happy studio ambience, there’s a real danger the onscreen sparkle won’t materialise either second time around. Indeed, when discussing a possible reunion during a Tribeca TV Festival panel to mark the show’s 25th anniversary in September, Kauffman remarked that one reason for not doing it was ‘it’s not going to beat what we did’.

There’s also the issue of what to do about the Friends set that once occupied Stage 24 on the Warner Bros lot. Yes, it could easily be recreated elsewhere, but let’s not forget that Monica and Chandler gave up her apartment when they moved to the suburbs with their newborn twins and Joey gave up his when he moved to LA (for the eponymous spin-off series that was so bad let’s not talk about it). If the show did return, it really wouldn’t be the same if the two apartments across the hall weren’t part of it.

I’m not alone in thinking a reunion would be a bad idea either. James Michael Tyler, who starred as Central Perk’s Gunther across all ten seasons and who tutored me in how to be a good extra, revealing that when extras appear to be talking in the back of a scene what they’re actually doing is silently mouthing the phrase ‘apples and pears’ over and over, also doesn’t want Friends to return, despite having the most to gain career-wise. ‘I don’t know if a reboot would have the same weight or quality,’ he said in a recent interview. ‘Why mess with perfection?’

My sentiments exactly.

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