The One Where They Get Back Together is streaming this Thursday, but why is everyone losing their minds over it?
Oh my god *Janice voice*. Forget pubs and hugging, the most eagerly-anticipated diary event right now is happening this Thursday and it’s in your very own living room. Yes, it’s the Friends reunion, AKA The One Where They Get Back Together. 17 years after ending in 2004, the one-off special is being broadcast at 8pm on Sky One and features the original cast – Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer – who will all appear as themselves. But what is it about the Friends reunion that has everybody so hyped?
It’s landed when we really need it.
It doesn’t take a paleontologist (sorry) to twig that timing and recent events probably play a part. After months of pandemic-enforced isolation and loss, it’s no surprise we’re feeling collectively needier than Gunther when Rachel finishes a Central Perk shift. Which is exactly when we turn to the familiar, says consultant psychologist Dr Elena Touroni of My Online Therapy. “For many, Friends is nostalgic of an era gone by. Revisiting the past in this way can provide us with comfort, offering a temporary escape from our current situations. After the year we’ve had, these kinds of shows can be representative of a time which felt more safe and carefree.” Add to that, years of frenzied speculation over whether a reunion will actually happen, plus not being allowed to hug our own friends for the best part of a year. Is it really any wonder we’re going gaga for a bunch of Friends meeting up IRL?
The familiarity is healing.
While starting a new show can feel mentally taxing, sometimes taking a few episodes to really get going (here’s looking at you, Schitt’s Creek…) the easy familiarity of Friends feels akin to slipping on your cosiest pair of socks. While storylines evolved, as viewers we knew exactly what we were getting each episode (think: Joey eating, Chandler making a sarcastic quip and Monica obsessively tidying). The locations – those quirky, colourful apartments and that iconic Central Perk sofa – were so familiar we could basically smell them. “The show offers an element of escapism and predictability simultaneously,” Touroni explains. “We became so familiar with the characters that it can feel like we know them.”
The Friends were nice (for the most part, anyway).
“From a relational perspective, Friends represents the ultimate secure attachment,” offers relationship psychotherapist Charisse Cooke. “Their friendships were consistent and loving, despite their struggles, breakups and make ups. Even during tough times, their love and respect for each other – coupled with great humour and playfulness – prevailed and they were always able to work things out and grow closer as a result.” For many of us watching who lacked that in our own lives, it felt like chicken soup for the soul. “It was a comforting and important lesson in relationships and its popularity is in part down to the kindness and forgiveness the characters displayed – something that isn’t necessarily a given in many people’s friendship groups or families in real life.”
It brought the LOLs and the tears.
Friends was also genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. From ‘unagi’ and Ross’ OTT spray tan (or that tooth whitening episode…) to Brad Pitt’s infamous cameo as the gang’s old school friend Will Colbert, its humour was what set it apart from other sitcoms. And it featured brilliantly funny, high-calibre cameos – from Brad and Bruce Willis to Danny DeVito and Reese Witherspoon (and who doesn’t need a LOL right now?). But we cared about the characters and what happened to them too, wholeheartedly investing in Ross and Rachel’s will-they-won’t-they relationship, Monica and Chandler’s surrogacy journey and Phoebe’s breakup with Mike. We loved them and wanted things to turn out OK for them – from our safe spot on the sofa. “Their world is one that feels ‘safe’ to us – while we relate to the ups and downs in their lives, we’re still doing so very much as an observer,” notes Touroni.
It’s a reminder that better days are coming.
Friends was there when others weren’t. Quietly on in the background, anchoring us to a sense of normality no matter where we were or what we were doing. It was easy watching, but uplifting and unifying, too – what other show could captivate adults and kids alike? Whatever kind of day you’d had, you could switch on the TV and sink lazily into an episode, drinking up its comforting characters and familiar catchphrases (“Joey doesn’t share food!”). For many of us, the relationships we had with the characters outlived our real relationships.
“Several clients of mine, when suffering depressive or anxious periods, have watched the Friends boxsets,” notes Cooke. “It proves calming and soothing, reliably affectionate and nothing truly nasty or traumatic happens that they can’t deal with. It’s a powerfully validating thing to watch when battling our own mental health issues.” Even 17 years on, they’re part of our lexicon – from comparing ourselves to Joey when we’ve put on one too many layers, to shrieking “pivot!” when struggling with heavy furniture. Perhaps then, our excitement over the upcoming reunion could be because – as the song goes – when it hadn’t been our day/week/month/year, the Friends really were there for us. And after the year we’ve faced, we couldn’t be more appreciative of the reminder.