Sure, there’s plenty that’s problematic about Friends if you care to view it through the prism of 2021.
The fat-shaming, the casual homophobia and transphobia, the lack of diversity among the all-white cast of a sitcom set in arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the world.
All valid points. Most of them skirted over in the new televised reunion.
Still that didn’t stop it from topping the trending topic lists on social media – or attracting more than a million viewers within seven hours of its release on Thursday.
As Chandler Bing might have put it, could the timing BE any better?
It’s an in-joke. A friends thing if you like. One of those simple pleasures we used to take for granted before the notion of meeting indoors in a hospitality setting with five other individuals from different households became an impossible dream.
Or at least the kind of activity you had to google in order to find out if it’s permitted in your council area under the government’s Covid restrictions this week.
Unless you’ve had anything better to do with your time – and let’s be honest, we’re a year and a half into a pandemic; the most distracting thing most of us have had to look forward to has been our vaccination appointments – you’ll have noticed Friends is back after 17 years in the broadcasting wilderness.
The stars of the all-American television phenomenon that towered like a wisecracking, glossy-haired colossus across late 1990s culture, have been brought together for a one-off special on HBO Max.
Fans, including Malala, Tom Selleck and David Beckham, are lining up to share their memories and explain what the programme meant to them.
James Corden is taking a break from interviewing Prince Harry and Barak Obama to play the host – to the annoyance of viewers.
— The Independent (@Independent) May 27, 2021
David Schwimmer is confirming what we all suspected: he hated that monkey.
And a world starved of human contact is turning its lonely eyes to Joey, Chandler, Monica and the gang and saying ‘THIS is what we’ve been missing’.
Set the video recorder
It’s hard to overstate how massive Friends was in its day.
At its peak the half-hour NBC comedy following the lives of six feckless Manhattanites with convoluted back stories and unfeasibly large apartments had audience figures of 25 million.
This was proper Friday night appointment viewing. Or at least the kind you set the VHS recorder for (ask a grown-up).
We’d grown accustomed to the goings on in Central Perk – it’s like a pub, yeah, but it sells coffee – for a good four years before the first Starbucks opened in the UK in 1998.
And by the time the 10th and final season ended its 20-year run in 2004 its stars were among the most recognisable faces on the planet.
I’d long stopped watching by then. The box set binned, along with the Rachel haircut, the Hooch bottles, bootcut jeans, and all the other relics of the previous millennium.
The real world
And I probably wouldn’t have been interested in the reunion if it hadn’t been for Covid. But there’s something about the moment that feels ripe for a bit of comforting schmaltz.
Here in the real world, my Facebook feed is starting to fill with the first smatterings of people meeting up, doing normal things.
Grans hugging toddlers who were infants the last time they pressed the flesh; brothers sinking pints for the first time in more than a year; pals grinning in drizzly beer gardens and clinking glasses across restaurant tables.
People suggested business meetings to me this week and I found myself accepting without the usual introvert’s dread.
It might be quite nice to get dressed and sit in a coffee shop with an actual person after all this time in my pyjamas with just the dogs and the disembodied faces staring back at me from my laptop screen.
Hospitality is back
Meanwhile the hospitality industry is hurling itself back into business. Chef Graeme Pallister of 63 Tay Street in Perth shared his delight at being among the buzz of a busy restaurant filled with folk in a video diary for The Courier this week.
“It was lovely to see the first table come in and to have that human interaction again,” he said. “Customers were really happy and you can just sense that everyone is having a fantastic time.”
At its heart that’s all Friends was. A show about human interaction.
The joy of sitting around talking about not very much with a bunch of people who have heard your stories a hundred times before. Who know just the right buttons to press and when to back off, and can tell you the punchlines to all your jokes before you get there but somehow that just makes them funnier.
It didn’t seem like much when we waved goodbye to the Friends gang 17 years ago. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Maybe we’ve all had to do a lot of growing up since then. Maybe Covid was a good teacher.
And maybe I should have called this The One With A Fresh Sense Of Perspective.
Take our Friends quiz