Originally, nostalgia was understood as an aggravated and sad feeling – even a disorder, a disruptive and painful longing for home. It came from the same root as pain-related words such as fibromyalgia and pain relievers. It wasn’t like reminiscing with your college friends or telling funny stories about your kids growing up. And it certainly wasn’t the same as a clip show.
The funny thing about the Postponed Friends reunion special, which is now available on HBO Max after a year of COVID delays, is that it flirts with the emotionally satisfying definition of nostalgia. Six actors – you probably know the ones if you read this far: Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer – are coming back to talk about the show that made them all huge stars, in every way. case for the time span between the fall of 1994 and the spring of 2004. Their fates have diverged considerably since then.
Not only is it easy to approach this reunion with a touch of cynicism; it is almost mandatory. Despite all the hugging and all the crying, The Hollywood Reporter has clocked the salary each of the six actors landed for creating the special at a dazzling $ 2.5 million to $ 3 million. And it is not that without the money they would have collected anyway, but privately. No, they say on the special that they haven’t all been in a room together – except once (circumstances unspecified) – since the show ended. These are people crying and hugging who paid at least $ 15 million to spend this precious time together.
We see them drifting one by one into a re-creation of their set (which, no, hasn’t been waiting for them for the past 17 years). It seems to make them really emotional, both because they don’t see each other as often and because places tend to provoke feelings. LeBlanc recalls Cox writing lines on the table; Perry and LeBlanc sit in their Chandler-and-Joey armchairs; Kudrow and Schwimmer talk about a wooden pole in Rachel and Monica’s living room that was part of the original set, but was removed for getting in the way of shooting. They visit the changing rooms where they all notice that they all ate together for the first few years. They don’t discuss why they didn’t all eat together afterwards.
There’s a sadness creeping in around the edges of these segments, in part for the simple reason that it was 17 years ago. Well – it ended 17 years ago. It started 27 years ago. It’s been over almost twice as long as it took. There is no reason to believe that they would describe all of this as the best period of their lives, but it is certainly the most commercial success they have ever achieved for all of them, as it would be for almost anyone with a resume. And it was certainly an intense experience. But in addition to that grief, there’s sometimes the raw energy of reunited camp advisors or performers of a play: people you don’t choose, but learn to be close when the situation pulls you into the same orbit and then part again when that gravity disappears.
What’s disappointing about the reunion is that it refuses to sit with this dynamic, which is often both sweet and funny, to spend time on the one thing that absolutely no one needs: a truly retrospective extravaganza that looks back on the television show Friends. Rather than being willing to accept that tones of melancholy are perfectly normal parts of memories, it shoots away every time it is clear that time is stretching out in some nerve-wracking way for these actors, and it lurks in something utterly familiar : the clip show.
There have been plenty of opportunities to look back at Friends: the show’s ending, the show’s DVD releases, when the show came to Netflix, and when the show came to HBO Max. It has been written about, it has been reported, it has been written and rewritten. (Watch this young goober all the way back in 2003, writing why Ross and Rachel shouldn’t end up together!)
The stories of how Aniston and Perry were both cast when they had other shows they might end up on have been told and told and told. The way none of them were famous, but Cox had been in that Bruce Springsteen video: told. The way Monica and Joey were originally going to be a couple: told. While producers Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane offer some reminders, it’s largely the same memories they’ve offered over and over – and it’s not anyone’s fault! How often could you come up with new stories about a time in your life that is receding every year? Everyone