‘Friends’ Official Reunion and the Influence of Fans

Image: Sarah Smithers via Flickr

Friends, the popular U.S sitcom, is finally set for a completely-legitimate-not-made-up official reunion to be released on May 27 on HBO Max. After fans of the television show have been left guessing for years at even the faintest whiff of a reunion rumour, the TV Gods finally gave in to the people. Now in the matter of less than two weeks, the famous cast of six will be welcomed back on our screens for “The One Where They All Get Back Together”.

Infographic by Jill via Canva

With so many calls for a Friends reunion since its end in 2004, and the persistent hype having resulted in what HBO called a one-off “real-life unscripted celebration”…one has to wonder, how much influence does the audience truly have and is persistence key?

The ten-series show has carried its 90s popularity into younger generations. You would be hard pressed to find somebody who has not caught at least one re-run episode, and everyone seems to know someone who can quote the entire series word-for-word. Many people have even attributed their knowledge of the english language to watching the show, including Liverpool football team manager, Jurgen Klopp and RM from BTS. The sitcom propelled the careers of the main actresses and actors, notably the likes of Jennifer Aniston, who soon became America’s sweetheart. Courtney Cox has since starred in her own TV show, Cougar Town and Matt LeBlanc also had a starring role in his spin-off show, Joey. Lisa Kudrow starred in her own series The Comeback and Web Therapy for several years, whilst David Schwimmer also became known for his Madagascar voiceover for Melman the giraffe. Matthew Perry took on film appearances such as 17 Again whilst the entire cast appeared in each other’s separate shows from time to time.

Alongside its mainstream fame and long-lived acclamations, Friends gave us those love-to-hate-on characters such as Gunther (James Michael Tyler) and Janice (Maggie Wheeler) that brings more humour and dynamic to the show.

The bygone era of sitcoms was truly alive in the 90s and has burnt out since as comedy continues to evolve. Perhaps this explains the unwavering love for Friends in its fans today with the show offering an occasional escape to nostalgia. Similar shows that saw a big audience following include The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Full House, Everybody Loves Raymond and Frasier to Will and Grace, Absolutely Fabulous and Sex and the City. To follow, most of the aforementioned popular shows have put on reunions of their own to date.

Google Trends data on the global search interest of the above sitcoms over the last year

The data clearly shows the peak in interest for each sitcom at the time of reunion announcements. Searches for Sex and the City jumped in January 2021 at the time of a confirmed return of a new series, just as the highest peak of searches within the last 12 months for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air occurred in November 2020 at the time of its reunion special. The 80s-90s Full House sitcom also returned for a reboot of Fuller House which ran from 2016 until June 2020, matching its peak in global searches on the graph above. Frasier goes low in numbers of searches as a reunion has just been alluded to from February 2021. Overall, Friends remains as the sitcom with the highest interest over time in comparison to its peers from this bygone era. Where reunions are spiking audience interest in old TV shows, the power of what the audience wants seems to persuade old casts to come back together for reunion specials, which seem to fair well in comparison to complete reboots (see: Fuller House).

With shows such as Nickelodeon’s iCarly being announced to return this summer, nostalgia is definitely up in the air and lockdown seems to have brought back a longing for our childhoods.

A long-time Friends fanatic, Ella Higginbotham, told me:

‘’Friends never fails to provide the nostalgic goodness that we all crave, but is it the nostalgia that makes it so good? Will the reunion force us to see a new set of friends who’s faces we can barely match to the characters that we are so familiar with?

We all know that Friends fans have been praying for this reunion for decades, but I don’t think any of us actually thought about what we wanted it to look like – how can something that is an old pastime be made new and exciting? And should it be? I am not honoured with the expertise to answer these questions, but I do know that even a disappointing reunion is better than none at all!’’

An array of guest stars are expected to join the reunion episode from David Beckham, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, to Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), Mindy Kaling and Malala Yousafzai. However, fans were quick to point out the absence of Paul Rudd, who played Phoebe’s husband, Mike.

Image: HBO

A UK release date is yet to be announced, but whilst fans wait, you can catch its teaser trailer below.

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