At the start of Friends: The Reunion, one particular jaw-dropping stat stands out. It’s announced that the show has been watched 100 billion times across all platforms.

It’s a figure so utterly ridiculous, you’d normally dismiss the figure as preposterous and unreal. But with Friends, you just shrug your shoulders and think, "Yeah, that sounds about right".

Seventeen years ater it ended, Friends can still dominate an entire channel’s TV schedule – hello Comedy Central UK. It can still be found on a channel in your hotel room, no matter where you are in the world. It still gets binged on Netflix despite the vast swathes of exciting new shows fighting for our attention. And no matter how talented the cast are, no matter what great TV, movie or theatre work they do, they will never stop being Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey.

The Friends cast reunited by the fountain from the show's opening credits

Regardless of whether you’re a fan or not, the size, scale and impact of Friends is undeniable. There may have been funnier shows, more important shows, and shows that were more groundbreaking, but when it comes to sheer affection, love and the ability to make a connection with viewers around the world, no other show comes close.

Tears, joy and more tears from the Friends

Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox barely stop crying. Lisa Kudrow cries. Even Matthew Perry cries. Friends: The Reunion is at least 25% tears.

And it’s at the moments when the cast are at their most vulnerable that the special comes alive. The guest stars, the James Corden interview and the conveyer belt of celebrities talking about their favourite moments create a party atmosphere, but it’s the footage of the cast reuniting on the set for the first time that really delivers goosebumps.

The cast of Friends in 2021

It’s only when they’re alone that you can see the connection between the six cast members. In-jokes, brief glances, reassuring hugs and smiles, remind us why this series endured. The bond between these guys was real, the casting was impeccable and the series encapsulated a spirit of friendship that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives.

The little moments of joy between the cast – Schwimmer and LeBlanc giggling like kids at a rude message on a wall, the joy Lisa Kudrow’s laugh brings them all, Jennifer Aniston getting competitive in a throwaway quiz – are what makes this special essential viewing and gets you through the stranger moments with surreal celebrity guest cameos.

Show secrets revealed

Friends has been devoured, repeated and dissected so much over the last 27 years, it’s tricky even for the show’s creators and cast to shed light on things that we don’t already know.

But the show does manage to deliver a few surprises – including one major revelation that will probably open up a big can of showbiz worms for two members of the cast.

From the creators explaining in detail the casting process to Matt LeBlanc’s hilarious final audition story, the show reveals how the magic chemistry between the cast really only came together through a mixture of luck, persistence and incredible coincidences.

It would have been fascinating to dig deeper into the writers’ room process and the incredible physical and mental toll that the live performances took on the cast, but the reunion opts to focus on the show’s impact on fans, rather more than the cast.

In one segment, fans from around the world share intimate details in a series of vox pops about how the series dragged them out of depression, provided comfort in dark moments and reminded them that they weren’t alone.

Although it doesn’t really tangle with the reason behind Friends' enduring legacy and the joy it evidently brings to so many people, it does offer a reminder of the power and connection that TV can bring us.

What doesn’t get said

A close up image of the plaque on the Friends stage set

Anyone tuning in for some dirt or digging got the wrong show. There is no discussion about what the cast got paid or mention of past comments from guest stars about the main six being ‘cold’ and 'cliquey'. And any notion that there was a dark side to the success and fame that the show brought them is nowhere to be seen.

When a member of the audience asks if there were any bad parts of being on Friends, the best we get is David Schwimmer getting very angry about Marcel the monkey. Poor Marcel.

Only one moment of brief darkness slips through the net when Matthew Perry, almost accidentally, talks about the anxiety and stress he had about performing for a live studio audience.

“I felt like I was going to die if they didn’t laugh,” says Perry. “I had sweat and convulsions if I didn’t get a laugh. I felt like that every single night.”

The moment is almost more shocking because it’s so out of character with the rest of the special. Would it have been more interesting to hear more from the cast and Perry on the stresses and strains of making the world’s most popular TV show than listening to David Beckham explain why he’s “a Monica”? Almost certainly. But maybe that will have to be saved for the 30th anniversary special…

This reunion special doesn’t pretended to be an exposé or a look at the price of fame. It was intended as a celebration of a TV phenomenon and it’s made for the show’s fans. And when it comes to that aim, this show really doesn’t disappoint.

Watch Friends: The Reunion on Sky Max with a NOW Entertainment Membership.

Images: ©2021 WarnerMedia Direct, LLC. All Rights Reserved. HBO Max™ is used under license

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