Look. If you know, you know. If you watched it, you watched it. So, without a lot of explanation and extra, here’s what I got from the long-anticipated, so-completely-perfect Friends Reunion Show (and all of them are exactly why I will go to my grave loving the stories, as we were told them, of Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe)…
First, and foremost, laughter really is the best medicine. I was a Friends fan from the very first episode in 1994, and for all ten seasons, I watched. Every week. After it ended in 2004, I caught reruns when I could, but then…hallelujah sang the angels!...Netflix was born, and in 2014, the entire ten seasons of Friends dropped for streaming. I had just gotten divorced. I was living in an apartment in a new part of town, having had to sell my house. I could not afford a dog yet, and so had given up one I loved. I couldn’t afford cable, either, for that matter, but I could afford a $10 a month Netflix subscription. And in the middle of that very dark, very lonely, very sad winter, I watched all ten seasons, in order, from the very first episode to the very last. I laughed, hard, into the darkness of my life, and remembered what it was to feel joy.
The reunion show interviewed people from all over the world who were Friends fans, and they would talk about what it meant to them in times of sadness, or loneliness. And I thought, “Well dang. It wasn’t just me!”
When James Corden asked the reunited cast, “Who has the best laugh?” and, without a beat, they all pointed to Lisa Kudrow, her face lit up, and she shook her head, grinning. It was clear that she took such joy in being a source of laughter–that kind of joy, it’s sacred.
And it is lifesaving.
Second, beneath all the laughter existed a whole lot of pain. Matt Perry’s Chandler flat out names it in one episode, “I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable….” But even more than that, in each character’s story was embedded pain: Phoebe’s homelessness and her mom’s suicide; Ross’s divorce from Carole, not what he wanted at all, and devastating; Monica’s constant battle with her formerly obese self and her deep and constantly thwarted desire to be a mom; Chandler’s childhood trauma from divorce and his father’s gender identity struggles; Joey’s and Rachel’s own parents divorcing as part of the series, and both of them having to come to terms with their parents’ broken marriages as adults.
They are all, in turn, neurotic and grieving and insecure and traumatized and scared.
Aren’t we all? Real joy cannot exist without real pain, and somehow I think the creators of this show knew that, they understood that real, true comedy helps us deal with the things that threaten to tear us apart.
Third, Phoebe really mattered, and in some ways, was maybe the great heroine of it all. When Lady Gaga (after that epic Smelly Cat duet!!) thanked her for making it okay to be different, and Lisa Kudrow’s eyes just welled up and she said, “And thank you for carrying that on….” Shew. Y’all.
The different kids, they have such a hard time, still and always, and if a formerly homeless, orphan, completely-marches-to-the-beat-of-her-own drum Phoebe can find a way forward in life…well…there you go.
There’s enough Rachels (and I say that as a Rachel Green-loving fan). We need more Phoebes speaking their truth, and doing so with such wicked (and yet caring) snark and also such gentle love.
Fourth, one of the ugly truths about the United States is that we love love love to tear another person down. Especially if that person has been elevated, and especially if we can do it from the cowardly anonymity of our keyboards.
It broke my heart to see online comments regarding how the cast has aged. Accusations of botched Botox or ugly remarks about extra weight or, worst of all, comments regarding Matthew Perry’s health. Good lord people. Are we really that miserable that we have to attack people who dedicated ten years to simply making us laugh?!?
I’ve long held that women should to age how they want to age. If hair color or facial peels or false eyelashes or Whatever. She. Wants is part of that, so be it.
And are we really so low that we can make fun of someone who has bravely and openly discussed his battle with substance abuse and addiction? With the full and very vocal support of his coworkers in his recovery?
Just stop it already. It is, as my daughter would say, with derisive tone, “Basic.”
Fifth, the astronomical success of Friends is proof positive of something that I believe is crucial to our existence, and why I will continue to insist that without relationship, we cannnot thrive: we are created with an innate desire to belong.
Our desire to belong, fully and completely, to something bigger than ourselves is the single driving force in our lives. It’s why youth groups and sports teams matter. It’s why young lost men join gangs. It’s why divorce can be so completely disorienting and destructive. It’s why empathy is absolutely essential. It’s why we ought to be worried less about our kids’ standardized test scores and more about how they are treating other kids. It’s why we love the Marvel Universe and Harry Potter too–people belong there, their roles clear, their place held when they are gone, and their acceptance into the grander scheme of things understood no matter what.
It’s why five people can still make us laugh and cry simply by being in the same room together. They offered us something bigger, something that mattered. And there isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t want to be part of something like that, who doesn’t want to know that somewhere, there is, always, home.
I really believe that the general erosion of trust — of one another, of systems, of institutions–in this country is destroying us. As long as we continue to tribe up and act as if we don’t need each other, we will continue to fail as a nation. But MAGA hats and BLM signs give us a sense of belonging, just like hating orange SEC teams does if you were raised just outside Athens, GA.
I don’t mean to make light of real societal issues here, y’all, and I get that equating a sitcom loyalty with life is likely tricky business–but as human beings, we resonate with the whole idea of a close group of friends, or of a team, or of a tribe, because we long so desperately to belong.
And it seems to me, that if we just set about pulling one another in, making sure no one gets left out, roping in the ones straggling, and seeking to find the ones lost…well, we wouldn’t all be walking around with these giant holes in our hearts.
We would, instead, all have a spot for coffee. A place and a people to call home. A sense that we belong, right where we are–no matter how difficult or damaged or different we might be.