There was some aloofness when I heard they were going to do a reunion episode of Friends. A small exhale of detachment followed by instant cynicism about American consumerism; a lot of emotions flooded in for those brief moments. "They're still milking that cow?" was all I could think. Who needs to see these old bags again? I mean, look at them, all droopy-eyed and wrinkly. What will the supposed "golden age" of TV and OTT gain by talking about a thing that went extinct around twenty years ago? But with the sheer amount of excitement it generated, not only online but even in my friends circle, it was a crude reminder that the cow I thought was dead was not only alive but kickin'.
The show, for me, has been like that childhood friend you make while growing up. You spend countless hours with them, making memories that will never leave you. You laugh and sometimes cry with them. Someone who is always there for you not just on your brightest but also in your weakest moments. But ultimately, you grow up. You meet new people, your interests change, and from being that 'special someone' you used to hang out with every day, they change to mere acquaintances. And their jokes, which you used to find extremely funny, now invoke a causal snigger when you remember them.
It's always been a conundrum to me as to why Friends has been able to reach out to so many people. Countless other shows have been made revolving around the same concept (e.g., How I Met Your Mother) but none has had the same penetration as Friends, ripping through social, economic and even language barriers. At the time it was made, it made perfect sense that it was so popular. The Soviet Union had fallen, the Fukuyama theory had been proven right, the world was getting more liberal, there was strong economic growth … things were looking bright. In such a world, something like Friends fit right in. Its casual, light-hearted humour with low stakes made it appeal to so many who shared its optimism. Even I shared it when I was in my first year of college. The jocular nature of the show gave me an instant release from the stress of college life and a chance to imagine myself sitting in a coffee shop, surrounded by such eccentric characters making quippy remarks. This is what life after college is, I thought naïvely to myself.
But as it turns out, it rarely is (or maybe never is). I mean, who has the time to sit in a coffee shop all day? Who have the resources to maintain a big apartment in New York while only being a chef? And the laugh tracks! It all just felt so unreal when I watched it for the second time, in my third year. By that time I was more in touch with real life. Shows like The Office and Fleabag were more in tune with my sensibilities now. They were more in touch with the world we inhabit rather than the world we dream of. Even the gags in Friends felt a little dated and sometimes offensive. And so the hangover of the show that had given me so much love slowly faded out of my life. Until recently…
As a collective species, we are going through a crisis together. A constant feeling of hopelessness and doom falls on me whenever I open the news or see SOS messages on Twitter. The optimism of the '90s has been replaced by the sheer helplessness we find ourselves in today. So maybe, something like Friends has never been more relevant. Maybe life is not about abject cynicism. Maybe, just like the show, it's about things always getting better at the end. During my re-watch this time, I felt something vaguely similar to what I felt when I saw the show for the first time. A feeling of being safe and warm in the company of characters that had given me so much joy when I was alone in my dorm. The optimism that maybe life is just about sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by the people you love. Maybe I judged the show too much with my head and too little with my heart. And in these crucial times, maybe that's the only thing we need to keep us strong. Thus, as a large-hearted loser, I concede my battle with Friends. Bring those people back! Let me indulge myself unabashedly in nostalgia. Let me hear Joey say 'How you doin'?' one more time. Let's keep discussing whether Ross and Rachel were on a break. Let me hear 'Smelly Cat' one more time. And Janice? Well, god bless all the Janices of the world! Could I be more excited about the reunion?
As they say, your friends never leave you, even if you think you outgrew them. In the end, just like all good friends, they are always there for you.