Editors’ note: One major spoiler ahead, so proceed with caution if you want to remain completely unspoiled.
The best parts of, streaming now on HBO Max, involve just the six main cast members. James Corden deftly handles host duties; celebrities including BTS, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga show up; the show’s creators share behind-the-scenes tidbits — and But the moments you’ll likely remember most from the celebration of the iconic NBC sitcom are when Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer just sit around on the old set chatting, as if no one else in the world exists.
It’s said over and over again in the reunion: Friends is about that time in life when your friends are your family. Is it any wonder, then, that there’s such a fondness for the show, especially among those who grew up with it and later moved on to partners and perhaps children, mortgages and high-pressure careers? Who wouldn’t want, even for a moment, to return to a time of fewer responsibilities and more impromptu laughs?
There’s a segment in the reunion where the actors (except Schwimmer, who can’t remember it) recall a scene in which they decide to just throw a ball back and forth for as long as they can. Even if you never played that exact game, something in that lets viewers reminisce about a time in their life when they might have spent hours doing something insignificant and yet incredibly satisfying, with their best buddies by their side. Maybe we didn’t have the Friends’ looks, or their pricey New York apartments. Maybe we didn’t have a pet monkey. But there’s a universal element in the show that made it the huge hit it was.
Here are six moments from Friends: The Reunion that will make you remember the time when your own friends were there for you. (Note: There’s also a moment when Aniston and Schwimmer reveal they’d had real feelings for each other, but while it’s generating lots of buzz, it didn’t quite make the cut as one of my favorite moments.)
1. The opening
The reunion special is an hour and 45 minutes long, but there’s no scene more heartwarming than the opening, as the six actors separately walk back onto the set where they became wildly famous. Schwimmer, who played Ross Geller, laughs. Aniston, who played Rachel Green, pleads for a tissue box. LeBlanc — the hero of the reunion for keeping things light when they could get teary — speculates on whether a set wall was always purple. (The rest of the cast: “YES!”) If you’ve ever gone to a good reunion, or revisited pals you still love but haven’t seen in a while, this is the most mesmerizing part of the entire show.
2. The trivia contest
Before the reunion aired, there was speculation about whether the actors would play their old characters again. They don’t, but they do play a trivia game about the series, mimicking the episode where Joey Tribbiani and Chandler Bing go up against neighbors Rachel and Monica in a trivia contest, trying to win their more spacious apartment as the prize. In these joyous scenes, the show feels most like an unseen Friends episode from years past, with LeBlanc shouting that he knows the answer when the girls waffle, and Aniston yelling to the guys that “IT’S NOT YOUR TURN!” Whenever the reunion cuts to the trivia game, with Schwimmer in front of a colorful question board, stop scrolling through your phone and tune in. This is as good as it gets.
3. Lady Gaga sings Smelly Cat
Kudrow’s Phoebe Buffay character was famed for her goofy folk songs, with Smelly Cat being the most memorable. So when she gets out her guitar to wail about the poor kitty one more time on a Central Perk couch (“it’s not your fault!”), listen up. Lady Gaga joins Kudrow for a rendition of the song, and everything about the scene is purr-fect. How many viewers have sung this song to their fragrant felines over the years? A classic gets a new spin.
4. Regular people share their love for Friends
Sure, most of the great scenes from the reunion involve the main six actors — there’s not a lot of great stuff in Reese Witherspoon fan-girling about her appearance as Rachel’s sister. But in one surprisingly touching segment, the show cuts in videos of regular fans around the globe talking about how Friends touched them, and while it sounds like a cornball setup, it works.
One man reminisces about the show bringing him comfort when his dad got a serious medical diagnosis, and a gay man says the show made him feel less lonely at a time when he couldn’t share who he was. “Friends was what I came home to,” one says. “They were my friends.” As much as it sounds like a line written by a publicist, you believe it. The show was that good.
5. Matt LeBlanc pops out his shoulder
Back in an old episode, there’s a scene where LeBlanc’s Joey physically throws himself into a chair. On the fourth reshoot of the scene, we learn, LeBlanc hurt himself. He popped out his shoulder, and the cast watching the show in the present shriek and sympathize. LeBlanc is the absolute star of the reunion — he brings the laughs when needed, he genuinely seems to love everyone, he still appears just thrilled to have been a part of things, and his fond memories spill over into the discussion.
Maybe because he’s such a central point, this scene is one of the more captivating. Producers and cast share their memories of the scene, and viewers get to see behind-the-scenes footage of the crew suddenly flooding the set to offer him medical assistance. The sling he’s then required to wear is written into the show, and suddenly an episode you may have seen a million times comes in to focus through a fresh lens. How YOU doin’?
6. The reunion ending
The end of the reunion, much like the beginning, mixes the sad with the sweet. Kudrow explains perfectly why the characters should never reunite in another series or movie, noting that all six ended on a happy note, and the writers would have to unravel the friends’ happiness for a reunion movie.
Show host James Corden asks each actor where their characters would be today (unsurprisingly, LeBlanc has the best answer), then the show rolls previously unseen footage of the famed fountain dance from the opening credits. (Note the cheap kids’ Disney bath towels the cast is handed to dry themselves.) It’s a satisfying ending for a satisfying reunion, topped off perhaps by Schwimmer pretending he’s just met the actress who played his sister for a decade. “It’s Courteney?” he says to Cox. It so is.
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