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The year was 1999. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Hum Saath Saath Hain had hit the screens. Families would huddle in front of their television sets to watch Hip Hip Hurray and CID and follow that up with a good dose of reality TV in the form of Boogie Woogie over the weekend. It was this year that a  certain (cringeworthy) comedy about friendship called Hello Friends joined these shows and along with it came the American sitcom it had been adapted from, the already popular, Friends.

Up till this point, watching TV had been a family affair. There wasn’t anything remotely objectionable on Indian television apart from the cadavers that Dr. Salunkhe was examining. When Friends started airing in India, young people finally had something that was meant just for them. They couldn’t really discuss sex and relationships or laugh at inappropriate jokes in front of their parents. It was a show that they could relate to because it was, as creator Martha Kauffman pointed out in the Reunion, ‘about that time in your life when your friends are your family.’ Another reason for the show’s acclaim and popularity in India was the timing.  In 1999 many young Indians were migrating to big urban cities and living away from their families. This coupled with the entry of foreign brands in India due to economic liberalization meant that Friends portrayed a lifestyle that such people could aspire to. Over the years, this show has been bequeathed by elder siblings to younger ones, as almost a rite of passage into the world of American pop culture.

A few years ago, before cheap internet packs and Netflix had made their way into our lives, Comedy Central decided to stop airing reruns of Friends on their channel. The viewership dropped instantly and their Twitter was flooded by people requesting them to bring the show back.  CC agreed and even went on to celebrate Hindi Divas where they picked some of the most popular episodes of the show and aired them in one day. The catch? One character would speak in Hindi instead of English. While I could have done without the image of Phoebe Buffay singing Badbudaar Billi instead of Smelly Cat, this along with the show’s fixed spot on Netflix India’s Top 10 list only goes on to show how much people have loved and continue to love the show.

I saw Friends in 2015, over 20 years after the premiere of the pilot episode, but the fad had remained the same. I was convinced that this was the ‘best show to ever exist in the history of all  shows’ even when it was the only show I had ever seen. In fact, if it had not been for the show I wouldn’t have found my best friend whom I then christened the Monica to my Rachel.  Looking at the Friends poster on my bedroom door and the hundreds of references in old birthday cards and diaries makes me realize that 15 year old me would have been way more excited about the Reunion episode than 20 year old me is. 

It’s not because I haven’t watched the show in a long time, in fact, it’s the only show that I have watched so many times that when someone tells me a particular plot point, I can name the exact season and episode. My feelings about the show and its reunion have got more to do with how the show has aged. Spoiler Alert: Not very well. I find myself unable to laugh when Chandler’s dad comes on screen or when an older version of Monica dances while holding a doughnut in her hand despite the laughter track in the background encouraging me to do so. Frankly, as much as I may have loved the show, it doesn’t feel as comforting as it used to. 

Despite this, there are two things that the Friends Reunion gets perfectly right. The first is, as it was all those years ago, the timing. This reunion episode comes at a time when “it hasn’t been your day or week or month or even your year” is the literal description of our lives. We have all been clinging to nostalgia, of things that remind us how good life used to be because thinking about the future is just too difficult. I would even go so far as to say that it is the biggest global pop culture event the world has seen since Avengers: Endgame and the widely criticized Game of Thrones finale. We needed something wholesome and the six cast members kept true to their “I’ll be there for you” promise. The second great thing about the Reunion is that it doesn’t unravel the story. Instead of forcing these characters into the current (saddening) real world, it allows them to live happily ever after. Season 2 of Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai, the Gilmore Girls Revival, and the god awful Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are proof enough that some endings are best left untouched. The last episode of Friends is actually considered one of the best finales of all time and for a show that has left such an indelible impact on millions of lives, to ruin that in any way would be a travesty.

Having said that, I wish this interview could have also at least acknowledged the many things that the show got wrong. When an audience member asked if there was anything the cast did not like about Friends, Marcel the monkey was probably the last answer I was hoping for. In an attempt to make the episode light-hearted and ‘positive’ the creators missed out on what would have been an incredible platform to apologize for the lack of diversity and other similar aspects of the show. 

Today the girl I called the Monica to my Rachel is still my best friend. In fact, we were roommates in college! I talk in Friends references without even realizing it and have even personally said the words, “Do you think we should take a break.” I can’t ignore that the show is problematic but I also know that Friends is and will always be special to me. 

I think I’ve realized what makes it different from the other sitcoms I have watched. It’s not the show itself that is extraordinary, it’s the people I saw it with.

Snigdha's articles are better than her bios. An English major, reading and writing play a pivotal role in her life. On a bad day, you can count on her to make it better with poetry, a playlist and a steaming hot bowl of Maggi.    
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