Friends reunion: From who's in to who's out, celeb guests and everything you need to know

COULD you BE more excited? The much-anticipated reunion of Friends is almost here.

The update of the classic Nineties sitcom, Friends: The Reunion, will be available on the HBO Max streaming service from May 27 and will feature all its original cast — Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer.

Fans were sent into a tailspin on Thursday night when a first-look trailer for the one-off revisit was released.

As a slowed-down version of its iconic theme song I’ll Be There For You, by The Rembrandts, played in the background, the stars of the show were seen walking arm in arm through Warner Bros studio in Burbank, Los Angeles.

While the special will air in America, it is not yet known if a UK channel will pick it up. HBO Max confirmed that former Friends cast members Tom Selleck, who played Richard Burke, and Maggie Wheeler, who starred as Janice Litman-Goralnik, will take part in the new show, which will also feature celebrity guests including David Beckham, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Game Of Thrones actor Kit Harington and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

Friends ended its ten-year run in 2004 and was one of the most popular TV shows of the 1990s.

The sitcom, which followed the lives and loves of Monica, Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe, has found a new audience on streaming platforms in recent years and continues to be one of the most-watched shows worldwide.

The cast and crew have been tight-lipped about what to expect of the new production — so today we round up everything we know about one of TV’s biggest reboots.

Who’s in?

ALL six leading members of the original cast will reunite for the first time since the telly favourite was axed in 2004.

That means Matthew Perry (Chandler), Jennifer Aniston (Rachel), Courteney Cox (Monica), Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe), Matt LeBlanc (Joey) and David Schwimmer (Ross) will all be gracing our screens for the one-off special episode.

Maggie Wheeler, who played Chandler’s on-off girlfriend Janice, is confirmed for the reboot, as is Central Perk coffee house boss Gunther, played by James Michael Tyler.

Reese Witherspoon, who took a turn as Rachel’s spoiled little sister Jill, is also set to appear, as is the man who starred as Monica’s first major love, Richard – played by Tom Selleck, alias hunky 1980s TV hero Magnum PI.

Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles, who played Ross and Monica’s parents Jack and Judy, will also appear.

Who’s out?

THE sitcom’s superfans are more than a little disappointed that Paul Rudd – who played Phoebe’s leading love interest Mike Hannigan – has been left off the cast list for the reboot.

One Twitter user described the failure to sign up the actor – who featured in several major storylines in the last two series of the show – as “appalling”.

But it’s not surprising, given that Ant-Man star Paul, 52, described his role on the show as a “prop”.

He said: “In something like Friends, the show was about them. I was only in it for just a blip. I felt, ‘I’m like a prop on this show. It’s not about Mike Hannigan’.”

Paul is in good company.

Other A-list cameo stars who appear to have failed to make the cut for the reboot include George Clooney, Winona Ryder, Julia Roberts, Freddie Prinze Jr, Ben Stiller, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt.

Celebrity guests

WHILE some key characters will not appear, Friends: The Reunion will feature an eclectic list of celebrity guests – some causing raised eyebrows among fans.

At 27, Justin Bieber was just six months old when Friends made its TV debut in 1994 – and human rights advocate Malala Yousafzai, 23, wasn’t even born.

Other seemingly bizarre choices of guest include the South Korean pop band BTS, model Cara Delevinge, former England footie ace David Beckham and funnyman James Corden.

One Twitter user joked: “Ah yes, I can’t wait to watch the Friends reunion with my favourite cast members David Beckham and Malala.”

Another asked: “Why is the Friends reunion adding random celebrities? Do they not know what the fans want by now? Hearing James Corden retell his favourite moments is not it.”

er…no script?

FANS who are hoping to catch up with their favourite characters may be disappointed. The special is set to be unscripted, with the actors appearing as themselves.

It is anticipated that the six-strong main cast will reunite to discuss their favourite moments. Lisa Kudrow, who plays Phoebe, revealed earlier this year: “It is not a reboot, it is not like a scripted thing, we are not portraying our characters.

“It is us getting together, which just doesn’t happen and has never happened in front of other people since 2004 when we stopped.”

But David Schwimmer, 54 – Ross – teased: “There is one section of it that I don’t want to give away, but we all read something.”

Whatever the contents, the setting should at least provide a walk down memory lane for fans. The special was filmed at Warner Bros Studio’s Stage 24 in Burbank, California, which is where the original series was recorded.

Lisa, 57, revealed that the special will feature the cast “talking in a coffee house room”, leading to speculation that the gang will reunite in Central Perk. Production designer Greg Grande has also shared photos of a set recreating Monica’s famous lilac apartment.

Why wait 17 years?

IT’S been 17 long years since the six key cast members all appeared on TV alongside each other. Five reunited in 2016 for an “all-star tribute” to veteran US sitcom director James Burrows.

Matthew Perry was missing, and the interview with the rest of the cast was described in press reports as “awkward”, “boring” and “a disaster”.

But this time there are higher expectations, with the format expected to be more inventive. Even so, the cast have long feared rebooting the comedy. In 2018 David Schwimmer said: “I just don’t know if I want to see all of us with crutches (and) walkers.”

Lisa Kudrow said Friends was about a group in their 20s and 30s, adding: “The show isn’t about people in their forties, fifties. And if we have the same problems, that’s just sad.”

In 2017 Matthew said: “I have this nightmare that we do Friends again and nobody cares. So if anybody asks me, I’m gonna say no.”

Even when all six actors finally said yes, Covid intervened, putting the project in doubt again. Originally due to film in March 2020, production was pushed back to May and again to August. Work finally began early last month.

Creative tensions

SOME fans have mused that internal politics could be behind the actors’ initial reluctance to reunite for the special.

It was feared there may be disharmony in the cast when Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc weren’t invited to Jennifer Aniston’s wedding to Justin Theroux in 2015.

Courteney Cox, 56, was Jennifer’s maid of honour, but Matthew said: “I wasn’t invited, so what can you do?” And Matt, 53, added: “If she wanted me there, I would have been there.”

The idea of a full reunion was touted back in November 2019 but talks were said to have originally stalled over money.

In January 2020 HBO Max’s chief creative officer Kevin Reilly said: “There is interest all around and yet we can’t get the interests all alighted to push the button on it. Today, it’s just maybe.”

But somehow any money or personal tensions have since been resolved. And the six stars will all serve as executive producers on the special – receiving at least $2.5million (£1.8million) each, according to showbiz bible Variety.

Where they’re at

JENNIFER ANISTON (Rachel Green): Since Friends ended in 2004, Jen has starred in films The Break-Up, Marley & Me and He’s Just Not That Into You and recently as Alex Levy in Apple TV+ series The Morning Show.

DAVID SCHWIMMER (Ross Geller): Has largely stuck to comedy since Friends, in 30 Rock and Entourage. Currently stars in Sky One spy comedy Intelligence.

COURTENEY COX (Monica Geller): Starred in her own sitcom, Cougar Town, earning a Golden Globe nomination. Her next film, the latest in the Scream slasher series, is out next year.

MATTHEW PERRY (Chandler Bing): After beating drink and drug problems after Friends, he has appeared in legal drama The Good Wife and US comedy The Odd Couple.

LISA KUDROW (Phoebe Buffay): Went on to star in movies such as PS I Love You, Neighbors, Easy A and The Girl On The Train. She also appeared as a congresswoman in US political thriller Scandal.

MATT LeBLANC (Joey Tribbiani): Only character to get his own spin-off show, Joey, but it ended after two series. Matt then tried British TV, in sitcom Episodes, from 2011 to 2017, and co-hosting BBC1’s Top Gear from 2016 to 2019.

Naughty, naughty!

DESPITE ending 17 years ago, the ten-series show has found a new generation of fans with re-runs on streaming services such as Netflix.

A 2019 survey found it was the most popular TV programme among UK teenagers.

But with a new, younger audience has come fresh criticism. Friends has been accused of fat-shaming in flashbacks to Monica’s former overweight self, played by Courteney Cox in a fat suit.

It has also been accused of homophobia and transphobia.

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Writer Rebecca Reid told the BBC: “The homophobia is staggering. The punchline of every joke about Ross is that his ex-wife is a lesbian, as if that’s some failing of his and that it’s hilarious that she’s a lesbian.”

Kathleen Turner, who played Chandler’s transgender parent Charles, agreed some of the plot lines hadn’t “aged well”.

But David Schwimmer said: “I’m the first to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like at that time I was already really attuned to social and equality issues.”

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