Humour by Rehana Munir: They were on a break
I haven’t yet watched the Friends reunion episode, whose trailer I’ve received from several Xennials who share my unabashed love for a show that predated wokeness and hit that sweet twentysomething spot. No other pop cultural product has provided my ilk with such a wide lexicon for situations and sentiments, with the notable exception of Andaz Apna Apna, the 1994 cult comedy that raised tackiness to epic proportions.
Cringy yet cool
Perhaps the generations preceding ours feel this for Monty Python, Groucho Marx or Kishore Kumar. And maybe the ones after feel this for Schitt’s Creek, if my niece’s obsession for David and Alexis is anything to go by. But I wager this Friends feeling is unique, considering how emphatically the six characters lodged themselves into the consciousness of their wide range of viewers. Everyone had cable TV by the time the show aired in India in 1999 – ensconced in the post-liberalisation bubble, we collegians were offered an astonishing buffet of global entertainment. But Friends stood out. It was filled with more American cheesiness than a McDonald’s burger, was whiter than a polar bear in a blizzard, had none of the absurdity of Seinfeld or profundity of Frasier, and its heteronormative values were embarrassing even two decades ago. But – it stuck.
You tried to fit yourself and your friends into one of the six types, represented by each of the members of the Central Perk gang. Conversations were casually peppered with a nasal “Oh… My… Gawd” or lustful “How you doin’?” And you could rewatch episodes endlessly, extracting some kind of inexhaustible pleasure each time. It’s true – like drinking and gambling, Friends, too, was an exception to the laws of diminishing marginal utility. Even now, when I find myself watching an episode playing on someone else’s screen, it’s like slipping into a prelapsarian state where I’m twenty, dressed in ill-advised dungarees and vest, sipping on a mug of beer. A yuppie cliché that is comforting despite its cringy quality.
An officer and a box set
I’m astonished at the stunning diversity of Friends fans – an odd group with no other ostensible similarities. Trying to break out of my Mumbai-centric life, I attempted to move to Goa a few summers ago. Like many before me, I realised how Maximum City had endowed me with close to no survival skills required to lead a close to functional life in any other part of the world. To make things worse, I received an intimation about a significant sum of money being withdrawn at an ATM from my account one evening while my card and I were decidedly indoors.
After a surreal trip to the local cop station, I received a house visit (?!) from an officer of the Aviators-and-jeans variety, a sticker on his laptop revealing his Arsenal proclivities. I walked him to the door after handing him the letter he required. A few feet away from his jeep, he stopped to say: “I saw the Friends poster on the wall by the staircase. I can loan you the box set if you like,” before walking away triumphantly.
The one with Ross’s wedding
It’s madly endearing to a Friends nerd when someone comes up with a perfectly placed reference out of the blue. Like when party food is being discussed and someone slips in a line about barley in Chelsea. Or when a Francophile is attempting to impress a gathering and someone wicked says “Ni poo poo”, a la Joey. Or when someone says “15 Yemen Road, Yemen” when they’re not sure where they’re planning to lodge on their travels. Party. Gathering. Travels. I’m skipping to the next para before I depress myself speaking of long-ago things.
Some people take it a bit far. Like a friend’s husband who decided to say “I take thee, Rachel...” while exchanging wedding vows with his Friends -loving wife. Edgy. I’m too am guilty of using references that everyone in the room doesn’t get – but where’s the fun in explaining? For now, like so many others who’ve left a piece of themselves behind in Monica’s purple-walled apartment, I’m preparing to watch the much-touted reunion episode while aching to reunite with actual friends. If this were a real-life watch party, I’d be in charge of cups and ice. #youknowifyouknow
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From HT Brunch, June 6, 2021
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