Given all the years that “Friends” was first on the air and all the subsequent attention it has received since, you might think there’s nothing left to learn about the show and its cast. But even with all the books, oral histories and media appearances, some questions do remain, and HBO Max’s much-touted “Friends: The Reunion” — featuring Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer — addresses a few of them. (Although, sadly, not even this special can solve the biggest mystery of all: What does Chandler Bing do for a living?)
Instead, we learned about the uncertain beginnings, the love affairs (what enriched Ross/Rachel, what stretched out Monica/Chandler), the animals (“Smelly Cat,” Marcel), and why we should appreciate our “Friends” while we have them.
1. The Crush That Dared Not Speak Its Name
When asked about offscreen romances, Aniston and Schwimmer said that there was some actual emotion beneath the show’s signature Ross-and-Rachel subplot in the early seasons. “I had a major crush on Jen,” Schwimmer said. “It was reciprocated,” Aniston said. But during that period of time, one or both of them were in various relationships with other parties, Aniston more famously so, so they didn’t act on their feelings … much.
“I remember saying one time to David, ‘It’s going to be such a bummer if the first time you and I actually kiss is going to be on national television,’” Aniston said. “Sure enough …”
Instead of crossing that boundary and carrying on in real life, the pair “channeled all our adoration and love for each other into Ross and Rachel,” Aniston said. The cast now recognizes that an offscreen romance would have damaged the onscreen one, as well as their close group dynamic. “I’m glad you didn’t,” Cox told them.
2. We Can Still Hear the Shrieking
Monica and Chandler weren’t going to be a couple in the original “Friends” master plan. The writers’ initial intention was to toss the two characters together in a one-night stand, the “Friends” co-creator David Crane revealed, so they could have an awkward dynamic between them after the dalliance.
That changed based on how the delighted studio audience reacted when Monica unexpectedly popped up from beneath the sheets. “They went insane,” Kevin Bright, an executive producer, said. This reaction spurred the writers to rethink their plans and expand the Monica/Chandler relationship, even if the characters only pursued it in secret at first. “We still at that point didn’t quite realize how far it would go,” the co-creator Marta Kauffman said.
3. Lady Gaga Loves ‘Smelly Cat’
Of all the odd and often inappropriate tunes in Phoebe Buffay’s repertoire, it was “Smelly Cat” that became her signature song and the “Friends” anthem as well. The list of musicians who love it is long (Justin Bieber, Charlie Puth, Colbie Caillat, Taylor Swift), and now we can add Lady Gaga. Wearing her clothes and hair Phoebe-style, Gaga performed the song with Kudrow on the Central Perk set, and they were soon joined by a chorus of backup singers. (A nod to Phoebe’s recording career?)
“Can I just say something?” Gaga asked Kudrow. “Thank you so much for being the person for all of us on ‘Friends’ that was — I don’t know if this is the right way to say it — but the different one, or the one that was really herself.”
4. Monkey Business
Although Schwimmer is an animal lover, he did not like the two capuchin monkeys who alternated in the role of Marcel on the show. They ruined takes by missing their marks, and were generally unpleasant to be around. According to Schwimmer, who often found himself with the creatures on his shoulder, their trainer fed them live grubs, some of which always ended up on his clothes or in his hair. “I’d have monkey grubby hands all over,” he said. “It was time for Marcel to [expletive] off.” Don’t cry for Marcel, though. Just as the show’s fictional monkey broke into Hollywood, the sloppy simians who brought Marcel to life onscreen — their names are Katie and Monkey — survived Schwimmer’s bad reviews and found new projects.
5. They Are So Over
The cast was emphatic that there would not be any reboots or continuations of “Friends,” or even any more reunions. Cox said the special was “the last time” the cast will regroup to answer questions about the show together. “We’re not going to do this again in 15 more years,” she said.
Although some cast members have entertained the idea of continuing “Friends” before, that ship has sailed. The creators Kauffman and Crane wrapped up each character’s story “very nicely,” Kudrow said. “They would have to unravel all those good things in order for there to be more stories, and I don’t want anyone’s happy ending unraveled.” Plus, she added, being “floopy” at her age now would be too much. “You have to grow up!”
Where would the grown-up “Friends” be at this point? Cox says that Monica and Chandler’s kids would have “probably graduated” — although that wouldn’t stop Monica from heading up bake sales at a local elementary school or attending P.T.A. meetings.
Phoebe and her husband, Mike (Paul Rudd), probably ended up in Connecticut and had kids of their own, Kudrow said, and Phoebe probably also stayed involved with the local schools, creating arts and music programs and being an advocate “for all the other kids who are a little different.”
As for Ross and Rachel, “Let’s say we got married,” Aniston said to Schwimmer. “I think we ended up getting married and we had some kids.” (No mention of Ben or Emma, the characters’ children on the show, who would be young adults by now.)
And Joey, the eternal bachelor? He apparently gave up his aspirations to be an actor, and is running a sandwich shop in Venice Beach, Calif. Sandwiches were his great love, after all.