There’s almost nothing more millennial than having Friends play quietly on repeat in the background of your life. We grew up with the American sitcom airing at a primetime slot every evening, watching as Ross and Rachel’s ‘we were on a break’ fiasco played out in real-time and crying as the show’s finale aired in May 2004, alongside 52.5 million other viewers.
With the rise of streaming platforms, it looked initially like the relevance of the six New Yorkers who lived in apartments astronomically too big for their pay grade would slowly be replaced with new shows like Stranger Things and Schitt’s Creek. But while both of these are worth bingeing (the hilarious comedy Schitt’s Creek just broke an Emmys record), when Friends was picked up by Netflix in 2015, it slotted seamlessly back into the living rooms of the millennials who got almost as used to seeing it on their screens as having a TV itself; at the same time, being introduced to an entire generation too young to have understood the relevance of the show a decade ago.
But, just as quite a lot of the storylines and humour of Sex and the City wouldn’t fly today, Friends hits different in 2020. Especially when you look at it through a post-Black Lives Matter lens. That is, being awake to just how incredibly white the show is. Despite being based in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, most of the show’s 23-minutes episodes feature zero Black actors. If you look very closely, there’s sometimes an extra or two at Central Perk as the all-white group get coffee, and when Monica and Rachel have the odd get-together at their apartment, there’s usually a Black extra mulling around, never to be seen again after the scene. In fact, the longest Black actor to ever appear on the show was Aisha Taylor, who played Charlie Wheeler, the first recurring Black character on the show, for nine episodes out of the show’s 236.
This is where Gabrielle Union comes in. The actress is hosting an all-Black cast reading of Friends for episode 2 of The Zoom Where It Happens, an event created to mobilize people to vote in the upcoming US election. The star-studded cast features Sterling K. Brown, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Uzo Aduba, Aisha Hinds, Kendrick Sampson (swoon), and Jeremy Pope and it’s all going down online as soon as tomorrow.
For the event, which will likely look similar to that of the recent Fast Times at Ridgemont High reading (minus a stoned Shia LaBeouf), Sterling K. Brown will take on the role of Ross (David Schwimmer), Ryan Michelle Bathe, who happens to be Brown’s wife, will play Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Uzo Aduba will play Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Aisha Hinds will be Monica (Courteney Cox), Kendrick Sampson will play Joey (Matt LeBlanc), and Jeremy Pope will play Chandler (Matthew Perry). Salli Richardson-Whitfield is directing the performance, and Gabrielle Union (who appeared in one episode of the original show in 2001) is hosting.
Who would’ve thought that this month alone we’d get a virtual Brad and Jen reunion and a Friends remake? Move over banana bread, Zoom is the real MVP of 2020.