Do you remember where you were on 6th May 2004? It was a Thursday. A school night much like any other, you might be thinking. In which case you would be WRONG, because this was the night when the final episode of Friends, "The Last One Part Two", aired. The One where Rachel (unfortunately) got off the plane to be with world’s biggest little bitch Ross, where Chandler and Monica moved out of the famous purple apartment to go and live in the suburbs and raise the twins, and the gang all go for a final cup of coffee together at Central Perk before – after ten seasons and ten years – Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey, finally go their separate ways. Big grown-ups now, with families and careers and mortgages, no longer did they have the time to drink out of giant mugs and tolerate Ross.
Even though the finale aired over 14 years ago, a recent Ofcom Media Nations report shows that apparently, we still can’t get enough of the iconic New York friendship group. The report, which ranks the most-watched programmes on subscription streaming services, revealed the universally-loved 90s sitcom is the UK’s most popular subscription streaming show. After Netflix added all 236 (!!!) episodes to its roster in January, twice as many episodes of the Friends were streamed in the first three months of 2018 than its closest contender: Amazon’s The Grand Tour (a lot of you need to have a word with your dads about this). Which all leads to one crucial question: Why? Why would anyone put themselves through that many hours of watching Ross Geller being an emotional-if-not-literal incel this side of 2010? (For the sake of journalistic integrity, I will admit that I am partly responsible for this statistic.)
To find out I headed to a Friends themed brunch – tagline: “Central Perk to central London” – hosted by The 90’s Brunch, an events collective dedicated to twice-monthly boozy day parties hosted in secret locations. On the Tuesday, I receive an email letting me know the party would be in Clapham – not quite Central London, but also… where else would such a concentrated effort at day-drinking be held? My ticket tells me fancy dress is encouraged, but I don’t have time to shout my hairdresser for a quick "Rachel" so when the day comes, I pull on a cropped furry cardigan over my long-sleeve, apply some lip gloss and decide I’m good to go.
When I arrive at The Clapham Grand and push open its huge leopard print doors, I am greeted by a thousand million decibels of “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls. Inside, it is windowless, dark and loud, and could feasibly be any time of day or night. Based on how drunk everyone is, 2AM would be a smart guess. It is actually, unfortunately, 2PM. I decide to get involved with some of the bottomless cocktails (served in Central Perk mugs) that everyone else has been drinking since noon to help with the sensory overload. The food is all themed: meatball subs (Joey’s "greatest sandwich in the world" from "The One with The Ride Along"), brownies and, thankfully, no meat trifle.
There is a lot going on here: huge inflatable donuts, a giant teddy bear, 90s girl band photo frames you can stick your head in, dry ice, a giant screen behind the DJ showing clips of Friends episodes, and some guy inexplicably dressed up as a bear sat on a sofa waiting for photo opportunities. The main demographic seems to be hens (not the chicken variety, but women who are about to ruin their lives and get married). There are also a lot of wigs, but none which seem to be channelling any Friends characters. I decide to ask a wearer of one such wig what it is about the show she loves so much, but it’s really loud and she just drunkenly screams, “I love my friends so much!” and runs off to hug them, which answers my question in some ways (friends = good) and did not answer it in other ways (why someone is at a Friends themed party in 2018).
Although no-one has adhered to the Friends dress code, a broader 90’s dress code is in full effect – there are at least two full sets of Spice Girls walking around. There is also more choreographed dancing than I have ever seen in one place since, well, the 90’s: the glory days of unnecessary arm movements and synchronised jumps. “Macarena” comes on and LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE PERSON starts doing the dance without missing a beat. The same goes for “Cotton Eyed Joe” by Rednex and “Saturday Night” by Whigfield. I didn’t even know some of these songs had affiliated dances but here we are, and I find myself wondering if there was some kind of rehearsal before the event that I wasn’t informed about.
In between all this dancing is two hours of lip-sync battles which range from the bad – a group of white girls lip-syncing to Notorious B.I.G’s "Juicy" (maybe don’t do this if you can’t remember the lyrics two verses in) – to the genuinely quite incredible. My personal favourite is the birthday girl in head-to-toe leopard print who performs an impassioned rendition of Shania Twain’s "That Don’t Impress Me Much" which impresses me very much. I follow her off stage to ask what has brought her here, and she reveals that she has watched all ten seasons of Friends twice already this year, and that her favourite character is Phoebe. There is an op-ed to be written about why Phoebe, Queen of Minding Her Own Business ™, was actually the best and yet most underrated Friend, but that's for another time.
To the back of the room is a group of what I can only describe as Instagram baddies dressed in Missguided’s finest, contoured for the gods, and taking group pictures. They leave me wondering: A) How did they manage to coordinate a group of 15 friends to do something together past the age of 21? B) What time did they wake up this morning to be able to serve the looks I am bearing witness to? In some ways, they were the finest embodiment of what Friends was about: an aspirational group of pals that is fundamentally too good to be true. How many of us have six super-close mates that live within a stone’s throw of each other, who all like each other so much that they not only see each other every evening but every morning for breakfast, whose house you can just let yourself into day and night, whose fridge is always open to you when you run out of milk, and who are all pretty great (except Ross)?
By 5PM, Friends has lost all relevance to the event and is just playing on a screen in the background as everyone dances to Backstreet Boys. I guess that is the secret of the show’s enduring appeal: it’s an easy, almost comatose watch, something you can play in the background when you’re cooking or eating or hungover or scrolling on your phone or just generally doing something else. It is the most objectively perfect background noise humanity has ever created. Also, fuck Ross.