As times of heady redolence go, the 1990s lacks the brittle style of the 1920s, sepia-tinted upper-lips of haunted men in WWI uniforms, or groovy pereniorange of the 1960s…
exactly what we all need right now.
And yet… well, maybe we’re just at that age… maybe the tunes were honestly just that banging… or maybe 2021 is a place of such unremitting gloom that a sniff of platform trainers, pop tarts, plaid shorts and a sincerely-held belief that yes, things could only get better is exactly what we all need right now.
So if splashing around to the nostalgic strains of REM and Meredith Brooks is your bosom-shaped cup of coffee, then Friend (The One With Gunther) - the supposed tale of sunshine-haired barista Gunther ‘Central-Perk’ – might well be right up your (5th) Avenue.
In this tribute to the NBC show Friends which dominated television schedules and water-cooler catchups for the best part of a decade, Brendan Murphy hurtles through the entire ten series at breakneck speed, checking off all our favourite catchphrases, major plot points, gaping holes and guest stars with great charm and a good deal of originality. The script also deftly acknowledges the troublesome tropes inherent in the white-washed heteronormative original without ever allowing them to bog down the pure joy that the mere mention of the title can conjure.
Does Murphy look like Gunther? Not remotely. Does it matter? Not a bit. For this turbo-charged love child of Dan Walker, Rod Stewart and Animal-from-the-Muppets weaves such a cosy yet knowing web of shared experiences and memories that one cares less about cheap mimicry and just buys into the jolly good fun of it all. Similarly, whilst the portrayals of the eponymous friends and their frequent collaborators aren’t all that close to the money, Murphy is so invested in fashioning the vibe of those simpler days that a silly wig is more than enough to send us straight back to the days when all we wanted was a squashy orange sofa and an asymmetric haircut.
This is an hour of beautifully-organised, good-hearted chaos celebrating silliness, friendship and – above all – hope. And I dare say that in recent years, we have rarely needed it more.