Since its mid-aughts finale, we've been on an unofficial break with Friends. But now, in honor of HBO Max's highly-anticipated Friends reunion—which is bringing together the beloved sixsome on that iconic orange couch for the first time in 17 years—Marie Claire is celebrating, criticizing, and obsessing over the show that was always there for us.
Like the best kind of confidantes, Friends wont go away. Almost three decades since its premiere, the NBC sitcom about, well, friends—the kind who are there for you when your job's a joke, you're broke, and your love life's...you know the rest—has remained a ratings juggernaut and a pop culture force to be reckoned with. And that's thanks, in part, to Marta Kauffman.
Along with David Crane, Kauffman co-created one of the biggest television shows of all time—the duo also served as executive producers throughout the show's 10-season run, alongside Kevin Bright—one that made made A-listers (and millionaires) of its cast; launched 1,000 quotable one-liners, fan theories, and thinkpieces; defined a generation of friendships and relationships; and gave lobsters their romantic due.
Ahead of the HBO Max reunion on May 27, Kauffman sat down with Marie Claire to chat about the storylines she doesn't regret, where the characters are now, and how Ross fucked up.
Marie Claire: What can fans expect from the reunion?
Marta Kauffman: They can expect a celebration of the show—an emotional, joyful, celebration of the show, with a lot of different elements and some crazy surprises.
MC: You filmed on the original sets—how did that feel?
MK: There was a moment when we all walked in—there was a structural beam between the kitchen and the living room, which we removed after, I believe, [the show’s first] three episodes because you couldn't shoot around it. And the first thing everybody noticed when they walked was, That beam doesn't belong there… Oddly, everything looked smaller [on the sets] than I remember it.
MC: Ironically, one of the main criticisms of Friends is how unrealistically large the apartments are. If you could go back, would you film it on more accurately sized sets?
MK:I don't think I would have changed the sets. You're gonna be spending a lot of time on those sets so you want them to be visually satisfying. I think it would've gotten claustrophobic if we had made it too small and we had to fit six people in there without stepping on each other. But also, we wanted it to be a place that you wanted to go to and sit there with them. And if it had been small and cramped, I think it would have been less enjoyable.
MC: Were there a lot of tears when everyone reunited?
MK: There were definitely tears. The six of them seemed very happy. They were reveling in being together. It reminded me that the show was incredibly special and affected a lot of people around the world.
MC: Is it strange for you to see Friends have this second wave of popularity with Gen Z discovering it on streamers?
MK: [When] my youngest daughter was 16, she said a friend of hers came up to her and said, ‘Did you hear about that new show called Friends?’ They thought it was a period piece. It’s just so surreal, but incredibly wonderful and certainly flattering.
MC: In terms of the characters, have you thought about where you see all of them today?
MK: I think—actually Matt LeBlanc said this [at the reunion]—Joey has six kids and is no longer an actor. I think Monica and Chandler have their twins and that's it. But they're together. I think that Ross and Rachel are seeing a marriage counselor, but have two kids, probably. I see Phoebe as also still being married, and she's got, like, four foster kids. She still plays music whenever possible, but she’s very busy with the kids.
MC: What about Rachel’s job? In the series finale you see her choose Ross over a huge career opportunity and a lot of people wonder: Does that mean she just stopped working? Do you think she was able to achieve her fashion dreams?
MK: I think Monica and Rachel are both still working. Rachel, she does continue working in fashion. She's doing exactly what she wants to be doing.
MC: Was that important for you in the original run of the show—to give the women ambitions in their careers? Because it seems like it was important for you to mention right now.
MK: Rachel, in some ways, went the longest distance with that. She started out as someone who didn't know how to do a job, and she ended up becoming a woman who learned to partially define herself by her work. We always wanted to take a certain feminist perspective; the women do work. They have passions, they pursue them, as well as the men. And actually Chandler didn't, at that point, have any passions. He just had a job.
MC: I read a quote from you a few years ago about how all of the women in the show have babies in different ways: adoption, single parenting, surrogacy. Was that another feminist plot point you wanted to focus on—different avenues of motherhood? Or was it a happy accident?
MK: It was a combination of things. When Lisa got pregnant, we needed to figure out a way to not have to hide her belly with plants. So we wanted to come up with the most original version of her being pregnant that we could. Once we did that, we had to then make each one different from the previous one or ones. It was a conscious choice to explore it from different angles.
MC: Speaking of kids, would you and David Crane do a show about the kids of the Friends?
MK: Absolutely not. That will not happen. Look, Friends was special and there is no point in going back there and trying to beat it. The show was about the six of them; it was about that time in your life when your friends are your family. Once they started having families of their own, it changes it. And there's no reason to go back. I don't think we can beat what we did.
MC: Do you think they eventually all the characters moved to the suburbs, near Monica and Chandler, to recapture that feeling? Or did they all follow their own paths?
MK: I think Monica and Chandler stayed in the suburbs. Joey stayed in the city. Phoebe and Mike moved to Brooklyn. I think they all followed their own paths but remained very good friends, just not seeing each other every moment of every day.
MC: Are there any plot points you wish never happened or moments you cringe at now?
MK: There are things I wish I knew then that I know now. It wasn't so much about storylines, but about [for instance] Chandler's father’s transitioning. I know people were [also] disturbed by the fat suit. Hindsight is sometimes very painful… I was not enlightened enough [then] to realize that we were participating in systemic racism in our business. At this point in my life, I'm trying to make up for those choices or mistakes. Back then, we were really only thinking about doing a show that we wanted to do and not thinking about equity.
MC: A storyline I have to ask about—because people are very opinionated about it and many wish it never happened—is the Rachel and Joey relationship arc. Do you still stand by it?
MK: The fact that you're bringing it up makes me realize that I would stand by it, because it brought up a lot of conflicting feelings. You don't, in a show, always have to do what's right. Sometimes it's fun, as it was in this case, to explore things that may be weird and unexpected. When we first raised the issue with Matt [LeBlanc] and Jennifer [Aniston], they were definitely not sure [about the arc]. But I think it was really sweet, and we got to know other sides of those characters that we hadn't known before—like Joey's incredible sweetness and gentleness. I don't regret it one bit.
MC: A lot of strange, and sometimes plausible, fan theories have been circulating. I wanted to give you the final say on some of them and put a few to rest.
One of them is that the entire show is a dream that Rachel has before her wedding to Barry. The theory’s “proof” is a press promo shoot where the whole cast is sleeping on a bed together, and all of them have their eyes closed but Rachel's are open. So people assumed that was a hint from you and David [Crane].
MK: It is not a dream. And if it had been a dream, we would've done what Bob Newhart did and made sure everybody knew it was a dream in the end. But why would you make it a dream? Because what makes the show work is wanting to hang out with these people, and you want to believe they're real.
MC: I think that would have been a very upsetting ending. Here's another one: The first time viewers see Ross and Rachel's characters meet in Central Perk, in the first episode, Ross stumbles and accidentally opens an umbrella he's holding. So people speculated that, when he does that, he curses their relationship for the next seven years; that's why they have this on-again-off-again relationship. Was that on purpose?
MK: No. (laughs) Not even a little bit. I wish we had thought of that.
MC: Another dark one is that Ross loses custody of Ben because of his strange behavior—Carol and Susan get full custody and move away. So can you speculate on where Ross is with Ben now? Are they still in each others’ lives?
MK: That is just too sad. I don't think that would ever have been something that we would have considered. Nor would I consider it now. He’s a good father.
MC: My last one: Monica has a strained relationship with her mother because she is actually conceived through an extramarital affair.
MK: Uh, no. Her parents [just] had a preference for Ross.
MC: My final question, before I let you go is, of course, were they on a break?
MK: It did come up when we shot the reunion. I think, whether or not they were on a break, he had sex too soon. So I still think he fucked up.
MC: That’s a great place to end it: Ross fucked up.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.