Friends aired between 1994-2004, but its current cohort of Chinese fans are younger than you’d think.
A steadfast following in China has been eagerly anticipating a reunion of the show, which was teased by the show’s original cast in early 2020. It’s been a long wait, but the hype in China is real, with Tencent, Youku and IQIYI announcing less than 3 hours before showtime that they would be streaming the episode simultaneously with HBO Max.
Friends: The Reunion announcement poster from IQIYI, featuring the cast of friends, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry.
The popular sitcom was never broadcast on Chinese TV, and was only sporadically available via streaming sites. The show’s popularity in China isn’t one running on nostalgia, as most people come to the show through word of mouth. One could attribute the show’s inexplicable popularity in the country to it often being assigned as listening comprehension practice for those learning English as a second language. The sitcom, with its everyday vocabulary and very American sense of humor, lends itself well to that purpose. But when was the last time you reread The Scarlet Letter while eating instant noodles?
Friends Reunion Special – Photography by Terence Patrick, Courtesy of HBO Max
While the New York roommates’ laid-back lifestyle has often been criticized as unrealistic (rent control!), the younger generation of Chinese people, particularly those living away from home find solace in this group of steadfast friends and their seemingly abundant leisure time. Young students and professionals, most of whom had grown up as only children, dream of renting adjacent apartments with buddies, where a friendly face is just a door knock away; many viewers watch and rewatch the show while eating solo takeout meals.
Comments poured in on social media platform Weibo, with most fans saying they had burst into tears minutes into the broadcast. A student commented, “All the celebrity guests and fans from around the world shared what Friends meant to them. They [characters of Friends] are our youth. They are our friends.”
Want to hear more from the shows die-hard fans in China? In RADII Street Scope, we hit the streets of China to give young people the chance to tell us what they think in their own words. We sought out avid fans of Friends at the Friends Cafe to ask them why they love the show, and what they’re expecting from the special reunion episode.
Cover image courtesy of HBO Max
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