The one where they’re not friends any more
What would the characters of Friends be doing now? Well, it’s a mixed bag. Joey, with his profile as former soap lead-turned-former buddy cop lead-turned-failed actor, gets a second-career wind and heads up a blockbuster Netflix show: his now-wizened face and torso bloat win him a weird niche of horny new-generation fans. Phoebe is dead, don’t ask. Monica, always poised to slump into domestic life, now lives inside it like an old pair of jeans, and only ventures out of her cul-de-sac to start her latest doomed food business (“What if I made … artisan cookies? Chandler? What if I did that?”), while Chandler is doing whatever he did before. Don’t pretend you know what Chandler did.
Ross, meanwhile, is on a third warning from the university about interfering with second-year students. Rachel is one of two things: divorced from him and thriving, or married to him for some reason and henpecked down to nothing, constantly having her intellectualism undermined by his need to be the smartest guy in the room, idly dreaming about that kid called Tag, rearing their children all-but alone. Gunther’s in prison, and not in a fun way. Ben is 23 and a Bitcoin millionaire. All of them, fundamentally, have left behind the vivid thrill of being in their 20s and the passive adulthood of their 30s and slouched instead into late-40s and early-50s domestic nihilism, rich-without-trying in million-dollar mansionettes, never phoning and never texting, no longer friends, no longer anything at all. Just shapes that resemble the people they used to be, dedicated instead to rearing the generation that comes up behind them, doomed to both poverty and to tear them all to pieces. Apart from Phoebe, obviously. Phoebe, as I mentioned, is dead.
The one where Phoebe kills Ben
The year is 2019, the Friends are now in their 50s and, like most long-term groups of mates, are still repeating the same in-jokes from their 20s. Does anyone remember Ugly Naked Guy? Or Marcel? What about Crazy Eddie, who clearly had mental health issues? Anyway! Quick catchup: Chandler’s still at his mystery job, moaning on Twitter (@ChanandlerBong), but he and Monica are loaded (“Could we BE any richer?”) because she’s used her domestic skills to become a foodie influencer. Rachel and Ross are still together, because there’s no “hot girl from the Xerox place” now photocopiers are no longer a thing. Ross still hasn’t won the “We were on a break!” argument, which comes up every year on their anniversary. In the new climate, Joey’s had to make a few adjustments to his game, so: “How you doin’ …respectfully and with no ulterior motive?”
The plot? Gunther calls Rachel (“How did you … get this number?”) and tells her that the failing Central Perk is about to be shut down and replaced by a CBD vape shop. Well, have you ever seen a cafe with a less space-efficient seating arrangement? The Friends are horrified to find it’s actually Ross’s son Ben, who’s now a bitter and twisted evil vape magnate, turned against his father after years of tension between Carol and Ross. Another plot twist! It’s all actually fine, as Phoebe’s hippy-dippy wellness, crystals and spirituality have gone mainstream in 2020 and made her a billionaire. She pays to have Ben killed. Problem solved – let’s all go and dance in the fountain!
The one with Gunther’s funeral
Open on: Gunther’s funeral. Ross and Rachel are fighting. Against the advice of their therapist and literally everyone else in their lives, they’ve embarked on history’s least successful open marriage. Emma has already pierced her nose about it. Monica, Chandler and the twins are still en route from the suburbs: Alexa was supposed to remind them to leave on time, but recently short-circuited in a kind of AI suicide after Chandler tried to ask it funny questions at a dinner party. Joey’s not there, he’s been #MeToo-ed and is hiding out in Europe.
The sight of Gunther’s body – still and pale, lying in its casket – reminds a long-married Phoebe Buffay-Hannigan that life is short. She stands up in the middle of the ceremony, swipes the cantor’s guitar, and walks away from all of it – Mike, the house, seven kids and stable employment – not once looking back.
The rest of the movie is about Phoebe finding herself and learning to love again via ayahuasca and a long-haired Caribbean scuba-diving instructor. (Sorry, but she was the only good Friend.)