'Friends' are forever: Chinese fans celebrate long-awaited sitcom reunion
Published: May 27, 2021 07:20 PM
The main cast of Friends pose for a picture. File photo: VCG

The main cast of Friends pose for a picture. File photo: VCG

Friends: The Reunion, also known as The One Where They Get Back Together, debuted on Chinese streaming platforms iQIYI and Tencent on Thursday afternoon. This exciting news has cheered many Chinese fans, causing the hashtag "Friends" to earn 1.13 billion views on Sina Weibo in just a few short hours. Although thousands of TV sitcoms have flooded the internet since the first season of Friends debuted in September 1994, the beloved US sitcom still occupies first place in the hearts of a lot of Chinese TV viewers.

One important reason why Friends holds such an irreplaceable position for Chinese audiences may be because it is the pinnacle of TV sitcoms prior to the internet era. Chinese viewers who were unable to access foreign TV channels in the 1990s came into contact with this classic drama through various channels after entering the 21st century. From the era of DVDs to online downloads and to today's mobile video apps, generations of TV viewers have become fans of these six attractive characters with unique personalities.

With the emergence of subtitle groups in the early 21st century, the wonderful English dialogue of Friends became a tool for countless young Chinese to learn English and even websites specializing in the study of Friends scripts popped up. Friends made a major contribution to the English-learning wave in China at the time. 

Another reason that this drama made such a deep impression on Chinese audiences is that it opened a door that allowed them to learn more about people's lives in the US and the cultural differences between China and the West.

Although some Chinese sitcoms such as The Story of the Editorial Office and I Love My Family had debuted after 1992, Friends' focus on six young single urban men and women was still a very fresh take for audiences.

I believe that many Chinese people's understanding of Western "dating culture" came from Friends. In addition, the various challenges that single young people had to face in the sitcom such as paying off credit cards, finding a roommate to share rent, ordering takeout, changing jobs and later getting married, buying a house, having children and even getting divorced were all very new to audiences who were living in a very different society. The realities reflected in Friends caused people living in cities to cherish their ordinary lives and friendships. 

Two decades later, the current most popular TV series in the world is still a US series: Game of Thrones. However, the content of this series has nothing to do with real US society. Many US dramas have grown further away from Chinese audiences because of excessive political correctness and because fewer works truthfully reflect US society. For a decade and more, Friends accompanied people from different generations, and the reunion brought back many cherished memories, but it also means the era of Friends has come to a final end.