Last night it was all about being there in the room where it happened, or, better yet, the Zoom Where It Happened. The Zoom series, presented by Black women artists to raise awareness and inspire people to learn about their voting rights, saw Gabrielle Union bring together colleagues for a live table-read of an episode of “Friends.”
The all-Black cast included “This is Us” star Sterling K. Brown and his wife Ryan Bathe as Ross and Rachel, Aisha Hinds of “911” played Monica; Uzo Aduba, who won an Emmy on Sunday, played Phoebe; Kendrick Sampson of “How to Get Away With Murder” played Joey, while “Hollywood” star Jeremy Pope played Chandler.
Before the episode started, actress Cynthia Erivo set the tone with a beautiful rendition of the famous theme song. From there, it was non-stop hilarity as the assembled group read the script for the episode “The One Where No One’s Ready,” following Ross as he attempts to get the group out of the apartment on time for his banquet dinner.
Since the implementation of lockdown we’ve seen several groups, both amateur and professional, take on completed scripts and re-read them. It’s always amazing to see how different actors can interpret material but, more importantly, how different genders and races can also change the tone of a series.
Considering that “Friends” has been regularly cited for the lack of diversity throughout its decade-long run, it’s understandable that it’s one of the more popular shows to look at through a racial lens. Back in 2017 Jay-Z recreated the famous “Friends” opening for a music video.
Tuesday night’s presentation, though, was a fantastic blend of on-screen humor and warmth that compelled the audience to look at the spate of media representation now, versus a decade ago. Brown and Bathe gave Ross and Rachel far more of a sexual heat than original cast members David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston did (not surprising considering Brown and Bathe’s real off-screen relationship).
But even more fun to watch was Sampson and Pope’s sparring as Chandler and Joey. Where Chandler, as a character, is often whiny and neurotic, Pope brought more of an aggression and swagger to the role. Where Matthew Perry could portray him as annoying, Pope played it charming and light. He was equally matched by Sampson, who took Joey’s ribbing and played it like a little brother who knows he’s getting his friend riled up.
The end of the event saw Union ask the participants about their voting plans. All in all, it was a night of education and entertainment. If anything it proves that all of these actors, including Brown, need to be doing comedy a lot more.