Writer: Brendan Murphy
Director: Hamish MacDougall
The Fringe is usually littered with homages to current and long forgotten TV shows. Most of them are taking the easy route of hijacking a household name in a bid to generate audiences that the material itself doesn’t deserve. Friend (The one with Gunther) is a refreshing exception to the rule. Written and performed by Brendan Murphy it shows a real affection for its source material and over a frantic 70 minutes steers you through ten seasons, 236 episodes and almost 100 hours of the sitcom that defined a generation.
Murphy plays Gunther, the Barista who’s love of Rachel and dislike of anyone who was with her, was less a sub-plot and more of a running joke throughout the run. That Gunther in the show describes himself as the 7th friend, and puts himself at the centre of the story, speaks immediately to the slightly twisted world view that Gunther in the series demonstrated in the few lines he was given in each episode.
The show takes a while to get going as Murphy sets up the premise for the show and re-introduces us to characters that Netflix and Comedy Central mean that we’re in no danger of forgetting. It’s only when he begins his breakneck run through the first four seasons that we’re really taken back to Central Perk and given pinpoint accurate descriptions of the six friends and everyone else who ventured into their orbit for more than a couple of episodes.
Murphy knows how to mix in observations with classic lines and situations to create a show that is both a commentary and a greatest hits set. The rapid fire appearances of Janice, Tag, Dr Richard, and others, add to the nostalgia, while the running count of people of colour, which stops at two, and potentially homophobic references, which gets into double figures, make you wonder what Friends would look like if it was given a reboot.
Co-opting Eminem’s Stan to give a unique take on how things could end for Gunther is a hilarious masterstroke, and the ending of the show adds an unexpected poignancy to proceedings. It would be interesting to get more of Gunther’s take on events and for the seventh friend to really get an episode that is all about him, rather than him narrating the story, but for a reduced Shakespeare style telling of the Friends saga, this can’t be beaten.
Reviewed on 24 August 2021, running from 16 to 29 August 2021 | Image: Contributed