Friend (The One With Gunther)
- Deborah Chu
- 18 August 2021
A one-man Fringe homage to the still wildly popular 90s American sitcom that is sadly very much DOA
Nearly 20 years on since the airing of season ten finale 'The Last One', and it's difficult to think of a television show that remains more culturally ubiquitous than Friends. Even those who've never caught an episode will be familiar with the main beats: six friends, coffee house, how you doin', Ross and Rachel, they were on a break, etcetera. Like many of its contemporaries, Friends has had something of a reckoning in recent years – the homophobia, fatphobia, the lack of diversity in its cast, how much Ross sucks – and yet the strength of people's overall affection for the series has never waned. So much so that a reunion episode which aired earlier this year was greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm.
Yet there are moments in Friend (The One With Gunther) when you do wonder if Brendan Murphy has watched the same show as everyone else, or if he actually even enjoyed it. For instance, why does his Gunther talk like a coked-out, intermittently Spanish Batman? Liberties must be taken in any parody, of course, so long as it stays true to the source's heart, which Friends, at its best, had plenty of. Yet Murphy's promised one-man car-chase through all 236 episodes (sort of, the latter five seasons are barely glanced through) veers off course far too often.
His take on the mononymous barista comes with a sordid backstory seemingly churned out by a random word generator, replete with flugelhorns and drug cartels. In this 'reimagining', Gunther is an obsessive amateur gumshoe trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of our favourite 'seis amigos' after the finale. The question ringing loud and clear is: but why? Probably because they thought Murphy's Gunther might murder them in their sleep.
When he isn't diving deep into Gunther's tortured psyche, Murphy keeps the sketches gambolling along in an admirably energetic clip, shoehorning in iconic moments with an insider's wink. The pace only dips when we enter at least two unnecessary bouts of exposition, with plot points explained to an audience who already knows what happened at the beach house. Elsewhere, his impressions of side characters in the Friends-verse hit their mark, as do moments of self-consciousness about the show's shortcomings. By the end, however, Friend feels much like season ten itself: an exhausted caricature of itself.
Friend (The One With Gunther), Pleasance at EICC, until Monday 29 August (not Wednesdays), 6pm, £14–£15.