On the heels of the charitable celebrity table read that gifted Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston truthers the reunion of a lifetime, some of Black Hollywood’s A-listers also gathered virtually to provide their own take of a cult favourite television show — Friends. But why exactly would we need a Black spin on Friends when Living Single already exists?
Last night, the Zoom Where It Happens series shared its second live table read, a reading of a Friends episode starring Ryan Michelle Bathe (Rachel), Sterling K. Brown (Ross), Uzo Aduba (Phoebe), Aisha Hinds (Monica), Jeremy Pope (Chandler), and Kendrick Sampson (Joey). Gabrielle Union served as the host and also narrated the scene, taken from a season three episode of the show titled “The One Where No One’s Ready.”
The event was undoubtedly a fun time — Cynthia Erivo put some needed seasoning on that otherwise ashy theme song, Brown was especially in good form as neurotic Ross — and I’m positive that there are Black Friends stans who were absolutely living on that Zoom call. But gathering a group of Black actors to read the script of one of the whitest shows in TV history seems a little weird, especially when the blickety-Black series that undoubtedly inspired it is literally right there.
The show, which premiered in 1993 on Fox, also centred on six young professionals. Unlike Friends, which basically pretended that one of the most diverse cities in the country was almost entirely comprised of white people, Living Single's cast was entirely Black (Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Kim Fields, Erika Alexander, T.C. Carson and John Henton); the ensemble characters lived and worked in Brooklyn, and their day-to-day lives accurately reflected what that reality would be like.
Living Single is a staple of Black culture, and Friends is a show that low-key took its concept and whitewashed it. Of course there's a point being made by a table read of the latter featuring an all-Black cast — the plot still works even if you sprinkle some diversity in, Hollywood — but wouldn't the stronger point be to highlight the show that inspired Friends in the first place? Like, we did it first, and we kind of did it better?
To be fair, this installment of the Zoom Where It Happens series is the second to spin a super white show; earlier this month, Gina Prince-Bythewood directed a table read of a Golden Girls episode starring Tracee Ellis Ross, Regina King, Sanaa Lathan, and Alfre Woodard. Maybe it's because we don't already have a Black version of Golden Girls in the zeitgeist, but that table read hit a little different. I'm just saying.
The series was created in partnership with Former First Lady Michelle Obama's When We All Vote, a non-profit organisation aimed at inspiring voters to hit the polls through culture and entertainment. So I guess we can't be too miffed because these gathering of talented individuals are for a good cause at the end of the day.