The one where ‘Friends’ turns 25: Why the Arab world still can’t get enough

The one where ‘Friends’ turns 25: Why the Arab world still can’t get enough
Updated 21 September 2019

The one where ‘Friends’ turns 25: Why the Arab world still can’t get enough

The one where ‘Friends’ turns 25: Why the Arab world still can’t get enough
  • The show’s 238 episodes made superstars of its six relatively unknown leads and earned 63 Emmy nominations
  • Arab News spoke to several regional fans from different generations who praised the show’s universality

DUBAI: Twenty-five years ago tomorrow, viewers got their first glimpse of a show that would go on to dominate viewing figures, watercooler chat, and tabloids for the next decade: “Friends.”

It’s doubtful that even the most optimistic of TV executives would have dreamed of the stratospheric success that the sitcom — which followed the life of six 20-something friends (three men, three women — all white, all good-looking) living in New York — would go on to enjoy.

 

 

 

The writers’ great trick was to make the six characters broad and accessible, but (just) variable enough to have some depth and become more than two-dimensional stereotypes. So, everyone recognized themselves or a friend in dim, kind-hearted womanizer and struggling actor Joey; or in uptight, anxious Ross; or bossy-but-well-meaning Monica; ditzy, privileged Rachel; sarcastic, insecure Chandler; or in kooky, but often insightful, free spirit Phoebe.

As Yomna Taha, a UAE-based fan, told Arab News: “I think many Arabs watch it because the diversity of its characters allows everyone to relate to it in one way or another.”




In series 4, episode 15 Chandler takes an unplanned trip to Yemen. Scroll down to watch the hilarious clip. (YouTube)

The show’s 238 episodes made superstars of its six relatively unknown leads, earned 63 Emmy nominations (and six wins), spawned “The Rachel” (reportedly the most-requested hairstyle of all time), and were seen all around the world countless times on syndication (which the six savvy stars still earn a percentage of, netting around $20 million a year each, according to USA Today). Its popularity was — and remains — staggering. Thanks to its ubiquity on international networks, “Friends” is probably into its third generation of fans.

And the Middle East is far from immune to its charms. Arab News spoke to several regional fans from different generations who praised the show’s universality. Twenty two- year-old Alia Nabulsi said, “I can be anywhere in the world and watching ‘Friends’ makes me feel like (I’m) home.”

“It’s a classic show and I watch it to remind myself what a perfect and healthy friendship is supposed to be like,” said Ameen Kunbargi, 24.




In one of the show’s few references to Arab food and culture, Ross threatens Rachel’s sister Amy with a falafel ban. Scroll down to watch the comical clip. (YouTube)

For 42-year-old Souhail Halwani, “Friends” has been a constant companion for more than half his life.

“I used to wait for each DVD to come out and I would buy it (straight away),” he said. “I still watch it. When I have time, I’ll play it on Netflix.

“Me and people from my generation, we used to watch a lot of other sitcoms that lasted for a while, but I no longer watch any of the others. With ‘Friends,’ you can relate to the cast — you can relate to the day-to-day things that happen to them: The fun side of it, the sarcasm and the funny way they (made light of) a bad situation,” he continued. “Even knowing what happens — I know almost all the scenes — I still laugh. Like, I know Ross’s reactions, but I’ll be waiting for it and I will laugh every time.”

Not everyone agrees, of course. Talla Al-Khafaji, 31, feels the show has dated badly: “For starters, they always use the fact that Monica used to be overweight as a punch line — as if being overweight is comical. Also, there are no people of color on the show, despite the fact that it’s New York, (which is) full of diverse ethnicities. Additionally, there have been various occasions where Ross and Chandler, who are super-misogynistic, have made jokes about being attracted to teenagers, and that’s problematic.”

Certainly, it’s reasonable to say that — by today’s social standards — “Friends” has issues. But it’s also reasonable to question if a sitcom from an era when “The Benny Hill Show” was still considered by many to be wholesome family fun should really be held to those standards. The majority of its fans would likely say not. Yes, there was little-to-no representation of ethnic diversity (Arabs barely got a look in, except for a falafel salesman whom Rachel’s sister mistakes for Ross, and a crowd of Yemenis at the airport in the episode where Chandler claims he’s been reassigned to “15 Yemen Road, Yemen” in an effort to break up with his girlfriend, Janice), but the immaculate writing and performances, it seems, are enough to make up for that. For 21-year-old Sarah Kader, “the more I watch it, the funnier it gets. I never get bored of it.”

And for industry insiders, including Mazen Hayek, group director of commercial, PR and CSR at MBC (which screened “Friends” in the region for many years with Arabic subtitles, although it was never dubbed), the show remains a shining example of television’s potential for mass appeal.

“The series embodies the best of the comedy genre,” Hayek said. “It’s light and funny, entertaining, insightful, tackles real societal issues, appeals to all family members and is — mostly — fit to be viewed any time, anywhere, by a global audience.”

John Korounis, a spokesman for the official Warner Bros. Studio tour in Hollywood, agreed. “It’s all about the friends. It’s not about current events, so none of the show really hinges on what’s happening in the world,” he said. “It’s about their dynamic. It’s about their bubble. So it’s almost timeless, because the jokes are about them and the situations that they’re in.”

FASTFACT

Get your ‘Friends’ fix

As you’d expect with all the hype around the 25th anniversary of one of the biggest shows in the history of television, there are plenty of short- and long term tie-ins being announced around the world. Dubai Mall is one of several places currently hosting the famous couch from the show’s integral Central Perk coffee shop as part of the birthday celebrations. And LEGO has announced a “faithful recreation” of Central Perk “packed with authentic details” (and seven minifigures of the lead characters and grumpy barista Gunther), plus the stage where Phoebe — a, let’s say, ‘singular’ guitarist and singer — would often perform her acoustic sets. For those who want a taste of Central Perk, but can’t be bothered assembling LEGO bricks, there’s a “’Friends’- inspired” (the “inspired” is important… lawyers) café near Dubai Museum, where — manager Habib Khan told Arab News — there are plans to “reinstate a solo singer, in line with Phoebe.” The café serves “grab-and-go meals” with an Emirati-twist, as well as coffee, in a space where, Khan said, “we wanted to capture the spirit (of the show).”

Hayek praised the show’s leading actors, but added, “The scriptwriters made the difference in making ‘Friends’ such an all-time classic.” Of the show’s ageless appeal in the Middle East, he said: “Human insights have no boundaries. People — especially youth — relate to the same kind of issues, aspirations, and jokes.”

Rumors of a reunion show, or movie, continue to resurface every couple of years — despite constant rebuttals from cast and network. And that’s something fans from the Middle Eastern — and beyond — would definitely turn out for in droves.

“I would love to see the same cast in new episodes,” said Halwani. “To see how they relate to the current day, because technology has changed and a lot has happened since they stopped.”

However, he added. “They keep talking about a reunion but I don’t see it happening. But I hope it does. Even a movie! Anything!”

Bonus round

Just in case you need reminding, we’ve created a deck of cards with some fun facts about each of your favorite ‘Friends’ characters — including the monkey!

We start off with ditzy but lovable Rachel Green. 

And her flatmate, Monica.

Next up is everyone’s favorite free spirit, Phoebe Buffay.

And the king of sarcastic comedy, Chandler Bing.

If you thought we were taking a break, we’re not. Next up is Ross Geller.

And Joey Tribbiani rounds out the group.

But wait, what would ‘Friends’ be without Janice’s annoying laugh?

And who could forget the much-loved duck?

Marcel the naughty capuchin stole our hearts in season one.

 

FASTFACTS

Get your ‘Friends’ fix

As you’d expect with all the hype around the 25th anniversary of one of the biggest shows in the history of television, there are plenty of short- and long term tie-ins being announced around the world. Dubai Mall is one of several places currently hosting the famous couch from the show’s integral Central Perk coffee shop as part of the birthday celebrations. And LEGO has announced a “faithful recreation” of Central Perk “packed with authentic details” (and seven minifigures of the lead characters and grumpy barista Gunther), plus the stage where Phoebe — a, let’s say, ‘singular’ guitarist and singer — would often perform her acoustic sets. For those who want a taste of Central Perk, but can’t be bothered assembling LEGO bricks, there’s a “’Friends’- inspired” (the “inspired” is important… lawyers) café near Dubai Museum, where — manager Habib Khan told Arab News — there are plans to “reinstate a solo singer, in line with Phoebe.” The café serves “grab-and-go meals” with an Emirati-twist, as well as coffee, in a space where, Khan said, “we wanted to capture the spirit (of the show).”


US-Palestinian DJ Khaled drops second collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana

US-Palestinian DJ Khaled drops second collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana
The Dolce & Gabbana x Khaled collaboration. Instagram
Updated 29 min 34 sec ago

US-Palestinian DJ Khaled drops second collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana

US-Palestinian DJ Khaled drops second collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana

DUBAI: Back in March, US-Palestinian producer DJ Khaled unveiled his first collection with Italian luxury maison Dolce & Gabbana – a Miami-inspired capsule of  beachwear and ready-to-wear unisex pieces, including tracksuits, hoodies, shorts and accessories.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)

Now, the award-winning hitmaker is launching his second collaboration with the Italian fashion house just in time for summer.

Inspired by music, the wilderness and the Mediterranean, the new offering features designs for men, women, children as well as babies. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)

The collection, which is available online and in select Dolce & Gabbana stores, is punctuated with flamingo and butterfly motifs, floral and animal print and a harmonic purple, blue and yellow colorway. 

A special edition box includes DJ Khaled's latest album, where he dons D&G on the cover.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)


London Fashion Week: Qasimi celebrates Emirati heritage in Spring 2022 collection

London Fashion Week: Qasimi celebrates Emirati heritage in Spring 2022 collection
Qasimi Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear. Instagram
Updated 49 min 22 sec ago

London Fashion Week: Qasimi celebrates Emirati heritage in Spring 2022 collection

London Fashion Week: Qasimi celebrates Emirati heritage in Spring 2022 collection

DUBAI: Day one of London Fashion Week kicked off on June 12 with a striking digital presentation from London-based Emirati menswear label Qasimi titled “Between Ashes and Roses” – inspired by Syrian poet Adunis’s 2004 book of the same name.

Hoor Al-Qasimi, the creative director, presented the brand’s Spring 2022 ready-to-wear collection via an eight-minute runway film staged at St. Ann’s Court, a country estate in Surrey. 

Male and female models snaked down a spiral staircase and stomped through the white-washed estate wearing bright, bold colors reminiscent of the bougainvillea and magnolias growing against the backdrop.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by QASIMI (@qasimi_official)

The collection opened with vivid pink trousers worn with a matching cape with a built-in bucket hat, which set the tone for the fringed skirts, boxy shirts with laser-cut designs, jacquard button-ups, bomber jackets and graphic T-shirts and hoodies that spelled the words “Longing” and “Belonging” in Arabic and English, that followed. 

Some of the models carried fringed bags made using the traditional Emirati craft of palm frond weaving known as safeefah.

Al-Qasimi weaved her heritage into the new offering by collaborating with the Sharjah-based  Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council – a platform that empowers women artisans and preserves the skills and rich cultural heritage of the UAE.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by QASIMI (@qasimi_official)

She also tasked Lahore-based jeweler Zohra Rahman with creating a round, multi-functional embellishment that functioned as a brooch, a pendant and an earring in the show.

Meanwhile, tarboushas – the tassels that hang from the Emirati gutra – swung from the front pockets of tailored jackets, the bottoms of small bags and the necks of shirt dresses.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by QASIMI (@qasimi_official)

The new collection is Al-Qasimi’s fourth for the London-based brand since taking over the reins after her twin brother Khalid Al-Qasimi’s passing in 2019.

Qasimi, which was founded in 2015, focuses on crafting understated garments that reflect its multicultural origins.


Actress Jameela Jamil champions Moroccan label in ‘Legendary’ finale

Actress Jameela Jamil champions Moroccan label in ‘Legendary’ finale
Jamil is one of the judges on the HBO Max competition series. File/AFP
Updated 13 June 2021

Actress Jameela Jamil champions Moroccan label in ‘Legendary’ finale

Actress Jameela Jamil champions Moroccan label in ‘Legendary’ finale

DUBAI: Jameela Jamil has a well-known penchant for Arab designers. The British-Pakistani-Indian actress and activist has been pictured donning looks from regional labels on plenty of occasions, including designs by Rami Kadi and Georges Chakra, to name a few.

This week, the actress, who is known for her role as Tahani on NBC’s “The Good Life,” was spotted wearing a ballgown by Moroccan-Dutch couturier Benchellal  in the finale episode of “Legendary.”

The 35-year-old posted a series of snaps on Instagram of herself on set dressed in an extravagant royal blue dress with  long sleeves and voluminous shoulders. She paired the look with sparkling fishnet boots from Jimmy Choo.

Mo Benchellal launched his namesake couture womenswear label in 2007 and has since made a name for himself with his elegant and classic eveningwear, which has also been worn by popstar Camilla Cabello and supermodel Helena Christensen, to name a few.


Birthday wishes pour in for model Nora Attal

Birthday wishes pour in for model Nora Attal
British-Moroccan model Nora Attal celebrated her birthday Saturday. Getty Images
Updated 13 June 2021

Birthday wishes pour in for model Nora Attal

Birthday wishes pour in for model Nora Attal

DUBAI:  Saturday marked British-Moroccan model Nora Attal’s birthday — and she certainly has a lot to celebrate. Though Attal just turned 22, she has already achieved many career milestones that most models can only dream of. 

Attal, who was born to Moroccan parents in London, was first discovered by Jonathan Anderson, founder of the J.W. Anderson label, and shot a campaign for the British fashion house in 2014 before she had even taken her first steps down a runway.

She would go on to become a runway fixture after making her catwalk debut in 2017. 

Based in London and signed to Viva Model Management, Attal has worked with a number of renowned designers and stylists and walked the runway for major fashion houses, including Dior, Fendi, Burberry and Valentino to name a few. 

She also strutted her stuff on a runway in the south of France for Chanel’s resort 2022 show last month.

On Instagram, birthday wishes poured in from Attal’s loved ones. Instagram

When she’s not turning heads on the catwalk, Attal can be found gracing the pages of prestigious magazines such as the American, Arab and British editions of Vogue, in addition to fronting campaigns for renowned fashion brands such as Loewe, Chanel and Alexander McQueen. 

The newly-minted 22-year-old also uses her massive platform for good, often taking to Instagram to voice her support for important social issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and countering violence against the Asian community in the US and UK. 

“Happy birthday,” wrote fellow model Luna Bijl, alongside a backstage shot of her and Attal.

“Happiest birthday,” wrote model Camille Hurel. Instagram

Runway model Camille Hurel posted a throwback of Attal from 2019 and wrote: “Happiest birthday,” alongside a blue heart emoji.

Attal spent her 22nd birthday with her fiancé, cinematographer Victor Bastidas, in Paris.

The couple announced their engagement in October 2020.

Captioning a series of images of the proposal on Instagram, the model told her 48,000 followers: “Forever my life partner... @sictor.”

The proposal took place on a beach in Formentera, an island in Spain. Among the pictures the bride-to-be shared, Attal showed off her engagement ring — a round-cut solitaire.


Plans for movie on New Zealand mosque attacks draw criticism

Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
Updated 12 June 2021

Plans for movie on New Zealand mosque attacks draw criticism

Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
  • The movie would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques

WELLINGTON: Tentative plans for a movie that recounts the response of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to a gunman's slaughter of Muslim worshippers drew criticism in New Zealand on Friday for not focusing on the victims of the attacks.
Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne was set to play Ardern in the movie “They Are Us,” which was being shopped by New York-based FilmNation Entertainment to international buyers.
The movie would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques.
Deadline said the movie would follow Ardern's response to the attacks and how people rallied behind her message of compassion and unity, and her successful call to ban the deadliest types of semiautomatic weapons.
The title of the movie comes from the words Ardern spoke in a landmark address soon after the attacks. At the time, Ardern was praised around the world for her response.
But many in New Zealand are raising concerns about the movie plans.
Aya Al-Umari, whose older brother Hussein was killed in the attacks, wrote on Twitter simply “Yeah nah,” a New Zealand phrase meaning “No.”
Abdigani Ali, a spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, said the community recognized the story of the attacks needed to be told “but we would want to ensure that it’s done in an appropriate, authentic, and sensitive matter.”
Tina Ngata, an author and advocate, was more blunt, tweeting that the slaughter of Muslims should not be the backdrop for a film about "white woman strength. COME ON.”
Ardern’s office said in a brief statement that the prime minister and her government have no involvement with the movie.
Deadline reported that New Zealander Andrew Niccol would write and direct the project and that the script was developed in consultation with several members of the mosques affected by the tragedy.
Niccol said the film wasn't so much about the attacks but more the response.
“The film addresses our common humanity, which is why I think it will speak to people around the world," Niccol told Deadline. "It is an example of how we should respond when there’s an attack on our fellow human beings.”
Byrne's agents and FilmNation did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The report said the project would be filmed in New Zealand but did not say when.
Niccol is known for writing and directing “Gattaca” and writing “The Terminal" and “The Truman Show,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
Byrne is known for roles in “Spy” and “Bridesmaids.”