‘Friends’ reunion: Why the Arab world can’t get enough of hit show 

‘Friends’ reunion: Why the Arab world can’t get enough of hit show 
The cast has now reunited for a special behind-the-scenes show that has fans across the world clearing their schedule on May 27 and stocking up on popcorn. (YouTube)
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Updated 26 May 2021

‘Friends’ reunion: Why the Arab world can’t get enough of hit show 

‘Friends’ reunion: Why the Arab world can’t get enough of hit show 

DUBAI: Almost 27 years ago, 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.” Now, the cast has reunited for a special behind-the-scenes show that has fans across the world clearing their schedule on May 27 and stocking up on popcorn. 

“I am very excited. It is lovely to see them look back at their old selves and recreate some of their famous lines. The trailer seems very thrilling and I can’t wait to get together with my friends to watch the episode,” said UAE-based fan Hana Saleh of the upcoming reunion show, which will see the cast get back together in the original studio, testing their trivia knowledge of the show, revisiting key sets, re-reading their lines, and joining TV host James Corden for a joint sit-down interview in front of a live audience.

“I grew up watching ‘Friends’ with my own family, so it will be a really nice experience to reminisce all the memories during the reunion episode along with them,” Egyptian fan Kareem Nagy added. 

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.

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.




The episode is scheduled to air on May 27. (YouTube)

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. 

“I’ve been watching the show for over 10 years and I never seem to get bored of it, it gets funnier and funnier the more I watch it,” said 22-year-old Palestinian fan Sarah Khader. 

Meanwhile, Souhail Halwani, who is in his 40s, said “Friends” has been a constant companion for more than half his life in a  previous interview with Arab News.

“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.




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

“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 agreed, of course. Talla Al-Khafaji, 31, felt the show has dated badly in a previous interview with Arab News: “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.”




The show’s 238 episodes made superstars of its six relatively unknown leads, earned 63 Emmy nominations (and six wins). (AFP)

For his part, 27-year-old Daoud Tabibzada told Arab News this week that he “definitely loved Friends when I was growing up and I have re-watched it multiple times. However, the more I grow older, the more I see the apparent character flaws in the show. So many questions start to arise when re-watching that it actually gets you upset. Why did Joey become this big ‘man child’… He was legitimately the best character in the show, but the writers decided to dumb him down for comedic relief which was such a poor decision. Do not get me started with Ross, why was he so unlikeable?... They were all also terrible friends to each other and to other people. A lot of backstabbing and lying.”

“All in all, ‘Friends’ is the perfect background noise while you scroll through your social media apps. Other than that, re-watching the series unironically in this day and age will have you wanting to scream at the TV,” Tabibzada added.

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. 

And for industry insiders, including Mazen Hayek, who was 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) at the time of this interview conducted to celebrate the show's 25th anniversary in 2019, the show is 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.”

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.”


Art, a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Art therapy is super effective. (Supplied)
Art therapy is super effective. (Supplied)
Updated 02 August 2021

Art, a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Art therapy is super effective. (Supplied)
  • Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them

JEDDAH: Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues.
Art can be a calming activity that some take on as a hobby or make a living, while it can also be part of a therapeutic approach used by mental health professionals to heal and treat those in need.
The stigma of seeking professional help has declined in the past few years in the Kingdom and psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.
Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them.

Anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses.

Rawan Bajsair, Art therapist

Rawan Bajsair, a registered and board-certified art therapist in Jeddah, described it as a playful, non-threatening and non-invasive approach to tap into someone’s psyche.
“Art therapy is super effective. It’s a field that’s very hard to explain in words how effective it is, but I think anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses,” she told Arab News.
She spoke of two cases she helped to treat while in the US early in her career. One of her earliest clients in art therapy was a 55-year-old woman who was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.

HIGHLIGHT

Psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.

“She’d been hospitalized a number of times and went through different kinds of therapy until she landed on art therapy, which she continued practicing for 12 years. She truly showed me the therapeutic power of creativity and art through her work and experience with this form of therapy,” she said, adding that the success lay in how the client felt protected while having the freedom to express herself.
One of the most significant cases she worked on was with a 19-year-old male, who chose to be called Felix, who she treated in rehab.
She said clients that come to the clinic are usually defensive due to their court mandate. “When Felix first joined my art therapy group he was like most of the clients — none of them really wanted to make art, they thought it was childish.”
After offering some tools and explaining the process of experimenting without any expectation of the product, “some people would just play around with the tools and not actually make anything out of it, and that on its own is therapeutic.”
In the case of Felix, one of the things she offered him was a rubber stamp that printed out jars.
“I just demonstrated how he could use it and I noticed week by week he would place a print on more jars and he would experiment on different kinds of paper and it was really therapeutic at the time for him because when you think about printmaking, you really put the weight of your body into it, and there’s some kind of release that comes with painting that can be really healing, especially for past traumas.”
Felix printed jars that stayed empty for weeks and then would add something little inside the jar every week using different art materials.
“As the weeks went by, I looked at his artwork and I would see him putting his materials in these jars and he’d put some of his graffiti tag names onto them,” she said.
“Towards the end he looked at me and said: ‘So this is a safe space?’ He was talking about the jars and that’s when I got the idea of a whole book chapter that I wrote (Art Therapy Practices for Resilient Youth) about how clients can find safe spaces within these jars, whether its substance use patients or those who suffered trauma, a safe space is one of the biggest and most important component of psychotherapy.”
Educating the public through art is another aspect of using art as a medium.
Shahad Al-Sonare, 27, a clinical psychologist, believes that art is a tool to relay information and get your message across. “I usually draw to express my own feelings, so I decided to express the feelings of my patients. I convey their pain through my art to educate the world on these cases. I’ll be their medium,” she told Arab News.
Over the past two years she has drawn six pieces of art that embody her patients’ experiences, and said she will use the art as a means of education.
For issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and learning disabilities, she has found that by incorporating it into her work she is able to embody her patients struggles in a way that can be understood without the need for words.
In 2020 and 2021, Al-Sonare’s experience of teaching an autistic child in a classroom full of non-autistic children motivated her to raise awareness about autism.
“The school and other teachers didn’t understand his condition; he is actually very smart. It was sad to witness that I was the only one (teacher) who knew that there is nothing wrong with the child’s learning ability.”
“I was his eyes, ears and tongue. I was trying to educate all teachers, admins and principals on such cases. I experienced his pain through this experience and when I drew the autism piece, I wrote, ‘I’m not different, I’m just unique,’” Al-Sonare said.
“I feel like the best way someone could explain psychological cases is through pictures. Just like the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ it’s more descriptive and opens the viewer’s heart to the case,’ she said.


Heidi Klum, Chrissy Teigen dazzle in Mideast gowns on Italian red carpet

Supermodel Heidi Klum opted for an ensemble by Elie Saab for a gala in Capri. (Getty Images)
Supermodel Heidi Klum opted for an ensemble by Elie Saab for a gala in Capri. (Getty Images)
Updated 01 August 2021

Heidi Klum, Chrissy Teigen dazzle in Mideast gowns on Italian red carpet

Supermodel Heidi Klum opted for an ensemble by Elie Saab for a gala in Capri. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: US social media star Chrissy Teigen and US-German supermodel Heidi Klum showed off gowns by Lebanon’s leading designers at the Luisaviaroma for UNICEF Gala in Italy on Saturday.

Held in Capri, celebrities from around the world dazzled on the red carpet at the glitzy event, with Teigen opting for a gown by Zuhair Murad and Klum showing off an ensemble by Elie Saab.

Teigen’s feather-fringed gown hailed from Murad’s Spring/ Summer 2021 Couture collection and featured a plunging neckline along with lashings of shimmering sequins on a blush colored background.

The collection was inspired by Lebanon’s iconic cedar tree, which is visible on the country’s flag.

“The inspiring collection celebrates the freshness of woods, featuring iridescent shades, light fabrics, and sensual textures, from tulle and silk muslin to gazar, lurex, and crêpe georgette. Outfits paint the reflection of a misty forest at the dawn of a summer day: Powdery skies, pink clouds, sandy shades of beige and gray, sheer aquatic green or deeper leaf greens, and of course, silver, lots of silver specks outlining the trunk, sap and dew of birch trees,” a statement on the luxury label’s website reads.

Teigen is a loyal fan of the Beirut-based fashion house and often looks to the designer to dress her for important events. 

Who can forget the 87th Academy Awards in 2015, when the model opted for a heavily-beaded gown that boasted a sleeved bodice and a skirt with a thigh-high split? 

Just weeks before that, Teigen attended the Golden Globe Awards ceremony wearing a blush pink dress by Zuhair Murad.

Meanwhile, supermodel Klum was equally stunning in a heavily beaded, one-shoulder Elie Saab number. The floor-grazing gown boasted a thigh-high slit, as well as a decadent bow on one shoulder and a slinky chain belt at the waist. Geometric beading across the length of the dress added sparkle, while Klum’s pared back hair and makeup let the show-stopping gown shine on the red carpet.

The gala took place on Saturday and marked high-end retailer Luisaviaroma’s third year of partnership with UNICEF, with proceeds from the fundraiser set to go to “all children in need,” according to a released statement.


UAE show sees 38 artists take part in experiment based on childhood game

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)
The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)
Updated 31 July 2021

UAE show sees 38 artists take part in experiment based on childhood game

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)

DUBAI: Curators Sarah Daher and Anna Bernice just unveiled a playful exhibition in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue featuring 38 UAE-based artists.

The exhibition, titled “After the Beep,” was the culmination of a two-month long creative exercise with the artists, in which they were asked to participate in a reactive creative exercise where they responded with new work to the work of another artist in the spirit of the childhood game “Broken Telephone.”

All artists only saw the one work that was produced directly before them in the chain and were given 48 hours from seeing the work to submit their new artworks.

The show, which closed on July 31 and was staged at Satellite gallery, featured 40 artworks from artists including Andrew Riad, Athoub Albusaily, Rabab Tantawy, Danabelle Gutierrez, Mashael Alsaie and Maryam Al-Huraiz, among others.

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)

Co-curator Daher is a Lebanese curator, researcher and writer who graduated with a BA in Theater and Economics from New York University Abu Dhabi and recently completed her Masters in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art in London. Meanwhile, Bernice is an independent arts and culture writer, culture researcher and curator based in Dubai who also graduated with a BA from New York University Abu Dhabi.

According to the press release, “the organizers were intrigued to discover what creating looks like without the pressure of perfection, and to explore how creative inspiration transcends through different artworks and artists.”

The open call for artist participation was released in May 2021 via Instagram under the title “Telephone.”

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums. (Maria Daher)

“Three months of working with a very special group of 38 artists has produced a fantastically rich body of new work culminating in what might be the largest group show Dubai has seen in recent years,” Daher commented on Instagram about the show.

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums.

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums. (Maria Daher)

 


British presenter Maya Jama steps out in Lebanese look in London

British TV and radio star Maya Jama has co-presented several BBC shows. (Getty Images)
British TV and radio star Maya Jama has co-presented several BBC shows. (Getty Images)
Updated 31 July 2021

British presenter Maya Jama steps out in Lebanese look in London

British TV and radio star Maya Jama has co-presented several BBC shows. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: British TV and radio presenter Maya Jama showed off a creative look by Lebanese fashion house Azzi & Osta at an event in London late last week.

Jama, 26, opted for a sage green jumpsuit by the Lebanese design duo when she attended a launch event hosted by sports streaming service DAZN Boxing in London.

Featuring a ribbed bodice with semi-sheer, cuffed sleeves and a sharply tailored lower half, the creative design hails from Azzi & Osta’s Ready-to-Wear Collection 6, which “reimagines nineties grunge and glamour for the modern woman,” according to the label’s website.

The presenter showed off a jumpsuit by Lebanese fashion house Azzi & Osta. (Getty Images)

“Put my glad rags on for (the) @daznboxing event last night and I cannot wait to start this weekend,” Jama captioned a photo of the outfit on Instagram, where she boasts 2.3 million followers.

Jama’s stylist, Kyle De’Volle, paired the outfit with jewelry by designers Diane Kordas and Lara Heems.

It is not the first time the presenter, who is of Swedish-Somali origin, has stepped out in a design from the Middle East.

In February, she stunned at the Vogue x Tiffany Fashion & Film after party for the 73rd edition of the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) in another look by Azzi & Osta.

The canary-colored, bejeweled gown boasted long, billowing sleeves and a smattering of hand-embroidered purple, blue and white sequins on the bodice.

The designers, Assaad Osta and George Azzi, most recently decided to pay homage to the art of perfumery for their joint label’s Fall 2022 couture collection.

Released in June, the 23-piece offering boasts custom-made floral fabric, printed in 3D with verbena and patchouli and dresses cut in the shape of a vase, as well as gowns embroidered with precious ingredients including orange blossom, peach bud, patchouli, magnolia, fig, neroli and myrtle.

In an effort to incorporate eco-conscious practices into their designs, the couturiers opted for faux fur and feathers in the collection. Adding to this conscious practice, the couturiers also utilized raffia, a natural and renewable woven fiber, in the looks.

The label has been worn by the likes of Beyonce, Cardi B, Kendall Jenner and Queen Rania of Jordan.


5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers
Zuhair Murad Fall 2021 couture. Supplied
Updated 30 July 2021

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers

DUBAI: The recent Paris Haute Couture Week brought with it an array of wedding dresses that brides-to-be – and even those not yet engaged – will surely have their hearts set on.

For this year’s fall, Middle Eastern couturiers have presented a range of ethereal dresses for the big day. Here are the best wedding dresses by the industry’s top Arab designers from fall 2021 couture shows.

Zuhair Murad

The Lebanese fashion designer closed out his fall 2021 couture show with a glamorous, heavily embellished bridal gown embroidered with intricate pearls that evoked the opulent chandeliers of a palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal.

Elie Saab

The embroidered buds and petals that emerge and unfold across the princess-worthy gown are emblematic of rebirth and renewal.

Rami Kadi

Fit for royalty, Kadi’s couture bridal gown is delicately embellished with crystals, sequins, and beads in a baroque design.

Georges Chakra

The ethereal, pure white gown is adorned with symmetrical crystals and a cape nouveau pouring from the shoulders in white tulle with ribbons of satin.

Georges Hobeika

As with every Georges Hobeika creation, embroidery and embellishments played a big role in amping up the glamour on this off-the-shoulder gown.