The One with an All-Black Cast: Gabrielle Union hosts a star-studded 'Friends' table read

By Kenisha Alexander

You would be hard pressed to find one person who has owned a TV within the last 20 years, who hasn’t watched at least one episode of the iconic sitcom Friends.

Centred around a group in their 20s living in New York City, the series tackled everything from dating and career changes to living with unkempt roommates, sprinkled with perpetual comic relief. Even though its impressive 10 season run came to a close nearly 16 years ago it has still maintained somewhat of a cult-like following, with Netflix reporting it was among its top 10 most streamed series last year.

Having said that, 16 years is a long time, and there have been quite a few changes in the television industry and entertainment industry as a whole. Many have praised the series for having the ability to captivate an audience so long after it has been off the air, but there has been equally increasing criticism of the sitcom for the lack of diversity in its cast members. This is especially the case, considering the series is based in New York City, an area particularly known for its multiculturalism.

So, when it was announced there would be a table read of one of its most popular episodes featuring an all-Black, star studded cast, fans everywhere rejoiced.

The virtual event took place via Zoom, and was produced in support of Michelle Obama’s non-profit organization, When We All Vote. Hosted by the stunning Gabrielle Union, the table read featured an all-star cast of Sterling K. Brown and his real life partner, Ryan Bathe as Ross and Rachel, Insecure’s Kendrick Sampson as Joey, recent Emmy winner Uzo Aduba as Phoebe, Aisha Hinds as Monica, and Jeremy Pope as Chandler. The group of talented actresses and actors re-imagined "The One Where No One's Ready," an episode from season 3 of the series. It was perfect for a table read, as it takes place in only one location.

The episode was introduced with a soul-melting rendition of the iconic "I'll Be There For You" theme song by British soultress and Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo, and went on to feature outstanding performances from the entire cast. The episode was produced by Emmy nominee Stephanie Allain and directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield.

While the script was mostly an exact replica of the already existing show, there were subtle yet appropriate changes. For example, Sterling changed one of Ross's lines from "It's starting to rain. That will make it easier to get a cab" to "It's starting to rain. That will make it easy for a Black man to get a cab." Changes like this help to remind the audience that not only is diversity key for representation, but also helps to legitimize context and make content more relatable.

Unsurprisingly fans on social media praised Sterling for his performance as Ross, and there were many who could also appreciate the undeniable chemistry between him and his wife Ryan. One Twitter user claimed Sterlin was able to make Ross "likeable."

The table read came as the second episode of the "Zoom Where it Happens" series and was produced in an effort to "raise awareness, intention, and activation around voting rights." To gain access to the virtual event, audience members had to sign up to receive messaging on how and why to vote in the upcoming American election in an effort to increase Black voter turnout. Each cast member also shared their own plans for voter registration, and encouraged audience members to do the same.

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