When Friends: The Reunion hit Chinese streaming services on Thursday (May 27), about six minutes of footage — featuring BTS, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga — are censored.
According to Variety, the 104-minute reunion special was acquired by the country’s major streaming platforms — iQiYi, Tencent Video and Alibaba’s Youku — and all three services streamed an edited version of the show.
It’s unknown whether the streamers were acting on a government directive, or if they did it on their own accord to avoid incurring the wrath of the powers that be and the country’s infamous nationalist internet trolls.
Either way, the cuts made were inconsistent, with iQiYi excising the most footage (six minutes), followed by Tencent Video (about five minutes), and Youku (four minutes, give or take).
Friends has a huge fanbase in China — they credited the sitcom with introducing them to American culture and teaching them English — and the peeved devotees took to Weibo to air their grouses.
Per Variety, one ticked-off netizen wrote: “Are we reverting to the isolationist Qing dynasty, closed off to the rest of the world?”
Another commenter complained (per BBC): “Help! Are we never going to move on and change? This will just make me want to find out more about the cut scenes.”
BTS, Lady Gaga and Bieber are been singled out because they have offended China authorities in the past.
Chinese viewers didn’t get to see BTS’s appearance in the special where they share their love of the sitcom, which K-pop group’s leader RM says, “really taught me things about life and true friendship.”
BTS angered China last year over comments RM made about the Korean War. While receiving an award celebrating the cultural relations between the US and South Korea, RM mentioned the two countries’ shared “history of pain” during the 1950-53 conflict. Some netizens found the comments insulting, as China backed the North in the war.
Gaga — who performs ‘Smelly Cat’ with Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe — also didn’t make the cut because the singer has been blacklisted by Beijing ever since she met with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in 2016.
Censors also didn’t approve Bieber who appears on the special dressed as Spudnik, the potato and satellite-combination suit that David Schwimmer’s Ross once wore to a Halloween party.
The Canadian pop star got on the wrong side of China in 2014 after he posted on Instagram about a visit he made to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, not knowing that the memorial honours Japanese WWII war criminals and is seen in China and South Korea as a painful reminder of Japan’s aggressive past.
Besides the abovementioned exclusions, regulators also removed LGBTQ references — including a tribute from German fan Ricardo, who says, “I was a gay man who wanted to have hair like Jennifer Aniston, so you can imagine how lonely I sometimes felt” — as well as seemingly harmless shots like Matt Leblanc’s Joey in a bathrobe with Ross’ photo pasted on the front of his underwear. (Go figure.)
Friends: The Reunion is an unscripted show where Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer get together to wax nostalgic about their time on the iconic sitcom. The special was filmed at the series’ original soundstage, Stage 24, on the Warner Bros Studio lot in Burbank, California.
In Singapore, Friends: The Reunion, rated NC16, is streamed uncut on HBO Go.
Photos: Screengrabs/HBO Go, HBO Max