‘Friends: The Reunion’ isn’t quite the same in China thanks to censorship

Five "Friends" actors sit on and around a couch.
The “Friends” cast appears in Chinese versions of their reunion show, but guest appearances by people who upset China’s censors have been cut.
(Terence Patrick / HBO Max)

Friends: The Reunion” can finally be seen in its entirety by audiences all over the world — unless you’re in China, where parts of the highly anticipated show are sitting on the cutting-room floor.

Censors at the three streaming services that acquired rights to the HBO/HBO Max show apparently have taken the knife to appearances by Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and BTS, according to multiple reports Thursday night. Also axed: LGBTQ references, including cameo appearances by LGBTQ “Friends” fans.

Tencent Video, iQiyi and Alibaba’s Youku all made different trims, according to the Hollywood Reporter. BBC News said the streamers whacked anywhere from four to six minutes from the one-hour, 44-minute show. That included some prudish cuts — don’t look at Joey in a bathrobe with Ross’ picture stuck on his groin! — and politically related trims made to appease the Chinese Communist Party.


Here’s how BTS, Gaga and the Biebs stepped into the persona non grata political fire:

The pair who immortalized the phrase ‘We were on a break!’ confirm their long-rumored attraction in ‘Friends: The Reunion,’ now streaming on HBO Max.

In October, BTS leader RM thanked Korean War veterans for their sacrifices in a speech for an organization promoting U.S.-Korean relations.

“We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together and the sacrifices of countless men and women” in the 1950-53 conflict, he said.

And that was enough to upset Chinese state media and Chinese internet users, because China fought alongside North Korea, which failed in its attempt to annex South Korea.

A long-awaited reunion, after more than a year of racial reckoning, offered ‘Friends’ a chance to own up to its past failings. It didn’t take it.

Lady Gaga met with Tibet’s Dalai Lama for 19 minutes in June 26, shortly before breaking her engagement to “Chicago Fire” actor Taylor Kinney. That — the meeting, not the breakup — was enough to get her and her entire catalog banned from mainland China, which asserts authority over the Himalayan region. The 14th Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since 1959, is considered a separatist by communist authorities.

And finally, Bieber was banned from China over what Beijing’s Municipal Bureau of Culture in a 2017 statement called “bad behavior” that caused “public dissatisfaction.” The singer’s antics during his “Believe” world tour resulted in multiple run-ins with various authorities, making his “Purpose” tour unwelcome in China. Example: Bieber made a scene in the mainland in October 2013 when he was carried up the Great Wall by two of his bodyguards.

Matthew Perry slurred his words in recent interviews for ‘Friends: The Reunion,’ then quit personalized-video site Cameo. But there’s an explanation.

Bieber also published photos of himself in 2014 at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead and is seen by China and both Koreas as problematic due to its inclusion of more than 1,000 World War II veterans who were ultimately convicted of war crimes.

“While in Japan I asked my driver to pull over for which I saw a beautiful shrine,” he explained via Instagram back then. “I was mislead to think the Shrines were only a place of prayer. To anyone I have offended I am extremely sorry. I love you China and I love you Japan.”