Smelly Cat? Censored cat.Photo: HBO Max
As far as inoffensive slabs o’ content, designed for basically everybody on the planet to consume go, it’s pretty hard to beat HBO Max’s recent Friends reunion. “Verily,” the special professes, “We sure did like these six people, and their friends, Unhappy Coffee Shop Manager and Monkey.” The basic appeal of seeing David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, and Matthew Perry hanging out, seeming to genuinely get a kick out of each other, probably would have been enough to push the reunion to new viewership heights, anyway—Variety notes that the special nearly hit the same numbers as the limited release of Wonder Woman 1984. But HBO Max also jammed a bunch of also largely inoffensive celebrity cameos into the proceedings, including appearances from the likes of Justin Bieber, mega-popular K-pop group BTS, and Lady Gaga, paying tribute to the song-stylings of Ms. Phoebe Buffay with her own cover of “Smelly Cat.”
Sadly, one of the planet’s most populous countries was denied the aural delight of a global superstar singing a song about a cat who is sick, as TMZ reports that all three of the above-listed guest appearances got cut from China’s version of the reunion when it streamed on the country’s services. See, Gaga, Bieber, and BTS have all annoyed the Chinese government in the past—Gaga by palling around with the Dalai Lama, Bieber by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine that honors Japan’s war dead (including from its many wars against, and invasions of, China), and BTS through multiple incidents that often highlight the somewhat rocky relationship between South Korea and the much larger Asian nation. And thus were all of them struck from the Chinese version of the special, increasing, by volume if nothing else, how much of it was taken up by James Corden asking largely inane questions instead.
News of the omissions comes as the glut of new streaming services continue to push out into global markets, often weathering the strictures of local governments in the process. (And even then, there’s a reason none of the big streamers have ever tried to launch in China.) As noted by The New York Times, Friends is immensely popular in China, where it reportedly helped many millennial viewers learn English. The Times also points out that this incident comes just a few days after the country exerted its influence on U.S. entertainment in more overt ways, backlashing against F9 star John Cena until he was forced to apologize for stating that Taiwan is a country, since China aggressively contends—regardless of facts or international opinion—that it’s a part of itself.