During its decade-long run, Friends embedded itself into our cultural psyche in a way that few television shows have managed before or since. It is a sign of its enduring appeal that, almost twenty years since the final episode aired, and at a time of unrivalled competition from streaming and on-demand services, new generations are still making friends with our favourite Manhattan residents.
The deep affection that so many people continue to have for the show has been evident in the tributes paid to Matthew Perry all over social media. His tragic and untimely death has evoked a renewed appreciation for his comedic talent which found perfect expression in Chandler Bing.
Despite his many film and television credits, it will inevitably be Chandler for whom he is best remembered. Bing’s social awkwardness and, pre-Monica, his relationship woes and uninspiring job, arguably made him the most relatable of the gang. Perry played him with a warmth and affection that kept fans rooting for Chandler throughout the series.
The widespread sense of shock and sadness following Perry’s passing is a testament to the broad impact of Friends. In addition to the emotional investment in the characters’ lives, the show has also influenced viewers linguistically and stylistically.
“As a musician, I was honoured to have the opportunity to play Ross’s keyboard and Phoebe’s guitar.”
As any Friends fan will tell you, engagement with the show doesn’t switch off when the credits roll. You automatically insert fragments of dialogue into everyday conversation – I have been known to use the word ‘pivvvoooot’ regularly. Similarly, at a recent hotel buffet, upon clocking a bouncy plate dispenser, it took every ounce of self-restraint I had to suppress the urge to push and mess with it, á la Parker (Alec Baldwin) in season 8.
Given all this, it would have been remiss of me not to visit The Friends Experience, which recently opened in central Dublin. Here, fans can indulge in a plethora of photo opportunities at reconstructions of the famous apartments and coffee shop. You can have your photo taken on the orange couch to recreate the opening fountain sequence or ride astride Pat the Dog.
As a musician, I was honoured to have the opportunity to play Ross’s keyboard and Phoebe’s guitar – with moments like this, you won’t run out of potential social media profile pics. It is also lovely to be surrounded by other Friends fans and witness their enjoyment. My quiet moment at the window ledge in Monica and Rachel’s apartment was hilariously interrupted by people looking for ugly naked guy (without success – thankfully!)
Besides photo ops, what else does the experience have to offer? Guests are welcomed to the exhibit with a video of Maggie Wheeler (Janice) explaining the show’s history and providing visitor do’s and don’ts.
Original set drawings, costume sketches and video interviews with costume designer Debra McGuire are also displayed. But as someone who has spent far too much time combing the internet for clothes that could help me recreate Rachel’s wardrobe – I was disappointed by the outfits on display. Perhaps some superfans will recognise the admittedly ordinary selection of costumes shown, but considering how many iconic and colourful costumes were in the show – it was a missed opportunity.
“It doesn’t go far enough in echoing the imaginative and immersive world of the series; for the €32 I paid, I expected more interactivity than twiddling Foosball handles.”
A few amusing props are showcased, including Rachel’s unorthodox spin on the English trifle and Joey’s ‘bedtime penguin pal’ Hugsy. There is also an amusing display entitled ‘Who’s dated whom?’ charting the characters’ love lives as a kind of city metro map, with all the stops and starts and interchanges between them.
It was fun to see a wall of graphics relating to storylines from the series: posters for Chandler’s college band ‘Way, No Way’ and adverts looking for a nanny for baby Emma, as well as Ross’ ‘Science Boy’ comic.
These are all nice touches, and the brief background of the creative elements is interesting. But while there is no question that the sets have been faithfully recreated with excellent attention to detail, this is ultimately geared towards the Instagram generation. It is a glorified photo opportunity.
In my opinion, it doesn’t go as far as it could in echoing the imaginative and immersive world of the series; for the thirty-two euro I paid I expected more interactivity than twiddling Foosball handles.
Of course, venue logistics will dictate what can and can’t be included in each city this tour stops at, but I and several other visitors wondered aloud why there was no themed coffee shop to provide a real Central Perk experience at the end.
The absence of any overall sound design element also left the atmosphere lacking; this could have been easily solved through much more integration of show clips to enhance the set recreations.
After all, while the series influenced haircuts and outfits, it is the performances and dialogue that have kept people watching, laughing and crying. And now paying to sit on a sofa.