"Let Me Tell You" is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They publish each Tuesday so you’re hearing from us each week. Last time, Things to Do Editor Rossilynne Skena Culgan explored how to plan to perfect fall day in NYC.
In addition to baking pumpkin pie, eating mashed potatoes and going to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, I have another Thanksgiving tradition each year: Watching all the Friends Thanksgiving episodes. That’s why I jumped at the chance this fall to finally try “The FRIENDS Experience: The One in New York City." Get your ticket here.
It's basically an immersive museum celebrating the '90s sitcom. As a superfan (one who's painfully aware of the show's faults), I didn't expect much from the experience. I've been to more than my fair share of immersive exhibits, after all. But I left this Flatiron District museum feeling even more charmed by the show and impressed by the work that went into making the sitcom (and the museum) a reality.
For me, the worst part of the experience was actually the beginning. I waited for quite a while in a small room until it seemed enough visitors arrived for the staff to turn on a video of highlights from the show. Then the group had to wait in line again for photos with the iconic orange crushed velvet couch from the show’s credits. After that, though, the crowd of people spread out and we could go through the museum at our own pace, and that’s where the museum hits its stride.
Photo opportunities abound. After the iconic TV show credits moment, there’s a chance to pose with the “Pivot” couch, a backdrop that looks like the Vegas chapel, and a photo opp with Phoebe’s grandma’s taxi. You can even pose on top of Pat the Dog, snap a photo with the giant poking device and take a selfie in Monica’s apartment. Using high-quality cameras, staff take photos at each spot, which you can purchase at the end. But staff will also take free photos with your cell phone if you ask.
It's not just a selfie museum, though. There's a fascinating display featuring the show's costume designer Debra McGuire where you'll learn about her sartorial choices for each character. Another exhibit spotlights artist Burton Morris, whose Pop art pieces decorate Central Perk. Other display cases feature set designs, signed scripts and a statement from the show's producers, Marta Kauffman and David Crane.
That was the inspiration for Friends — that time in your life when your friends are your family.
As the producers explain, they hadn't had much success and just hoped the show would last for a few episodes. They never imagined it would go on to become a cultural phenomenon spanning 10 years and 236 episodes.
"When we lived in New York, we were part of a group of six friends. We hung out all the time. We were all each other's best friends. We were like a family. So when we were trying to come up with a new show, it occurred to us to look back at that point in our lives," they said in the statement. "That was the inspiration for Friends — that time in your life when your friends are your family."
In another room, floor-to-ceiling display cases highlight some of the most beloved props from the show. There's a collection of Monkeyshine beer, the ill-fated list pitting "Rachem" against Julie, Phoebe's dollhouse, the turkey Monica wears on her head when wooing Chandler, Joey/Chandler's friendship bracelet and lots more. Other display cases feature outfits from the show, ranging from the Holiday Armadillo to Phoebe's "Supergirl" costume.
Janice’s ear-piercing “Oh My Gawd” rings throughout the space. Beloved quotes from the show decorate the walls like Monica’s “Welcome to the real world…it sucks!” Posters showcase Joey’s TV credits, like “Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E.” and the gameshow “Bamboozled.”
Continue on to find a real-life version of Monica's apartment, complete with a balcony, an exact replica of the kitchen and a Thanksgiving dinner on the table. A photograph with the yellow picture frame is a must.
Across the hall, there's the boys' apartment with two recliners (RIP, Rosita), Joey's oversized entertainment unit and Hugsy the penguin in a glass case. A Magna Doodle on the back of the door reads "Chandler Bing, 4EVER LOVE" as a tribute to the late Matthew Perry.
Finally, and fittingly, you'll end up in a stunningly accurate version of Central Perk where you can pose with Central Perk mugs and even order an actual coffee drink. (For $40-$45/ticket, I think one coffee drink should be included in the ticket price, for what it's worth).
That's just a quick overview of the experience. So, so many more Easter eggs await for fans of the show to discover. I relished the chance to discover those little details at every turn.
But what I loved even more was witnessing the diversity of attendees (an interesting observation considering the show's embarrassing lack of diversity). I toured alongside guests of all ages speaking a variety of languages. While some, like me, traveled just a few blocks for this experience, others had clearly traveled many miles.
I grew up in a rural Rust Belt town absolutely entranced by Friends—the humor, the endless supply of coffee, the peek at a way of living so different from my own. Yes, I know the film was shot mostly on a set in California, but as a kid who only knew life with tractors, single-family homes and a culturally offensive school mascot, the idea of life anywhere else was a revelation.
I looked up to these characters—however flawed—for forging their own paths, each one of them pursuing their dreams in New York City, a place where you could be a paleontologist, a massage therapist, an assistant buyer, a chef, an actor, a copywriter. I delighted in tuning in for a dose of their joie de vivre, and The Friends Experience captures that energy so well.
Now, as I age beyond the characters whose 1990s lives are preserved in amber in the show, I realize the joie de vivre of living in New York City and pursuing your dreams doesn’t always hold up. There’s no time for me to sit in coffee shops and chit-chat all day, and let’s not even talk about the unrealistic size of Monica’s apartment.
Nevertheless, it's impossible to deny that Friends shaped me and so many others. That's why I'll be rewatching all of the Thanksgiving episodes this week (here's an episode list if you want to partake as well). And that's why I wholeheartedly recommend The Friends Experience to fellow fans—it couldn't BE any better.