From 1994 and 2004, there was a constant in my life: Friends. Every week for 10 seasons, I tuned in to see what Phoebe, Monica, Chandler, Joey, Rachel and Ross would get up to next. Phrases like “He’s her lobster,” “We were on a break” and “Pivot” are still in my go-to lexicon to this day. The only time I ever had something resembling a Super Bowl party was in 1996 when the big game was followed by an even bigger event – a two-part episode of Friends that guest starred Julia Roberts.
I have rewatched the show too many times to count over the years. Friends kept me company when I was up all night working on essays for school, when I moved into my first apartment in the big city and when I stayed in hotel rooms on work trips. And this summer, I got to live my full Friends fantasy thanks to The FRIENDS Experience: The One in Toronto.
Unlike other pop-up experiences that have passed through the city, this one felt like more than a photo op; that is intentional.
“[This experience] is about stepping inside the world of Friends, allowing fans to check out the sets, the key moments, all of the things they remember and having that moment of their own,” Stacy Moscatelli, Co-President & Chief Strategy Officer for Superfly X, the producers of The FRIENDS Experience, shared with me before I entered the Toronto installment. “It’s not just about taking a picture, but sitting at Monica’s table or the couch at Central Perk, and reenacting those moments with your friends.”
Like many Friends fans, I’ve been to the Warner Bros. studio tour on more than one occasion and have photos on the iconic Central Perk sofa. This Toronto installation gave me more of what I was craving and allowed me to spend more time living and interacting with that Friends fantasy. “It’s definitely the most in-depth experience, even more so than the studio tour, because we’re dedicating all of the real estate to one show,” said Moscatelli.
The experience itself includes 12 rooms of set recreations. You can have your own “Smelly Cat” moment, kick back in Chandler and Joey’s recliners, channel your inner Rachel and step behind the counter at Central Perk, or reenact the iconic “Pivot!” scene with your BFF. There is also some cool memorabilia like props, costumes, scripts, and even a timeline of Rachel’s hair throughout the seasons.
Toronto is just the latest stop on The FRIENDS Experience tour this year, but the only Canadian location so far.
“We actually had the first pop-up in 2019 in New York, and that was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show,” Moscatelli told us about how this all started. “At that experience, we had James Michael Tyler (Gunther) and Maggie Wheeler (Janice) come in, and the show creators. It meant a lot to them, especially after that much time, to walk onto the set and talk about the show again. We also had The Rembrandts perform the theme song at some of the locations.”
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Of the interactive rooms, I have to admit it was sitting at the table in Monica and Rachel’s kitchen that gave me all the feels. I paused to soak up the ambience, because it’s a spot I’ve always dreamed of seeing. Some of my favourite moments from the show’s 10 seasons took place in that kitchen. It’s been recreated in such intricate detail that I had to marvel over every inch of it. At that moment, I was the closest I’ll ever be to going back in time and being on Stage 24, now named the Friends Stage, on the Warner Bros. lot.
I’ve reflected many times on why fans are still obsessed with Friends — whether they watched during its initial run or discovered it via streaming (like my Gen Z niece who happened to be my plus one for the media preview). Moscatelli summed it up best: “Friends was special to so many people, and this is a great opportunity to remember how much you loved it. For me, Friends was about that time in life when your friends were your family, when you were figuring out life and love and work and all of those things. When people come here, they have a wow moment because it was an important time in their lives, and the show had a big impact.”
Nearly three decades later, Friends is still there for me, and The FRIENDS Experience was the ultimate way to recapture the magic of the show in a way that made me feel like a part of it.
If you’re in Toronto, you can catch The FRIENDS Experience from now through January 2023 at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Or, if you happen to be in NYC, head to the flagship location.
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