A few weeks ago, we were invited to the opening night of The F.R.I.E.N.D.S Experience in Paris by our good friend, Peter Monbailleu, producer extraordinaire and definitely the guy you call if you want to add some rock and roll to your projects. I was really excited at the idea of going, not only to relive some fun 90s nostalgia but also to see some of my good friends who are working on the experience.
The funny thing is that I actually only got into the series Friends when I moved to Paris 12 years ago. I had even gone to a taping of a different series pilot on the same set, but I never really got into it. That was until I moved to Paris. Friends was one of the few shows that I could watch in English which also offered a comforting 'just like home’ feeling. I watched all 10 seasons in my first couple of years of expat life.
So fast forward 12 years to last month and there I was in Paris at The F.R.I.E.N.D.S Experience visiting some old friends and having fun with some new ones. It’s funny how life works out sometimes.
While I was excited to go and play around on the set recreations, Maddy was ecstatic. The thought of stepping into the world of Friends and reliving all her favorite series moments made her giddy with glee. As you can see, Maddy is a HUGE fan of the series. She knows all the episodes by heart the way I know all of Sex and the City (now that’s an experience I’d be thrilled to do!)
But we didn’t just have Maddy with us, we also had mega Friends fan and good friend Karen Rudel (a little plug for Karen - she is a fantastic Paris tour guide and the owner of Sight Seeker’s Delight. Look her up!) Between Maddy and Karen, we had our two resident experts (Friendsperts?)
As it’s a timed experience, you first wait for your allotted time to enter (this is where the excitement really builds). You’re first brought into the world by watching a little pre-experience trailer. This helped set the tone for what’s to come and also informed us on the QR code photo stations. Then, we were invited to walk through the iconic purple door and into the Friends wonderland. That’s when it was game on!
First up was the very first QR photo station. Of course, this was on the iconic couch and fountain setup. We sat on the couch, said cheese, and had our photo sent into cyberspace to then be recovered later.
Then we moved to different behind-the-scenes Friends displays with a variety of Friends content and paraphernalia. The one that Maddy and Karen found the most interesting was Rachel’s ‘letter’. The letter that Ross had fallen asleep reading. It was all there, all 18 pages, front and back!
Then we played around and took a bunch of selfies on the different photo op stations, including the famous ‘pivot’ couch scene and the Central Perks storefront. The photos made us laugh as we tried to recreate the scenes in the series.
While all of that was fun, the main stars of the experience are of course the set recreations: the two apartments, the hallway, and Central Perks Cafe. That’s where everyone spends most of the time, posing, taking photos, and exploring.
However, upon closer inspection, our two experts weren’t fully convinced. To our surprise, the sets were smaller than we expected. (Did they have the same specs as the sound stages? We don’t know, but it was still smaller than what we imagined.) And also the details weren’t exactly right. Mind you, for someone who enjoyed the series but doesn’t know all the trivia, it was fine! But for those die-hard fans, who live, breathe and eat Friends it wasn’t all hunky dory.
That’s when we started wondering who exactly the audience for this experience was. Was it major fans would find all the little flaws? Or people like me who would be happy taking the photos and playing on the sets for a while?
The experience ends at Central Perk. Once we exited from the set, we found the last parts of the experience: the dining space, the additional QR photo set-ups and the store. To our surprise and slight disappointment, none of these elements had been included in the main experience. I would have loved to have eaten at Central Perk Cafe or even a made-up Joey’s Pizza. Or purchased goodies in the apartment. It would have made the retail experience more complete, immersive and enjoyable. Such a fun opportunity lost. But alas, it wasn’t for us to decide!
Overall the experience was a lot of fun. And you not only get to play around in one of the most iconic sets of TV history, but you get your QR photos in the end as well. Score for your Instagram profiles! But our favorite part of the experience, hands down, was the food sold at the dining space after.
The food and beverage are run by my good friend and one fantastic chef, Sonia Guerrero, executive chef at Echo in Paris and Founder of Mango and Chillies. Her Ross’s Thanksgiving Sandwich was to die for and made us finally understand Ross’s epic meltdown when his was eaten by his colleague! If we can recommend one main reason for going to the F.R.I.E.N.D.S Experience is Paris, her food would be it!
Thank you to my amazing Parisian friends, Maddy, Elena and Karen for playing wholeheartedly! And to my old university friend Alex Benamar (whom I hadn't seen in 10 years) for a fantastic job on the sets! It was great to be surrounded by friends at FRIENDS.