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Could it be any more fun? The Friends exhibit comes to Seattle

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

This spring, the epitome of '90s nostalgia is in Seattle in the form of the Friends Experience at Pacific Place. For a limited time, fans of the hit television series can explore exclusive set re-creations, learn behind-the-scenes secrets, and enact iconic scenes .

Why Friends is still relevant nearly 30 years later
Despite first airing nearly 30 years ago, Friends is still as relevant as ever. For older viewers who grew up alongside Rachel, Ross, Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe, the sitcom's current appeal is nostalgia. Gen X and millennials can watch the show and reminisce about the fashions, celebrities, and events of the '90s. For some, the show also evokes memories of life in their twenties.

Even though most Gen Z fans were born after the series wrapped its final season, Friends still ranks as one of the most popular sitcoms for that generation, maybe from watching reruns on TBS and Nick at Night with their parents or bingeing the whole series on Netflix. For them, the show provides a glorified version of the '90s, a magical time when a waitress and young chef could (supposedly) afford a glamorously huge New York City apartment. It was a time when everyone, even a paleontologist, was incredibly attractive.

The problem with Friends
For anyone who viewed the show at a young age, Friends set unachievably high expectations for what life in your twenties should look like. It also pushed harmful stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community, gender roles, body image, and BIPOC people.

The first two seasons of the series show Ross's divorce from Carol. Though merely a side character, Carol is a Lesbian. Her identity as such often makes her the butt of jokes and is used to show just how emasculated Ross is after learning that he had spent years in a relationship with a Queer woman. The show only uses Carol's sexuality to write her out of Ross's life and refuses to examine the possibility that her character could have been Bisexual and genuinely attracted to Ross while they were together.

The show falls into a pattern of Bi erasure, not only with Carol but also in many portrayals of Phoebe. Despite the character sometimes expressing attraction to women (in a way that is dismissed or joked about), she also declares in one episode, "Sometimes men love women, sometimes men love men, and then there are Bisexuals, though some say they're just kidding themselves..."

Friends also banks on using Queerness to emasculate their characters. Men who share close relationships, like Chandler and Joey, are often mocked for "acting Gay." In one episode, Phoebe attempts to turn a Gay male friend straight, and in several others, Chandler's parent, who is a Trans woman, is constantly dead-named and misgendered.

Aside from the show's treatment of LGBTQ characters, its heterosexual relationships often normalize toxic behavior. The men routinely objectify the women, disrespect them, and cheat on them. Their behavior is charming, humorous, or just "boys being boys." The women who draw attention to this behavior are portrayed as "crazy radical feminists" overcome by their emotions.

While there are numerous critiques of the series, from its portrayals of Trans women to the lack of nearly any BIPOC characters, it remains enduring for its '90s nostalgia. And when viewed with a critical lens, there are still ways to enjoy the show for what it was at the time, while also acknowledging how it reflected the often oppressive societal norms of 30 years ago.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

It's still fun to play pretend
While Queer realists may understand that they'll never be able to sit in a coffee shop all day, afford Monica's apartment, or successfully maintain a friend group of more than five people, the Friends Experience allows fans to play make-believe for a day. If people can cast aside feminist critiques of the medieval period to enjoy a renn faire, then they can surely forget some of the poorly aged themes of the classic sitcom for a day.

The exhibit immediately transports fans to New York City in the 1990s. Even though people will feel like they've time-traveled, workers at the Friends Experience know we're living in postpandemic 2023. To keep everyone safe and healthy, they keep everything not just clean but "Monica clean." Each room has multiple hand-sanitizing and disinfecting stations, which guests are encouraged to use after handling anything.

The experience begins with fans being escorted through the iconic purple door. On the other side, the orange couch from the title sequence sits in front of a replica of the famous New York fountain. Groups are encouraged to begin their tour by posing for a professional photographer.

Photos by Lindsey Anderson  

The tour continues with behind-the-scenes looks at the creation process of the show. Groups can look at early sketches by the show's costume designer Debra McGuire. Even before casting actors, she had planned out what hair and clothes their characters would wear. In an interview, she explains her thought process for each character and how she used fashion to convey their unique personalities.

Not only do fans get to see the creation process, but they are also shown real-life pieces of the wardrobe. Mannequins decked out in some of the series' most iconic looks give perspective on just how small some of the actors were. Fans can also pose as Joey in all of Chandler's clothes.

The experience doesn't stop with the wardrobe. Fans can walk around both the boys' and girls' apartments, sit in the BarcaLoungers, and even look out from Monica's balcony. The experience provides plenty of professional photo opportunities as well, in which people can pretend to pivot Ross's couch up the stairs, drop cheesecake in the hallway, and enjoy a (pretend) cup of coffee at Central Perk.

Fans who grew up with Friends can finally feel included in the narrative, even if they aren't rich, white, cis, or straight, like the original group. The Friends Experience is a perfect way to rewrite the show that shaped how we view young adulthood today.

The Friends Experience is running until April 30. Tickets can be bought at https://www.seattle.friendstheexperience.com/.