‘The Rachel’? Joey & Chandler’s Recliners? They’ll Be There For You at the Atlanta ‘Friends’ Experience
As the familiar lavender-hued, yellow plastic picture frame-accented door slid open to reveal an iconic burnt orange sofa in front of a fountain during a media preview of the Atlanta “Friends” Experience Tuesday afternoon, someone audibly gasped. Yes, even the most cynical and grizzled of veteran Atlanta media types were beaming like the Grinch as he descended Mount Crumpet blowing “Who! Who!” on his trumpet in the last five minutes of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”
In short, that’s the magic of new the Friends Experience opening at Perimeter Pointe in Sandy Springs Thursday, July 15.
After a year and a half of being house-bound during the pandemic (and no doubt binging all ten seasons of the beloved 1994-2004 NBC sitcom plus the new HBO Max reunion special starring Jennifer Anniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer), the “Friends” Experience feels like an immersive TV comfort food hug from old, well, you know.
As we continue to cautiously emerge from a global pandemic that disrupted all aspects of American life, the “Friends” Experience feels right on time, offering a colorful burst of nostalgia, not to mention a series of fan-favorite ultimate selfie situations for you and your besties. From the 1999 fifth season (The One That Should Have Been Called The One Where Ross Buys a New Couch), you and your friends can pose for photos with the sofa wedged on the apartment stairs, all while shouting “Pivot!” to each other.
Fans can even gaze at the box of Grape Nuts and the Cookie Time cookie jar in Monica and Rachel’s apartment, recline in Chandler and Joey’s deluxe “Days of Our Lives”-financed matching leather chairs (from the iconic season two “The One Where Ross and Rachel . . . You Know”) and yes, pose with coffee mugs on that iconic couch inside an eerily accurate Central Perk set, (precise down to the chalkboard menu board).
“We worked directly with the [Warner Brothers] studio so we have a whole set of brand guidelines to work from on how to replicate the props and costumes,” Jonathan Mayers, Founder CEO, Superfly X, the company that produced the Friends Experience told Eldredge ATL. “We used the same designs to build the sets. Because we’re touring, we had to make a few adjustments to build to scale. But from colors to logos, down to the prop styling, we try to make it as exact as can be.”
Among the authentic props under glass? The iconic fez-accented turkey head Monica sports in “The One With All The Thanksgivings” fifth season episode from 1998. There’s even an autographed copy of the original pilot script by creators Kevin S Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane (fun fact: the show was originally called “Six of One”).
There are looped interviews with the creators, original set sketches and even a fun introductory video introduction narrated by Maggie Wheeler (who notably played Chandler’s ex-from-hell Janice) who will undoubtedly convince even the most peckish die-hard “Friends” fan to ditch their beverages and snacks prior to entering the sacred space that is Central Perk.
The first things fans will encounter upon arrival is the iconic coffee shop’s exterior façade, built specifically for the Atlanta Experience, nestled right next to an extensive “Friends” merch shop. Need a purple OH MY GAWD jersey? It’s yours for $49.95.
“We started with the must-haves for fans like Central Perk and then built out from there,” says Mayers. “We re-watched the episodes, we talked to the creators, producers and the team that made the scenic. This is our fourth city —we’ve done New York, our flagship, Chicago and Boston and we’ve used input from fans in each city. We’re continuing to learn from fans in each city about what they want, which episodes are their favorites and how to make this even more immersive.”
To adhere to the most up-to-date COVID health protocols, the producers of the “Friends” Experience have chosen to lean into the compulsive cleaning habits of the show’s resident neat freak, Monica Geller, a woman who once used a vacuum cleaner to clean her vacuum. Or as she pronounces in season nine episode “The One With The Male Nanny,” it’s “Monica Clean.”
In addition to branded Monica Clean hand sanitizer dispensers sprinkled through the Experience, social distancing footprints on the carpet guide guests to stay six feet apart. All Experience goers are also required to wear a mask (with the exception of those aforementioned selfie photo ops throughout where fans can go maskless).
The “Friends” Experience (The One In Atlanta) opens Thursday and runs through Sept. 26 at Perimeter Pointe, 1155 Mount Vernon Hwy, NE, Suite 150, Sandy Springs. Tickets are sold by time and date and must be purchased in advance. And remember, please bring a mask.
Monica would want it that way.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.