Things were a little different 25 years ago, when NBC’s iconic sitcom, Friends, aired for the first time. It was a time when answering machines and pagers were used to contact people, when cassette tape was the preferred mode for listening to music, when laptops were not commonly used. That time seems so far away from today’s world, as smartphones dramatically changed our whole lifestyle of communicating, dating, shopping and everything. Yet it feels so close to us, when the familiar “Friends” theme song, “I’ll Be There For You” starts and the lives of six old friends unfold in a coffee shop in Manhattan.
The immersive “Friends” Activation, “The One in Santa Monica,” brings visitors back to the 90s.. A life-size replica of Central Perk made with more than one million LEGO bricks reproduced the scene where friends hang out. The art installation was created by artist Nathan Sawaya, an American artist known for his work with standard LEGO toy bricks.
“It brings you back the memory of the whole show and how long it lasted,” said visitor Javier Figueroa. Figueroa and his wife took their two daughters to the immersive exhibit. “It’s really impressive that the artist put these artworks together and make you feel like you’re in it,” he said.
Fans can interact with the installation, which carefully includes details from the show. On the sofa, friends and families snap photos holding LEGO mugs. Visitors can even play with the exquisitely detailed coffee machine behind the counter. Nostalgic, fun and marvelous, the LEGO Central Perk brings a brand new immersive experience to fans.
Another fun part is an interactive game that offers fun games to test your knowledge of the show. Players will be asked to put scenes in chronological order, which requires players to memorize in which season each scene appears. The next level is matching characters with objects, phrases and places. Lastly, superfans can try trivia to show how well they master the details and vocabulary of “Friends.”
The exhibit has put a lot of effort into channeling the nostalgia of “Friends.” The past 25 years witnessed dramatic change in people’s lives brought by technology developments. A lot of things that used to be commonplace became “antiques,” and often trigger people’s sentimental emotions. We can see the gradual changes in the use of technologies as the story of friends moved along. A huge touchscreen at the exhibit presents a “Friends” Tech Timeline, providing a timeline to explore new tech developments every year with accompanying scenes from associated episodes. Older generations can recognize the lifestyles of the past. Meanwhile, young generations may enjoy learning how fast technologies evolve.
“It’s really interesting to me that kids still watch the show, because of how old it is,” said Bianca Figueroa, Figueroa’s daughter. She thinks the show still has an impact on younger viewers. “The show tells you how reality is going to be when you become older. It shows how they deal with reality in life in a funny and sarcastic way, and also teaches you life lessons,” she said.
So many years have passed since the six friends left their apartment keys on the counter and ended a legendary era of television. There are some elements of the show that probably wouldn’t work on TV nowadays, if it was to be made in today’s social climate. For example, racial diversity in “Friends” has always been a topic of contention, as the show mainly cast white actors and actresses. Gender stereotype and even discrimination can be found in some facts such as Ross doesn’t like his son Ben playing with stereotypical “girl’s toys” and that he couldn’t accept a male nanny.
“But there are still lots of episodes that have great comedy moments. I still find it hilarious till this day,” said Molly Stirton, a young big fan from the U.K. who started watching the show when she was a teenager.
“The One in Santa Monica” will be on view until Dec. 23 at the Santa Monica Promenade. More information can be found here.