When I was a kid, whenever I told out-of-towners I was from New York, their eyes would light up and they'd say, "That's so cool! Do you go to Central Perk all the time?" It was then my sad duty to inform them that though their beloved TV show Friends took place in New York, it was actually filmed on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles, which is the true home of Central Perk, as well as the fountain in which the characters frolic during the opening credits.
Indeed, the NYC that Friends creates is mostly fictional, and not just because they keep leaving babies alone in unlocked apartments and there are only a handful of people of color. But even though the street scenes look like nothing you'd actually find in the Village, there are still some moments in the show that speak truths about the city. Below, we've compiled some of our favorites.
When Ross buys a couch in the Season 5 episode "The One With The Cop," he makes a typical walk-up resident's mistake—he refuses to pay extra for delivery. The fact is, getting a couch up or down a narrow stairwell never works out, unless you are a trained professional who can magically manipulate furniture. Ross learns his lesson the hard way, of course, but his mistake meant one of the best moments in Friends history: PIVOT.
"YEAH, WE HAVE RAT BABIES NOW."
There exists an odd bond between a New Yorker and their pest infestation, one explored accordingly in the Season 9 episode "The One With Phoebe's Rats." When Phoebe accidentally kills Bob, the low-fat Triscuit eating rat that lives in her cupboard, she feels compelled to raise Bob's tiny babies. This does not go over well with the rest of the crew, and even her boyfriend Mike (Paul Rudd), who is a good sport, finally convinces her to give the rat babies up. I once named all the cockroaches who lived in my closet so I'd be less afraid of them when they jumped out and surprised me. I feel your pain, Phoebes.
"SO THIS IS BROOKLYN?"
Obviously Brooklyn is its own monster now, but back in the Friends era, it wasn't the same Soho extension it is today—I recently found a 1998 NY Mag issue whose listings only included two Brooklyn restaurants. Times, they change, and in the Season 7 episode "The One With The Cheap Wedding Dress," Brooklyn is merely a place to fight over discount clothing at a Loehman's knockoff. Indeed, I remember going to Borough Park with my mother to get cheap shoes for my bat mitzvah around the time this episode came out, so I think this holds up.
WHEN CHANDLER PLAYS TOURIST
I am a native New Yorker and I have never been to the Statue of Liberty, a fact I am so proud of I brag about it in my Gothamist staff bio. [Editor's note: The Statue of Liberty is actually a wonderful symbol of hope, and we highly recommend humbling yourself by visiting this goddess of freedom.] The mark of a true New Yorker is a deep aversion to tourist spots, as exhibited by Chandler in the Season 10 episode: "The One Where Joey Speaks French." Of course, as Chandler ends up discovering, some tourist spots are pretty cool (though they could do with fewer tourists).
Blackouts in NYC can be dangerous—when they happen during the summer it can be hard to stay cool, for instance; if you're not at home when the lights go out, it can be pretty difficult to get there, and as we saw in 1977, there was always the threat of an uptick in crime. On the other hand, when you're young in a blackout or snowstorm or hurricane, getting trapped somewhere with your friends is a good excuse to get drunk and hook up with people you shouldn't, which is more or less what happens in the Season One episode: "The One With The Blackout."
Everyone in New York either has a bad neighbor or is a bad neighbor, or both. I once lived next to an electronica band whose preferred practice time was 4 a.m., I currently live below someone who wouldn't turn off her leaking radiator so it tore open my ceiling, and in my first apartment I threw loud parties that drove my neighbors crazy. There's always something. In the Friends universe, there's Mr. Heckles, who complains incessantly about Monica and Rachel making noise—though in an unusual twist, he's the upstairs neighbor, and usually the upstairs neighbor is the worst.
THE NEW ROOMMATE
Letting a stranger move into your apartment is a real gamble—I'd tell you my Craigslist roommate horror story but I'm still afraid they'll somehow find me and leave a horse head in my bed. When Joey moves out in Season 2, Chandler replaces him with Eddie, who he had the misfortune of meeting at the supermarket. It's not a great match. Not only does Eddie not share his passion for Baywatch, but he steals the insoles from Chandler's shoes, watches him when he sleeps, and refuses to move out when Chandler confronts him. Eddie is every terrible roommate, though in a way, we are all Eddie sometimes.
THE NYC SUBWAY CAMEO
One of the weirdest things about Friends' New York is that they don't appear to take public transportation (this also bugs me about Sex and the City). But in the Season One episode "The One Where Underdog Gets Away," we get treated to a rare shot of a '90s subway station, or at least a Warner Bros. recreation of one, thanks to Joey's very unfortunate VD ad. Bonus points for all the extra external NYC shots once that ad becomes ubiquitous—it might ruin Joey's dating life for a bit, but it's fun for the rest of us to revisit Times Square before the M&M store moved in.
THE NYC BUS CAMEO
In Season 2, we got another glimpse of NYC's public transit system when Chandler and Joey leave baby Ben on a bus while attempting to pick up some women. Not only is this clip a good opportunity to see Warner Bros.' rendition of 23rd Street, it's also a reminder of how terribly homophobic (and sexist!) Friends is.
There's been a lot of fuss about how unrealistic Monica's apartment is, both because of its sheer size and the layout. The show repeatedly tried to explain that Monica managed to afford that beast of a place because she was living on her grandmother's rent-controlled lease, and though I still don't buy it, in the Season 4 episode "The One With The Ballroom Dancing," they do address a realistic apartment issue in this town—not pissing off the landlord/super when you're trying to hang onto your under-the-market home. Note that this plot was basically recycled in New Girl, but with less homophobia.
ROSS'S APARTMENT SEARCH
On the other end of the real estate spectrum, in the Season 5 episode "The One Where Ross Moves In," Joey and Chandler try to push Ross to move into a tiny studio so he'll stop crashing at their place. The studio is marketed as harrowing, but it's actually the most realistic apartment on that show, plus a kitchen and bathroom is nothing to sneer at.
ROSS GOES TO AVE A
There is nothing more anxiety-inducing than attempting to get from one side of the city to the other in some limited timeframe, and in the Season 8 episode "The One Where Joey Dates Rachel," Ross has to get from an NYU class in Greenwich Village to one on Avenue A in 10 minutes. It's pretty good. The sprint is real.
OOPS, WRONG AIRPORT
My mother once told me a story about my grandfather nearly missing a flight after he went to Newark instead of JFK, and ever since then I've triple-checked my ticket to make sure I'm not heading to the wrong airport (and I have definitely confused LaGuardia and JFK). So it's fairly fitting that Ross goes to JFK to chase down Rachel in "The Last One," when Rachel's actually leaving from Newark—indeed, he's fulfilling a very legitimate fear harbored by New Yorkers. Of course, the sad, drab terminal Rachel's flying out of would be more realistic if it were at LaGuardia.
EXTREMELY UNREALISTIC SKYLINE
Technically this Season 7 moment is not a great NYC one, with a very obvious, phoned-in NYC in the background. Almost looks like one of those NYC skyline shower curtains!