A London man has opened an exact replica of Friends' Central Perk. "This makes me feel weird on the inside," wrote my friend. I know what she means: Friends has aged about as well as a bad facelift.
Why do some shows feel so incredibly dated now? Watching the introduction to Friends in its syndicated amber, I physically cringe with embarrassment. Why did I ever watch this? I wonder. And why are they dressed like that? It's like coming face-to-face with a middle-school friend who still wants to listen to Jagged Little Pill on a loop, and to boot has married her 7th Grade boyfriend. Maybe it's because a show was so popular, defined an era and a sensibility - people actually got that haircut, and people imitated Joey, and we actually all wore jeans like that. Hortense, high priestess of pop culture, had a good theory: "I think many shows go through these weird periods where the dated-factor hurts them and later helps them, because people start tuning into the show not as a relevant commentary on their lives, but as a reminder of what their lives were like at the time. You move from making fun of the show for being dated to making fun of yourself for the way you dressed/things you thought were cool in 1994, if that makes any sense."
I agree, but some shows are definitely more prone to it than others Seinfeld, which always existed out of time and never had anything to do with any discernible fashions of the moment, doesn't have the cringe factor, even if it's mellowed from must-see to Raymond-reliable. And Sex and the City, even if it dates itself from season-to-season, feels like a time capsule - like a 2001 Spring collection or something, albeit one you wouldn't have worn. Watching it, you know that they, too, (were they real and not 2-dimensional and underwritten) would scorn to wear a name necklace or an enormous flower or the weirdly androgynous wardrobe they saddled Cynthia Nixon with in early episodes. And, that said, I'd still find it very odd if someone replicated one of the glass-and-steel Cosmo palaces they visited on the show; those locations looked quite bad enough at the time.
Other shows, for me at least, age well. When the Gilmore Girls was on, I despised it. I was very vocal and annoying about it, too, and any timid endorsement would be met with a stream of criticisms of the preciousness, the ersatz cleverness, the incredibly grating, colorful townsfolk, the cutesy vocal scoring. Did I watch it regularly? Of course - the better to dismiss it with. And then I caught it in syndication a few months ago and was totally riveted. The character of Rory was so smart and serious! The references were sometimes clever! Was it saccharine and frequently twee? Yes - but in a world where Glee is hailed as brilliant, it started to look like early Arthur Miller. It seemed I was not alone. Two of my friends mentioned to me recently that they've fallen into belated love with Gilmore Girls. "It's sad," said one, "that as a 30-something woman, the only thing I can relate to is a ten-year-old show about a teenager."
Maybe Hortense is right, and when another ten years have passed, Friends will start to feel nostalgic and even iconic. But I'm just not sure it's good enough. I suspect things have to be really good - like My So-Called Life - or Saved by the Bell campy to really pass into the firmament. That's why this Central Perk seems so weird - it would be one thing if this had opened during the show's heyday. Surely most 20-somethings know it at least as well as a syndication bolster, and Jennifer Aniston as much as Professional Sad-Sack as hair role-model. Maybe it's strange, too, because the studio-set New York in Friends was so artificial, and I wasn't familiar with any comparable yuppie-havens; nor, had one existed, would I have wanted to patronize it. But what do I know? Apparently the place is going gangbusters, even though it's coffee-only in a tea town. And as for the "iconic orange couch," well, "there is no possibility of getting comfortable there, due to the constant disruption of people wanting their photographs taken on it."