For those of us who watched Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, and Joey live out their lives on TV as the show Friends aired between 1994 and 2004, there’s much more nostalgia attached to this television series than to something like The Big Bang Theory. But for those of us who don’t necessarily consider ourselves life-long, hardcore Friends super-fans — I personally do not own an officially licensed Central Perk coffee mug — it hasn’t been clear what we had to look forward to with the new LEGO Ideas 21319 Central Perk set released today ($59.99 US | $89.99 CAN | £64.99 UK), which includes 1,070 pieces and 7 minifigures. Let’s dig in and find out.
The packaging, instructions, & sticker sheet
For a couple of years now, LEGO Ideas sets have begun to vary between standard LEGO set boxes (thin cardboard designed to reduce packaging waste) and the type of “premium” packaging clearly designed to appeal to collectors who’ll put the LEGO set back in its box when they’ve built it — the type of sturdy, refolded box that LEGO Architecture sets continue to be packaged in. It’s often an indicator of who LEGO may be targeting with the set, and it’s clear from the sturdy box with interior printing that LEGO is trying to appeal to adult collectors who might not typically buy the average LEGO set for parts to build their own creations.
The instruction booklet includes the usual interviews with the fan designer Aymeric Fievet and the final LEGO set’s design team, including Designer Milan Madge (who longtime readers will know remember his own days as a fan builder himself) and Graphic Designer Crystal Bam Fontan. The booklet also includes an overview of the TV show (in case you’d never heard of it, I guess?) and brief fictional bios for each of the characters included as minifigs in the set.
Many LEGO Ideas sets don’t include a sticker sheet, relying on new printed designs instead. For anybody concerned that all of the unique design elements of Central Perk you saw on the box have been recreated with stickers, you can relax — the sticker sheet is surprisingly small. We’ll return to the unique printed elements later in our review.
The build & parts
One thing I found disappointing about The Big Bang Theory LEGO Ideas set was that it didn’t have much in the way going for it in terms of interesting building techniques — it was essentially just a flat wall built at right angles on a bunch of plates, with some details and furniture in front. LEGO set designs have certainly come a long way in the past 4 years since the newer show’s earlier Ideas set, and it’s evident that the kind of complex, off-axis construction techniques someone like Milan used as a fan builder have crept into the design language of LEGO sets in 2019.
There are only six numbered bags in the set, despite over a thousand parts, and the first bag (which includes Gunther) provides the pieces for almost the entire base, with several open sections for more detailed insets built later. Reflecting the fact that the coffee shop as seen in the TV show is actually a TV set facing a live studio audience, the walls angle outward, with the stage section built at an angle from the main coffee shop floor.
The second bag provides the parts for the wall behind the espresso machine (stage right), along with Rachel, plus all the stuff on the wall, and of course the elaborate espresso machine itself.
The wall itself isn’t designed to be detached from the base (they were briefly on a break for this photo), but you can see how much detail is packed into just one of the set’s walls.
Bag 3 includes the parts for the rear wall, along with Joey Tribbiani, emerging from the bag proclaiming “How you doin’?”. The angle of the wall begins taking shape here, with hinges that connect the rear wall itself to a section of wall with the double front doors.
The fourth bag completes the coffee shop’s front door and big plate glass window with its iconic logo, along the wall that the audience sees on the right (stage left). Both of the remaining bags include interior details, such as mosaic rugs inset into the spaces in the floor from the first bag. The furniture sits on top of these insets, but they provide great detail beneath all the clutter in the independent coffee house — they also explain a substantial portion of the set’s surprisingly high part count.
With the final pieces in place, Central Perk comes together as the iconic background for one of the most successful sitcoms of all time.
Throughout the build, my anxiety about the sticker sheet rapidly abated. The big “Central Perk” logo in the front window is printed on a trans-clear window pane, and so is the chalk board with the coffee menu — obviously both are unique to this set. But the “Service” sign is also unique, and the piano keyboard has only appeared in one set from The LEGO Movie 2.
It’s not often we discuss the extra parts in a set, but like nearly all LEGO sets, this one includes extras of each very small part included in each bag where they appear. (For the record, yes, there have been a number of sets recently that have not consistently included extra parts — we suspect LEGO may be experimenting with a new system for counting parts, but we’re not really sure…) This means that there are extra printed pastries and a pizza slice, and because the set includes coffee mugs in multiple bags, you get two extra coffee mugs.
The finished model
In stark contrast with 21302 The Big Bang Theory, the finished model for 21319 Central Perk feels like the first floor of a modular building like 10260 Downtown Diner — I’d love to challenge any of our builders reading this to integrate this set into a multi-story display for your local LEGO convention.
Every corner of the set is packed with details, and long-time Friends fans will find numerous Easter eggs throughout the set — don’t miss a poster from Joey’s Japanese lipstick advertising campaign or the hard hat that’s always hanging on the hat rack near the front door.
One thing that’s evident as you finish the LEGO set is that it’s built as a TV set, not as the fictional location in the TV show itself — there are lights on either side of the set shining down onto the scene. It’s a bit of an odd decision. Are the minifigs the actors and not the characters? Is this all some sort of parallel dimension where the whole thing was a dream? Existential confusion aside, the TV studio lights are actually a subtle touch reminding us we’re looking at a set of a television show.
There are three main areas on the set (“on set”, maybe? I’m so confused!) — the barista station stage right, the seating area in the middle, and a performance area stage left. The barista station is particularly detailed, with an enormous espresso machine that wouldn’t look out of place aboard a steampunk gentleman’s fanciest dirigible.
The performance area allows Phoebe to sing “Smelly Cat” to a captive audience (unless her gig was usurped by someone with a bit more talent).
The mic stand can be swapped out for an electric piano.
And of course, the central seating area is where most of the action takes place, with a big orange couch that remains empty no matter how busy the rest of the coffee shop is. Because minifigs have wide hips, they can’t quite fit four characters on the couch, so only three of them are able to sit there, requiring the presence of an extra chair that was generally off-screen and unoccupied in the TV show.
Although unoccupied, the area behind the orange couch is also full of detail, with additional chairs and tables. You can use your own minifigs as extras to populate this area, allowing you to cast people talented at pretending to drink coffee while having charming conversations without actually making any sound that would disrupt filming of the action going on in the foreground. The striped curtain and large “Service” sign are great background touches that designers with less attention to detail might have left out.
One of the coolest things about the modular floor construction is that the entire couch seating area can be removed so you can display the main cast of your LEGO Friends TV show separately from the larger set. Sadly, there is no room for Gunther here.
Central Perk includes the complete starring cast of Friends, plus … Gunther. From left to right in the photo below are Gunther, Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Joey, and Phoebe.
On-again, off-again couple Ross Geller and Rachel Green (played by David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston) feature Ross in a suit well-suited for his work as a paleontologist, with Rachel wearing a in an apron from her role as a waitress at Central Perk in the first few seasons, with her trademark denim vest. She also sports her iconic “the Rachel” haircut, though this new hairstyle wasn’t actually revealed until later in the first season. The LEGO hair piece itself isn’t new, having appeared on the Collectible Minifigures Series 17 veterinarian back in 2017. Nearly all of the minifigs also carry some sort of accessory — Rachel carries a silver LEGO shield as a tray with a coffee cup sitting at a precarious angle. Sad-sack Ross doesn’t get an accessory — not even a LEGO briefcase.
Both of the figures’ torsos are printed on the back, with jacket and vest details.
Every minifig also has reversible faces with alternate expressions. Ross looks worried and Rachel looks exasperated (probably with Ross).
Despite Ross and Rachel’s ten-season romance often getting top billing, the real adult relationship on the show was between Monica Geller (Ross’s younger sister, played by Courteney Cox) and Chandler Bing (aka Ms. Chanandler Bong, played by Matthew Perry). Chandler wears work clothes appropriate to his job as a … transponster? (that’s an actual word, right?) and he carries a laptop computer. The giant LEGO computer works particularly well as one of those enormous 90’s laptops. Monica wears the suspenders she wears in the pilot episode and carries a cupcake, denoting her role as a chef.
Again, both minifigs have detailed printing on their backs, with Chandler’s vest and Monica’s suspenders.
The alternate expressions for Chandler and Monica are fantastic — Chandler looks sarcastic (or perhaps disgusted by Joey’s latest culinary adventure) while Monica looks annoyed.
Finally, on-again, off-again actor Joey Tribbiani (played by actor Matt LeBlanc) is joined by the magical Phoebe Buffay (played by the magical Lisa Kudrow). Although these two never hooked up throughout the show’s 10 seasons, they certainly had plenty of their own adventures together, including trying to set each other up on dates. Joey wears a red shirt over a white T-shirt, and he’s carrying a purse (excuse me, a very masculine shoulder bag that looks very good on him, a man) plus a slice of pizza and a whole pizza box — the single minifig with the most accessories in the LEGO set. Phoebe wears a very Bohemian sort of vest that very much fits her personality, and she carries an acoustic guitar with which to serenade Central Perk customers.
The designs on their torsos continue on their backs, with Phoebe’s particularly striking pattern looking great under her long blonde ponytail.
For their alternate expressions, Joey smirks and Phoebe sings, though she could conceivably be reacting in open-mouthed surprise at any number of her friends’ latest antics.
Oh wait, I guess there’s one more minifigure in the LEGO set. Central Perk is run by Gunther, so I suppose it makes sense that a LEGO set based on this location would include this secondary character. I actually think Gunther (with his unrequited love for Rachel) was a very funny secondary character, played straight-faced by James Michael Tyler. But from the dozens of great guest stars on the show over the years, choosing this one particular background character instead of a more important or interesting character is a bit disappointing. Why not Robin Williams and Billy Crystal (who did visit Central Perk in a hilarious cameo), George Clooney and Noah Wyle (in scrubs, of course), or Paul Rudd as Phoebe’s ultimate boyfriend Mike Hannigan. Nevertheless, we’ll live with Gunther, who wears a retro tie with a bright green shirt and carries a push broom.
The creases in Gunther’s shirt extend around to the back of his torso.
Gunther has a perennial deadpan look, and he never even utters a single line throughout the entire first season of Friends, so it makes sense that his alternate expression isn’t much different from his primary expression. Altogether, it doesn’t make him a very interesting minifig.
One final note on the minifigs before we wrap up this review: Could they be any more white? No, I’m not using this review as a way to push my radical-left SJW agenda. I’m just saying that for those of us who do want to make our LEGO cities a bit more representative of the real world that we all live in — was NYC really as lily-white as it was portrayed in Friends? — this set’s minifigures won’t improve your diversity quotient. (And since I can’t leave well enough alone, yes, the real world we all live in does include people who aren’t the color of either mustard or uncooked hot dogs.)
Conclusions & recommendation
As I said in the introduction to this review, I am not a Friends super-fan, even though I certainly enjoyed all ten seasons of the show when it was on in the days before Netflix, when you had to wait a week between episodes. Since then, I’ve probably seen every episode several times in syndication, when it happened to be on in the background after something else we were watching ended (that’s how the algorithm worked back then — everybody got the same shows at the same time, and you had to push a “Channel” button on your remote if you wanted to watch something different). For those of us suburban white Gen-X’ers who came of age in the 90’s, Friends is as much a part of our pop culture heritage and shared experience as Nirvana’s breakthrough Nevermind, Chris Farley living in a van down by the river, and Bill Clinton trying his hardest to look cool with a sax on Arsenio Hall in 1992 (we don’t talk about the “Macarena” from 1996). But what if you weren’t a suburban white Gen-X’er and you don’t necessarily share nostalgia for a show that hasn’t been on the air for 15 years?
First of all, the part count for a $60 set is kind of insane, at over a thousand pieces. Second, the set includes countless detail pieces (which partially explains the high part count for the price), including extra coffee/tea cups, pastries, and so on. The background pieces are mostly the kinds of earth tones and off-colors you’d find in a modular building, rather than the primary colors seen frequently in LEGO City sets. And finally, for those of you looking to populate your own LEGO creations with people wearing believable clothing, the women in particular are wearing outfits that would have been the talk of Instyle magazine when the publication debuted in 1994.
I’ll be quite honest that despite my familiarity with the source material, I wasn’t especially excited about reviewing this set. I’ll also be honest that initial impressions based on product photos are often borne out by the set in hand; I was expecting to recommend this set to nobody but die-hard Friends fans. But my expectations were thoroughly upended by the interesting off-angle build, the parts selection (including printed parts), and the unique minifigures — all at a very reasonable price for the part count.
Ultimately, I find myself pleasantly surprised to be recommending 21319 Central Perk unconditionally to pretty much anybody, whether you’re buying it for nostalgic reasons or just for the parts and minifigs. That said, I kind of hope that The Big Bang Theory and Friends aren’t setting a precedent for an endless stream of LEGO Ideas sets based on TV sitcoms. What’s next? Newhart? I don’t know — maybe this whole review was a dream I dreamt during a previous review…
LEGO Ideas 21319 Central Perk from the Friends TV series includes 1,070 parts and 7 minifigs. The set is available today and retails for $59.99 US | $89.99 CAN | £64.99 UK from the LEGO Shop. It may also be available from other retailers such as Amazon.com and on the secondary market from third-party sellers on BrickLink and eBay.
The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. However, they didn’t bother shipping it with enough time to write the review when it was supposed to go live on August 8, by which point our Editor-in-Chief had experienced a major medical issue and had to be prescribed narcotics for extreme pain. Any errors or omissions should be attributed to the reviewer being sky-high on Oxycodone at the time of writing. Sending The Brothers Brick products for review does not guarantee coverage or a positive review, even when controlled substances are involved. Andrew is feeling much better now, thank you.