Revisiting Friends: The One with the Apartment
Before the advent of the internet and the subsequent emergence of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, televisions were the hub of entertainment and information in every home. Nothing defined televisions more than sitcoms, which were the focal point for families every evening. Throughout the years, there have been numerous sitcoms which have ruled the airwaves, such as Mash in the 1970s and Cheers in the 1980s.
However, perhaps the greatest and biggest of them all is Friends. The show, which featured 236 episodes broadcasted over a 10-year-period between 1994 and 2004, was a ratings juggernaut. It averaged over 24 million viewers every episode during its run. For the finale, NBC actually charged advertisers $2 million per 30-second ad slot!
Beyond its entertainment value, the show was extremely influential culturally – it changed the way we viewed same-sex relationships, homosexuality and transgenderism, parenthood and family dynamics. It also popularised the sensitive and vulnerable male archetype, as well as removing the stigma from career-driven women. In a way, the show normalised a new form of domesticity and life choices for the younger demographic.
Nevertheless, 25 years after the show premiered, questions continue to be asked as to how Monica Geller, played by Courtney Cox, can afford to rent a spacious apartment in West Village on her cook’s salary? After all, it’s not as if she’s regularly playing all of the online slots Canada has to offer. Even if she did, it would take a considerable amount of time to play all the online slots Canada have every month to come up with enough money to pay the rent. So what gives?
How does Monica afford her apartment?
Here’s the thing. There is actually a plot device in the show explaining how Monica can afford to live in the apartment – it is a rent-controlled unit!
For the uninitiated, rent control was a policy meant to deter profiteering during times of housing shortages in American cities with large tenant populations, such as San Francisco and New York City. It was first introduced after World War II, though the majority of rent-controlled homes today exist due to temporary cost-control policies enacted by former president Richard Nixon in 1971.
In the show, Monica’s grandmother has been paying a fixed rental rate of $200 for the apartment since the 1940s. Monica, who lived in the apartment after moving to New York, unofficially inherited the rent-controlled status after her grandmother moved to a Florida retirement home. If this was real life, the landlord would probably be able to remove the rent control restriction after her grandmother moved – particularly since Monica is sub-letting the apartment to Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston).
Hypothetically though, how much would the apartment cost in the real world today?
How much is Monica’s apartment really worth though?
Monica’s apartment is a roomy two-bedroom apartment with an enormous living area, a storage unit and a storeroom. It has lovely purple-coloured walls and fixed cabinets in the kitchen. The size is estimated somewhere between 1,125 and 1,500 square feet, which is significantly larger than the size of an average two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, estimated to be around 975 square feet.
Based on visual identification of the apartment building, it is located around 90 Bedford Street in West Village. However, in actuality, the exterior shots of the apartment are just for show – the entire series was filmed in a mock apartment inside a Warner Bros studio in Burbank, California.
Using these data, several real estate experts have attempted to estimate the actual rental rate of the apartment. According to real estate start-up Triplemint, comparable units in the area would cost around $4,200 to $5,500 per month. Online magazine Bustle and the New York Post, meanwhile, pegged the price slightly higher, at $4,500 and $5,000 a month respectively. Bustle even found one property of similar size being listed for $14,000!
Scotty Elyanow, a real estate broker quoted by CNBC, meanwhile, claimed that Monica’s apartment would cost between $7,000 and $8,000 a month. In addition, he estimated that if the unit were sold, it would fetch approximately $2 million in the open market! That’s too high even if Monica was secretly gambling on every online slots Canada owns.
Obviously, the apartment would not cost as much in 1994. However, even a 50% reduction would still be beyond what Monica, the cook, and Rachel, the waitress, could afford to pay. Without the rent-control plot device, Monica wouldn’t be living there, she wouldn’t have reunited with runaway bride Rachel, and there won’t even be a series!