New York City! That glamorous place where a newspaper columnist can live free of debt, spending all day gallivanting through the Upper East Side with her fellow hedonistic heiresses. That magical locale where a chef and a waitress can afford a Greenwich Village apartment the size of your high school gym, despite never doing any ostensible work. That wonderful fairyland where coffee shops, diners, bars, and the occasional after-hours courtroom double as free range for young, hip, codependent socialites to shirk professional responsibilities and live without the restrictions of the reality that might exist anyplace else. Or so television might have you believe.
For years now, TV has taken to using New York City as its setting for comedy and drama series… despite the fact that the New York you see on screen is often quite a leap from the one you’d see in real life. However, sometimes this is just the case of necessary suspension of disbelief — what kind of audience would a show that devoted 20 minutes to stalls on F Train get? Other times, however, the artist license employed by the program in question runs a little too wild and free.
One of the biggest contemporary culprits of “deemphasized literalism” (which some might simply refer to as “lying”) in regards to its New York setting is 2 Broke Girls. The CBS comedy series, which sees its season finale tonight, seems to treat its backdrop just as it does its supporting cast: with as many stereotypes as possible.
The sitcom takes place in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, which residents would call a generally safe and hip area (take it from a reliable source). On the contrary, the show introduced the location as a dingy, decrepit rats’ nest where a young woman is in constant danger of attack.
But of course, that’s forgivable. Playing to non-New Yorkers’ idea of what New York is makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the horse.
Look, there’s a place for fantasy. And to be perfectly honest, there’s always a root of truth in any creative vision, no matter how imaginative. Star Wars: probably happening somewhere. Lord of the Rings: ever been to New Zealand? Weird stuff, man. Land of the Lost: There’s no evidence to refute that. But it is unequivocally unfeasible to house any member of the equine genus in the backyard of a Williamsburg two-bedroom apartment. Overt racism is unforgivable enough, but this is just bananas.
2 Broke Girls' Realistic New York Rating: 2 out of 10 platters of chicken and rice from 53rd & 6th
Another series that embraces a more “faithful” depiction of New York is HBO’s new show Girls. Granted, Lena Dunham’s miracle is only four episodes in, but it already is in keeping with the visual style and simultaneously thrilling and draining character of its metropolitan setting. Dunham’s character lives in a realistically sized apartment and vies for (and loses out on) believably New York-based job opportunities.
However, Girls has not been free of criticism on the matter. Like many of its New Yorker predecessors (most famously Friends and Seinfeld), the series has been met with disapproval over employing an all-white starring cast despite the ethnic diversity of its setting.
Girls' Realistic New York Rating: 8 out of 10 dive bars where your friend's band is going on at midnightish, and you promised you'd go this time
It’s difficult for a show to do justice to some of its real-world attributes, not least of all a larger-than-life city setting. Some other contemporary sitcoms also use New York as a backdrop, but don’t really highlight the city as an important presence on the show. For instance, while Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 uses the fabled “country girl moves to the Big Apple to make something of herself,” viewers rarely see June (Dreama Walker) interacting with the city. Most of the action takes place indoors, in what could be any big city in the world. At least any big city that you’d believe James Van Der Beek to call his present-day home.
Don't Trust the B's Realistic New York Rating: 4 out 10 impatient meandering routes around slow-walking tourists
And then there are those who have made Manhattan their homes for years now: How I Met Your Mother treats its city with shots and discussions about the unparalleled skyline (rationalized by the main character being an architect), mentions of due New Jersey hatred, and a handful of other fun reminders of where Ted and company reside. Earlier seasons, which focused on many of the characters being overwhelmed socially and professionally by New York, paid greater attention to the setting. Understandably, this theme has faded over time; as such, there are fewer nods to the city in general.
How I Met Your Mother's Realistic New York Rating: 5 out of 10 Maury Povich sightings
30 Rock also lives in New York, but a very specific type of New York: the showbiz world of New York. On 30 Rock, it isn’t strange for characters to have sordid romantic relationships with Mickey Rourke, to go dancing with James Franco and his Japanese body pillow at a nightclub, or to be caught on camera during America’s newest reality sensation, The Queen of Jordan. So, yes… this is New York. But not a New York (or universe) to which most can relate.
However, anyone who lives or works in New York City can empathize with Liz Lemon’s hatred of subway-goers who get on the train before letting passengers off. It’s akin to cannibalism.
30 Rock's Realistic New York Rating: 6 out of 10 bag-checks that make you miss your train
And then there's Mad Men, a show whose New York City is so out of date, it's laughable. Come on! The trains, the restaurants, the indoor smoking? Somebody is really missing the point.
Mad Men's Realistic New York Rating: 1 out of 10 widespread, panic inducing blackouts
The Winner: Girls — less than halfway through its first season, the talked about HBO show proves to have the New York sensibilities of a younger, female-centric Bored to Death (the world misses you, old friend).
As long as there are TV series, New York will play the willing setting — it’s a city unlike any other, and fodder for ample dramatic and comedic scenarios. And as long as New York is used, it will be glamorized, satirized, stereotyped, marginalized, and misused in every conceivable way. Is this a problem? If you ask a New Yorker, possibly. But all in all, as long as viewers don’t head to New York on a whim expecting to strike up romances with celebrities, then it’s really not such a terrible crime... much like the sort that occur on every street corner in Williamsburg. Thanks for the heads up, TV!
[Image Credit: CBS]