As two gals who grew up far from the Big Apple, we got our first impressions about living in New York from must-see TV and Nora Ephron movies. They painted a pretty picture, an urban utopia filled with two-bedroom apartments in the West Village and liberal use of car services. This was a New York where everyone who moves here gets his or her dream job in two years or less, even with dubious qualifications. And to make matters worse, these shows that shaped our childhood and adolescent views of New York City were, for the most part, filmed in Los Angeles (shocking, I know). Apart from a few establishing shots to tell viewers, “Hey, this is New York,” shows like Friends, Will & Grace, and How I Met Your Mother were all filmed in sunny California climes.
Even many of our currently running favorites like The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine succumb to this, and it’s easy to tell (see: me yelling at the TV watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Eastern Parkway stop doesn’t look anything like that! They didn’t even try!”). Slowly, though, the television industry is starting to see the light, mostly due to financial reasons and the lack of tax incentives now offered in California. A lot of shows have responded like an outraged Tweeter and moved to Canada; whether we’re talking iZombie or The 100, there’s a pretty good chance your favorite show is filmed in Vancouver. But a lot of shows that are set in NYC have adapted by actually filming here. What a novelty! The result? Shows about New York that are (slightly) more true to life in the five boroughs than the ones we grew up loving. Here are my five of my favorites (and some LA-based honorable mentions).
Most Accurate New York City Apartment: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Everyone talks about how Monica and Rachel’s apartment on Friends is just too good to be true, as is Ted’s apartment on HIMYM. And even shows filmed here often succumb to the “Let’s give our main character an absurdly awesome apartment” syndrome (I’m looking at you, Girls and Master of None). But the Kimmy Schmidt producers did not pull punches when they gave Kimmy her first New York pad. Sure, she lucks into a job with absurd speed given that the only item on her resume is “Survived kidnapping and escaped from hatch,” but I’ll suspend my disbelief for comedy purposes. Kimmy and Titus’s apartment, on the other hand, is a tiny basement “two-bedroom” (AKA a one-bedroom with a closet just big enough for a bed) somewhere in Brooklyn. Kimmy’s room is roughly the size of the one my two roommates shared when I first moved here. A+ realism. Honorable Mentions: Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Gina’s (now Jake’s) lofted studio apartment actually looks like a place someone on their salaries could afford.
Most Accurate Portrayal of NYC Bar/Restaurant/Food Life: Master of None – This show is my current obsession, and I like it for a lot of reasons, but I think its portrayal of bars and restaurants in New York is the most accurate part. It features a Z&S favorite, 169 Bar, as well as realistically portraying the constant struggle of actually figuring out where you want to eat. Seriously, who hasn’t searched “tacos” on Yelp and fallen into a deep dark hole into Mexican Wonderland. Honorable Mention: Seinfeld – Yes, despite being filmed in LA. Because let’s face it: We always eat at the same four places despite having the world at our fingertips.
Most Accurate MTA: Broad City – New Yorkers do this thing where when they get to a place, the first discussion inevitably revolves around how they came to be there (I’m told this is true in LA as well, but with cars and not public transit). Broad City does the best job of showing not only how we think about how we’re going to get home from a place before we even arrive there but also the actual experience of riding the subway — the uncomfortable awkwardness of a packed train, the instant grimace at the words “It’s Showtime!”, the immediate skepticism upon entering an empty car on an otherwise packed train. But the most relatable? The intense strategy involved in making sure you get on the right car so as to be closest to the exit at your destination, and the sinking despair when you realize you’ve boarded the wrong end of the train. Honorable Mention: How I Met Your Mother – Because as bad as parts of this LA-based show’s portrait of New York are (and despite my anger at its abominable finale), “Subway Wars” is a super accurate representation of New Yorkers arguing over the fastest way to get someplace.
Best Furniture Buying/Moving Episode: 30 Rock – There are a lot of things I love about 30 Rock‘s portrayal of New York — the general apathy towards people, the overrated-ness of it all — but my favorite New York moment in the whole series is Liz and Criss’s trip to IKEA. Going to IKEA in NYC isn’t an easy task; it’s not a “Let’s all pile in the car and throw some flat-pack furniture in the trunk” affair. No, when you go to IKEA, you set aside a whole day, you take two trains and a ferry or three buses, you test your relationships with your loved ones. The table might become a metaphor for your relationship. Honorable Mention: Friends – Because moving a couch into a walk-up apartment is an experience you won’t soon forget, and you’ll be shouting “Pivot!” for hours.
Best Use of the Extensive New York Actor Pool: Law and Order – Guys, I love Law and Order. I love that there is always one version or another playing somewhere on TV at all times. I love that the detectives always drink coffee in little blue cups from the street cart. But most of all, I love playing “spot the now-famous actor” or “spot the Broadway star,” It’s like getting a curly fry in your bag of regular fries in every episode: a nice surprise and familiar face, sometimes more than once. Honorable Mention: Elementary (also shot in New York!) – Watching it is basically just a big game of “spot the musical theater actor guest star.” You’ve got the Lauras (Benanti and Osnes), Sutton Foster, Katie Finneran, Celia Keenan-Bolger and so on and so forth.