For the past several months, my Friday routine has included eating lunch while watching the previous day’s episode of “Ugly Betty” on ABC’s website. With the show now on hiatus (I’m not certain if last week’s episode was the season finale or just the last episode before a long break), I have to find something else to take the show’s place. I have gotten so accustomed to watching something while I eat my lunch that I don’t feel ready to break the habit just yet. My first idea was to see if ABC was offering any of the earlier episodes from season 3 of “Ugly Betty”, as I hadn’t watched them in forever and hardly remembered some of the content.
Suddenly it occurred to me that I had come up with an awful idea. The first few episodes of the season were lame, and, for the most part, centered around Betty’s quest to find independence in Manhattan: a new apartment, more work responsibilities, and freedom from romantic entanglements. In many ways, Betty is an unusual character and the show has a lot of unique and relatable characteristics. The idea that the show’s protagonist wanted to avoid romance was refreshing, and I’m sure many young adults in Betty’s age range (22-25) have experience searching for the perfect apartment or striving for more meaning to their post-graduate employment. There is one thing about the first few episodes of “Ugly Betty” season 3, however, that I find completely annoying: New York City.
If television writers are correct, everyone who’s anyone lives in New York City, or, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles. Every other city in the United States is evidently full of Walmart-shopping, McDonald’s-eating hillbillies — the kind of unglamorous people that no television viewer would be interested in seeing on TV. There are obviously exceptions to this rule. “Frasier” lasted 11 seasons depicting life in Seattle and the U.S. version of “The Office” takes place in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I’m sure there are other programs that aren’t set in NYC or LA (Boston, Chicago, and Miami are less common than the primary two offenders, but still horribly overused in comparison to the 19,000 other cities in our nation), but it really bothers me that an overwhelming majority of shows, both current and past, are.
During the 2008 election, there was a lot of talk about “real America” and “real American values” and “average Joes” — enough of it to drive anyone to insanity. I don’t hold the same opinions as those who were making these comments — ideologically I fall more in line with the liberal New Yorker views, not those of my home state — but I do believe that the so-called “middle America” has been largely forgotten by the entertainment world. Listen to the commentary track for any episode of “Sex and the City” and you’ll hear series producer and writer Michael Patrick King’s unabashed admiration for NYC and his belief that the city is a significant fifth character for the show. He and other New Yorkers display all the characteristics of brainwashed zombies when discussing their adopted home: as they talk dreamily of the city’s perfection, its diversity, its unexpected surprises, their eyes glaze over and their voices take on a tone of ecstasy.
A long time ago I read an article (or was it an interview? and who wrote/said it? I said it was a long time ago!) that lamented the overabundance of cop shows, hospital dramas, and courtroom procedurals on television. In a season with a handful of new pilots, it said, the majority of them will fit one of those three categories. I think workplace comedies can be added to the list, as well. Even worse than the hackneyed environments offered by these programs, though, is the predictable fact that most programs on TV currently are set in NYC, and those coming out in the future will continue to be set there. Never mind the ubiquitous presence of NYC in most movies; one would think there are no other inhabitable cities in the United States.
Even literature is becoming obsessed with the city. “Chick lit” that depicts women navigating the turbulent streets of Manhattan in books like “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Something Borrowed” is all the rage in bookstores. Harlequin has even added a line of novels called Red Dress Ink: “Fun, flirty and hip! If that sounds like you, then you’ll love our Red Dress Ink books. Read these sexy, funny stories that follow the struggles of dating, careers and romance in the big city!” It seems that writers, both scriptwriters and novelists, feel certain that women are desperate to escape their podunk lifestyles and experience the glamour of the big city, even if just for a few hours.
I know that this post is a little ranty and circuitous. For the sake of clarity, let me be straightforward: NYC is not the center of the universe. While some women may be interested in fantasizing about the possibilities of life in New York, I have no doubt that there are just as many women who couldn’t care less about the polluted, rat-infested circus. Our nation is full of fascinating, lively, and culturally diverse cities, all of which would make for just as entertaining a setting as NYC and LA. I’ve been to NYC, and I can say with certainty that I would never want to live there. Why, then, do I have to be continually bombarded with television shows, movies, and books that worship at the concrete altar? Entertainment industry: take a vacation or two. I hear New Mexico is nice this time of year. Maybe you’ll get some inspiration.