“Let Me Tell You” is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They publish each Wednesday so you’re hearing from us each week. Last month, News Editor Anna Rahmanan argued that being a parent in NYC right now totally rocks.
It is incredibly hard to properly portray New York on television. Every neighborhood within every borough looks different, as do the folks that claim them as their own.
A walk from Manhattan’s Chinatown to the Upper East Side, for example, will undoubtedly be replete with countless food aromas that call out to a variety of disparate countries all around the world. You’ll notice people’s attires shift drastically in the span of a few blocks and even buildings tend to morph in form and function throughout the various local enclaves. To the dismay of some locals, tourists are the heartbeat of midtown and its various businesses while open-eyed, excited students in Washington Square Park might either become the sort of New Yorkers-for-life that tend to pepper the Upper East Side or, perhaps, former city dwellers who realize that New York is not actually for them within a few years. (New York is, in fact, not for all).
How could anyone find a way to put all the culture in a single show? How can every section forming the genetic makeup of our city be properly represented by a single series, especially considering that said populations don’t necessarily see themselves the way others do?
Alas, throughout the years, producers have tried to capture the essence of New York on a small screen by focusing on a single segment of the city.
In Friends, the magnifying glass pointed at relationships developed in the New York of the ‘90s. Seinfeld sought to do the same, albeit through the eyes of a would-be stand-up comedian with a flair for the Jewish delivering jokes that still land today.
Audiences were catapulted smack-dab in the middle of the advertising world that defined Madison Avenue in the 1960s when binge-watching Mad Men while the boom years of the 1880s are the subject of the more recent HBO hit The Gilded Age.
Broad City, which ran from 2014 to 2019, delivered on the hysterical and disturbing nature of most mundane occurrences in this erratic city of ours while the very good but short-lived How to Make it in America dissected the ways hopeful youngsters try to break into the local fashion world.
Especially since the onset of the pandemic, we haven’t witnessed a true new attempt at the immortalization of our town…
Even Bravo’s franchise reality TV show The Real Housewives of New York City, which is gearing up for the premiere of a redux version with an entirely new cast of younger (albeit not saner, it seems) housewives, has given us a pretty clear view of what it means to be rich, over 40, just-famous-enough and absolutely out of your mind in the early 2000s in Manhattan.
Of course, there’s been more (I Love Lucy! Empire! High Maintenance! Master of None! Nurse Jackie! Will and Grace!), but no New York City-based TV show has garnered quite as much of a following as Sex and the City and Girls did when they first premiered.
The two productions have been compared ad nauseam throughout the years, mostly because both claim to satisfyingly portray the life of 20 and 30-something women in New York, albeit across two different time periods (Sex and the City premiered in 1998 and Girls debuted over a decade later in 2012).
On the surface, the two productions seemed to be based in two very different cities. Sex and the City relied on the glitzy while Girls focused on its exact antithesis, at least as seen through the streets of Brooklyn in the mid-2010s. Both productions have also been criticized for not actually properly dissecting the reality of being a woman in New York (“Carrie Bradshaw would never be able to afford her beautiful apartment on a freelancer’s pay!” and “Why does Hannah Horvath have no Black or Asian friends?”).
And yet—fair warning: unpopular opinion here—if the success of each one of the series is of any indication, some people actually did see themselves represented in these characters and the shows did, indeed, showcase at least one section of the city’s population at that point in time (or, as Lena Dunham’s Hannah cleverly and now famously put it: a voice of a generation).
Despite the revival of Sex and the City, And Just Like That…, though, it seems like Hollywood has paused its focus on New York for quite some time. Especially since the onset of the pandemic, we haven’t witnessed a true new attempt at the immortalization of our town (sure, we’ve had new seasons of Russian Doll and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but nothing novel has graced our TV screens in quite some time).
Given the whirlwind few years we’ve all just bared witness to, is it too much to ask TV producers of the world to commemorate our perseverance in a delicious new show that will incite the sort of think pieces and friendly debates about what it is that makes a true New Yorker and how the city has deeply changed in the past few years?
And so, television gurus, please consider this a plea by a humble news editor who is addicted to any sort of show depicting New York to find inspiration in our town once more. We look different than we did a decade ago, but we’re still oh-so-beautiful after all.
Time Out tip: Albeit certainly a tourist-y destination, visiting the Friends Experience at 130 East 23rd Street on the corner of Lexington Avenue will rush back all TV show-related memories and remind you that quality sitcoms based in our town are works of art that have yet to be replicated in the past few years.
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.