New York City: Onscreen and on My Mind

The place that I miss most in America is my hometown, New York City. Specifically, Manhattan—people who assert that Brooklyn is better than Manhattan are generally rich white people who can afford to live in the nice part of town and are not actually from New York. In the words of the Schuyler sisters in Hamilton, Manhattan is the greatest city in the world. Living in London is pretty spectacular, but I miss my home.

Given that it is the greatest city in the world, New York City is the location of numerous television shows. As I watch numerous television shows on a weekly basis, I see New York portrayed onscreen in various genres and formats, making me even more homesick. Usually, TV messes up the geography of the city. For example, I love Daredevil, but its callous disregard for the reality of Hell’s Kitchen never ceases to annoy me. I’m from Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood in Midtown Manhattan. Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen looks nothing like the real Hell’s Kitchen, because they film it in Brooklyn. Brooklyn, of all places! Every time I see the Manhattan skyline in the background of a scene supposedly taking place in Manhattan, I die a little on the inside.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is another Netflix show set in New York which recently debuted its second season. This show isn’t set in a specific neighborhood, so its vagueness of location doesn’t bother me as much. I do love how grungy the living quarters in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are; that’s the city I know and love—the dirty ghetto resisting an inevitable wave of gentrification.

Whenever I meet other Tufts students from Manhattan, they’re generally from the Upper East/West Side and have probably never had to deal with the same kind of New Yorker struggles as my mom did—a single mother who worked three jobs and survived on federal relief programs to put herself through school. They might relate less to the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt version of New York and more to the 30 Rock or Friends version. (Sure, they’re all “poor” in Friends, but those apartments are huge.)

That’s what I love about New York, the real New York; it exists as several separate cities overlapping to become one big hodgepodge. Each resident experiences a different version of the city, much like each TV show set in Manhattan presenting a unique view of it. Both Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother are about a group of friends trying to make it in New York, but aside from being very white, they live in two very different cities.

I love when New York is presented in a drama. I recently became hooked on Person of Interest, a great show whose genre is a cross between a procedural thriller and post-apocalyptic AI fever dream. Person of Interest takes place in New York; much like other action shows and movies, it’s set in a sort of funhouse version of the city where the crime rate is explosively high and passers-by are unfazed by people toting around machine guns. I always think that this is ridiculous until I realize that I pass Army personnel in Penn Station all the time and pointedly ignore the large guns in their hands. I suppose there is a little bit of truth in the Big Brother-style world of Person of Interest.

In general, watching TV shows set in New York make me miss home, whether it’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Shadowhunters (a truly terrible show which I’m admittedly just watching for the hot actors). Even though TV shows don’t show the New York that I know, and even though their perspectives differ from mine, I still see reflections of my city on the screen. No media can portray the city with full accuracy, because everyone who lives there sees it differently. So even if a show gets some things about the city wrong, it’s mostly okay, because I can still see echoes of my hometown and remember where I’m from with fondness.

Except with Daredevil. Daredevil is just wrong.

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