Everyone knows New York City. Even those who have criminally never visited have seen photos of Coney Island or the backdrop of Times Square, can pinpoint Central Park and undoubtedly recognize Radio City Music Hall.
Hollywood has leaned on the Big Apple since the turn of the 20th century — Hanging the city up like a white linen sheet on a backyard laundry line, letting it blow in the breeze. Every inch of this town has been combed through for the purpose of entertainment. And sure, it's easy to believe that love stories really do come true at the top of the Empire State Building, but for most New Yorkers, life isn't quite what it seems on screen.
"In my imagination, your life is just like Girls," a friend wrote in an email about seven months after I moved.
For the record: it's not. (My roommates, actually, are better versed in the telling of questionably legal empty-warehouse raves.) Though, according to my highly unscientific calculations, Lena Dunham's dirty-sexy HBO comedy is one of the most accurate presentations of life in New York that you ever will, or ever did, find on television — premium cable or otherwise.
Filmed and set in Brooklyn (and occasionally outside of my Flatiron District office building), Girls tells the often horrid tale of being a 20-something navigating life in New York. Been there, screwed that, right? Not this time. Dunham's polarizing show about a pack of formerly privileged young females trying to make ends meet without their parents' ATM pin numbers has taken heat for everything from a lack of color (Donald Glover to the rescue!), an over-ripe sex drive, and a certain first-world-problems flavoring.
But when you manage to look past the half-baked relationships and the barista aprons, Girls feels real. It may not always feel right, but it certainly feels real. Television executives don't seem to actually care to strive for a sense of reality, though. They just want spacious accommodations with plenty of room to hang a boom mic out of the frame. Inaccuracies be damned, be it real estate, transportation, or the volume of pizza joints on every corner.
I'm not the only one holding a grudge against Hollywood for lying to the world about this fair city. Complex's Brenden Gallagher compiled a list 25-deep of movies and TV shows that got New York City wrong. Sprinkled among the entire Spiderman trilogy, beloved classics, and every NYC-based action-adventure flick are obvious exaggerations, like Sex and the City.
In this particular episode ["Ring a Ding Ding," season four, episode 16], Carrie states that she paid $750 for her Upper East Side studio in 2000. Though the apartment is rent controlled, it was also pretty big. (And by "pretty big," Gallagher actually means the size of a small Starbucks, with a walk-thru closet and a designated den, not to mention room to run laps around a queen-sized bed.) The most conservative estimates put her apartment in the neighborhood of at least double that.
But the famed Manhattan foursome was produced to be the dream-sequence to real New Yorkers' struggles with love and friendship; they embodied women's (and gay men's) greatest fears, most extravagant happinesses, and all of those embarrassing topics we'd never dare bring up over Sunday brunch. They were never meant to serve as a mirror, reflecting back your dingy apartment and two-train daily commute. Come to think of it, when was the last time you saw a TV character climb into a crowded subway car, or even mention the 4-5-6 or A-C-E line?
Public transit rules this city, and I know that Joey, Monica, Rachel, and Chandler could not afford to pay their respective rents AND catch a cab to Central Perk every day. Friends actually does a spectacularly good job of eschewing the transportation discussion completely (before Phoebe inherits her grandmother's taxi). Do they walk to the coffee shop? Take a train to the office? Does it really matter, though, when they come home to outlandishly lavish adjacent, top-floor apartments — one of which has a balcony the size of my bedroom? Nah.
How I Met Your Mother suffers from the same afflictions as the '90s hit: Overly endowed living quarters (hardwood floors?!), too much time and money spent in an eatery, inconceivably empty and clean city sidewalks. Not even in a Fringe-like alternate universe could architect-Ted, pre-school-teacher-Lily, and law-school-student-Marshall afford their spacious, two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, from which they seemingly travel by taxi cab only to visit their broadcast newscaster friend Robin in her beautiful, fireplace-boasting, equally unrealistic Brooklyn rental.
Of course, from a two-bedroom Frederick apartment, with a balcony overlooking a crowded parking lot and community pool, it was easy to turn a blind eye to even the most obvious Hollywood misnomers. (Does it bother anyone else that at least three-fifths of the Big Bang Theory gang dresses for every day as if it's a crisp October evening on the east coast, instead of any given moment in Southern California?) But a year of life in the big city has changed me; my skin crawls every time Marshall struts down the bare street, greeting friendly shop owners and helping a delivery man fix his bike.
You'll still find me curled up in bed, laughing at Seinfeld and 30 Rock reruns, lustily dreaming of the day my city apartment resembles something other than a crowded closet with a bathroom.