Hey, remember when I did that thing on The Rural Purge?
Well, following on from that, and from my habit of recycling things I hear on other media criticism outlets (criticism in this case being ‘to regard carefully and thoughtfully’ not, ‘this sucks!’), it was brought to my attention that there was kind of a more recent, more inverse Urban purge, or more specifically, a New York purge.
During the 90s there was an odd, interconnected web of sitcoms set in New York. It’s a bit of a funny coincidence fest mostly born out of the nature of sitcom actors. Actors in the same core of shows tended to show up in one anothers’s shows, and with a single unifying broadcaster, they even did continuity gags and interconnected nods to one another’s shows. You know, Kramer shows up in Mad About You (probably saying something deeply misogynistic off-set), and Helen Hunt’s … Mrs… Paul Rieser… shows up in FRIENDS, and you know, whatever. So it was just one funny thing that there were all these series, interconnected, in New York, that were all part of one big continuity.
And they all kinda just died around the same time.
The source I got this idea from claimed 9/11 did it, but I don’t think so. I think it’s just the natural ending of a lot of series, the ending of an era, and a lot of fad-based series development collapsing at the same time. But what happened around this same time was the sudden absence of series set in and around New York. There was this weird split in continuity, where American TV went from, during the most aimless and empty genre, being about New York City to suddenly being about absolutely anywhere else.
What made this especially weird, as far as trend-chasing goes, is that when you look at those shows, that little New York sliver of time… barely any of them are about New York?
I haven’t gone and rewatched a dozen sitcoms for research (aside from Caroline in the City, because hey, that one’s for me), but mostly none of these sitcoms are about living in New York City. Real estate woes that should be present and aren’t are a point of almost hackish comedy in the Friendsverse – you know, all these people with huge living quarters in the middle of the most expensive city in the world (probably), whose salaries could not afford it at all.
There’s also the way these shows somehow featured a tiny number of nonwhite people, despite the racial diversity of New York. And there is no point where a dude in hotpants with a snake wrapped around his shoulders walked across the street to take a shit on a cop’s shoes. It’s a New York where a pair of gay dudes with a baby was seen as a ridiculous assumption for Joey and Chandler.
So it wasn’t anything like New York as it exists. It’s just about a certain, oddly insular New Yorkness, and as an effect of the insular, contained nature of a small group of talent making television sitcoms.