Plenty of things are unrealistic about television: No iconic moment in my life has ever been accompanied by Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Can Happen,” despite how much I wish it were. But the perpetual tiny-but-annoying quirk that most shows are guilty of is the unemployed twentysomething with a fabulous apartment. I’m onto you, Girls: No matter how much junk you throw around in Marnie and Hannah’s onetime-shared living space, it doesn’t hide the fact that they’ve got a ton of room. I live in New York City; I know you’re lying to me.
This isn’t anything new, of course. The go-to example is usually Carrie Bradshaw and her ridiculous Manhattan apartment with its gorgeous walk-in closet full on Manolos when her only source of explained income was a weekly newspaper column. But while everyone loves some good 1998 nostalgia (the Friends’ West Village apartments are another egregious example), the trend of the unbelievably large home isn’t fading away.
I’m not simply talking about gorgeous, jealousy-inspiring apartments; I totally get and buy into the fact that say, Dr. Lahiri from The Mindy Project would have an awe-worthy living space to bring all of her meet-cute boyfriends. What I can’t get behind is recent shows like dearly-departed Happy Endings (perpetually unemployed Max’s “gross loft” in Chicago is gorgeous) or 2 Broke Girls‘ Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment (They’re supposed to actually be broke, not heiresses!) where the characters ostensibly “have no money,” yet are somehow chilling around complaining about said fact in an abode that would retail for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Sure, this is a minor issue. None of this is getting in the way of my enjoyment of all of these shows. But there is some point during each of these programs’ respective runs — often more than once — where I’ll laugh out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it. It’s all I can do; I can’t change the channel: basically all shows with twenty-something characters are guilty of this. Weirdly enough, the most realistic living set-up on television right now might be the Big Brother house, with all 16 of its residents fighting in a Hunger Games of sorts for limited bed space.
Several quick thoughts:
1. If Big Brother is perceived to be more realistic, these other shows may have some problems.
2. Of the examples cited above, most of the urban apartments are in New York City with one in Chicago (Happy Endings). Manhattan and some of the surroundings areas are some of the most expensive areas in the country so the housing situation as portrayed on TV is really unrealistic. At the same time, TV shows with young adults in places like Atlanta or Houston or Dallas or some other cheaper markets could feature bigger apartments without losing all realism.
3. This is not a new phenomenon on TV. In The Overspent American, sociologist Juliet Schor talks about the expanding middle-class lifestyle on television in the later decades of the 20th century. As the years went by, middle-class people on TV had more and more material goods, larger houses, and had fewer concerns about work and money. Schor then argues that TV contributed to changing perceptions among Americans in what they needed to own to have “the good life.”
4. Shows on channels like HGTV don’t help. It seems like every show features a person looking for the most-updated features. Granted, their price range varies quite a bit but the homes tend to be on the larger side. This is simply unrealistic for many emerging adults.
5. There is potential here for some TV shows to work with more size-appropriate dwellings. How about a show about young people revolving around micro-apartments? How about bringing back the starter home on TV?