Fiona Abbs

23rd November 2017

Despite living thousands of miles away, lately I’ve been feeling like a real New Yorker.

I know all the best restaurants and places to visit.  For example, Westlight is a great bar if you want spectacular views and delicious wine, Storm King Arts Centre is the perfect day trip if you need to get out of the city smog, and you have just got to try il Buco for the best homemade pasta in Noho.

The reason I know this is not because I am a frequent visitor, did an internship at the Guggenheim after graduating or even have family in town.  It’s because every evening I transport myself to Manhattan and Brooklyn through my favourite TV shows.  Master of None, Girls and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are just a few of the comedies set in NYC that I have been watching recently and, well, they are fabulous.

What I love most are the shots of the city.  Forget interior scenes filmed in studios based miles away, it’s all about using architecture and urban landscape as the set.  For example in Girls, during crucial scenes between Hannah and Adam, I find myself watching the spaces behind them, which are so full of life, graffiti, traffic and trash that it almost becomes a character of its own.  It’s beautifully imperfect.  Actors can spend all the time in the world in hair and make-up, but a director can’t change a building’s façade – unless you have an unlimited budget that is.

Another of my favourite cityscape scenes is in Master of None when Dev takes a night time helicopter ride over Manhattan with Francesca.  They finally have an honest and simple conversation about their relationship above the bright lights of skyscrapers. Like a ‘whole new world’ they fly above the Chrysler, Empire State Building and I’m sure I caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. When they eventually land and get out of the helicopter, it all feels like a fantasy.

It owes to great writing and directing that once I tune in I immediately start living and breathing the city and the people in it.  Thanks to Kimmy Schmidt, I now understand that New York has hipsters too and just like in London, locals have to deal with gentrification.  This sitcom proves that you don’t need to depict realistic people to portray the vibe of the city – the bigger, more outrageous, more hilarious, more scheming the characters are, the better I understand the irony, politics and attitudes of New York.  The reality of life shines through caricature and hyperbole much more brightly than if you tried to write a Henry James-style depiction of the city and its colourful characters.

I can’t write this without giving a special mention to Sex and the City – one of my all-time favourite sitcoms and a true love letter to New York City.  I feel like I’ve been there for every Cosmopolitan and broken hearted episode in Carrie’s life and, of course, I will forever imagine Greenwich Village full of cosy coffee shops like Central Perk.  When I finally get to visit the city, it won’t be about discovering and exploring a new and foreign place; I’ll be getting the chance to re-visit and create my own story.

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