TV’s Most Scandalous Suburbs

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Not only did last night’s Weeds season premiere kick off in high gear, but the episode served as an excellent re-entry point for fans who checked out after the Botwins left Majestic (née Agrestic) at the end of Season 3 and returned after the onslaught of publicity about the show returning to “its roots” for the final season. We don’t want to give away any plot points from the premiere, which you can now watch for free, but we will say that the openings credits provided a nifty map of the Botwins’ wayward journey back to the burbs set to the familiar “Little Boxes” (a tune we admit was nice to hum again).

Since last night’s episode had us recalling the good ol’ days in Agrestic, we decided to take a look back at the Botwin family’s old stomping ground — the origins of this whole mess — as well as the other suburbs in TV history whose matchy-houses, swimming pools, and family-ready vehicles belied their residents’ dark and twisted lives. Click through for our list, and please don’t hesitate to let us know which pre-fab neighborhoods you would add.

Weeds: Agrestic/Majestic, CA The affluent residents of Agrestic are just your typical recreational pot users, and Nancy Botwin your typical newly widowed soccer mom trying to make ends meet. Initially, the operation seemed completely harmless; Nancy refused to sell to kids and she even had a cute bakery front. But by the end of Season 3 things got a whole lot heavier: Nancy had accrued one more dead husband, she and Celia assisted an evangelical takeover of Agrestic, an Olsen twin popped up out of nowhere to sell pot (to the 10,000+ members of her mega-church), and the whole town (now absorbed by neighboring “Majestic”) went down in flames, quite literally.

Breaking Bad: Suburbs of Albuquerque

Whereas Nancy Botwin rarely deals with consequences (because, as her sister pointed out sardonically in last night’s episode “there is no God”), meth-cooking science teacher Walter White’s choices take effect slowly, transforming the way we view his character and the world around him. Whether it’s a teddy bear floating in the family pool, a pipe bomb in a Volvo, meth hiding in a vat of fried chicken batter, or a car-wash front, the signifiers of suburbia in Walt’s world take on a much darker meaning as his transformation from high school chemistry teacher to meth lord is sealed. Don’t be fooled by the cutesy apron above; Breaking Bad is the complete opposite of your plucky, vacuum-friendly satire.

Knots Landing: Knots Landing, CA

It’s hard to believe one cul-de-sac could be a hotbed of so much drama, but the little enclave known as Seaview Circle provided enough illicit affairs, murder, attempted murder, bizarre deaths, addiction, shady business, and baby-nappings to last 14 seasons and one miniseries (Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac). Then again, the show was a spin-off of Dallas, and as we all know, whenever a Ewing is involved, trouble doesn’t lie far behind.

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: Fernwood, Ohio

Often cited as the precursor to the delightfully bizarre Twin Peaks and the pre-fab satire of Desperate Housewives, Norman Lear’s soap send-up only lasted a year before its titular lead left the show, but in that span of time Fernwood saw more than its fair share of drama, which is just as dark (and creepy) to watch today. Don’t believe us? Check out the infamous chicken soup drowning. (For something far lighter, see Mary’s reaction when she learns her own grandfather is the Fernwood Flasher.)

Desperate Housewives: Wisteria Lane

When Desperate Housewives first aired, it was peppy, fresh — and led many of us to behave as though we had never seen a man with his shirt off before. After that, the show plowed through every possible combination of romances, secrets, and lies that could take place on tiny Wisteria Lane, and not without consequence; the body count totaled 48 at the series’ end, all cataloged in this jazzy mash-up, which is a little unsettling but includes Roger Sterling getting impaled by a white picket fence around 1:11 if you’re interested.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Sunnydale, California

Situated atop the gates of hell, Sunnydale is the mecca of evil — in the form of vampires, demons, ghosts, witches, and every sort of monster imaginable (remember the giant praying mantis that tries to mate with Xander in Season 1?), until it inevitably collapses into the depths below at the show’s dramatic conclusion.

Veronica Mars: Neptune, California

When Veronica Mars takes the investigation of her best friend’s murder into her own hands, it’s not long before she’s embroiled in the lies of her affluent seaside town, where the adults are just as corrupt as the kids. Despite its high-school drama veneer and case-of-the week set-up, the show is notable for giving way to something much darker and bigger, as the murders and cover-ups of the community are revealed.

Big Love: Sandy, Utah

Big Love began as a fair, well-researched look at polygamy, but like any town harboring secret illegal activity, not to mention burdened by the politics of religion, the drama began to rapidly unfold. And whether you were pro-polygamy or not by the end of it, we certainly applaud the show for urging viewers to consider an alternative to the typical suburban lifestyle, which, as TV has taught us, is far from perfect.

Parks and Recreation: Eagleton

The fence incident was egregious, but any town that serves maple scones in their jail and distributes iPod Touches at Town Hall meetings is clearly up to no good. What specifically Pawnee’s wicked neighbor Eagleton is hiding, we may never know. The important thing to understand is that these people are clearly evil.

The X-Files: Arcadia

In the sixth season, Mulder and Scully pose as a married couple to investigate a string of mysterious disappearances in a gated community located in the suburb Arcadia. They soon learn that the neighborhood’s strict rules — like no tacky lawn furniture or basketball hoops — are upheld by a mythological creature that kills all residents who fail to comply. In the end, this episode is an entertaining skewering of suburbia at its darkest level, as well as the chance to see Mulder and Scully “play house.” In other words, a clear win-win.