10 Shows About Contemporary Life in New York City, Ranked


Today, Vimeo begins its foray into original programming with High Maintenance, a web series that the site picked up after its critically acclaimed first season. The six new episodes (three available now, three in 2015) continue to follow a delivery weed dealer as he bikes around selling to, and interacting with, a variety of customers. Despite the logline, High Maintenance isn’t a stoner comedy but rather a lovely and sometimes poignant series of character studies about multiple eccentric residents of Brooklyn. New York City may be overflowing with material, but it’s a tricky setting to nail down — especially because New Yorkers tend to be hyper-critical while watching our city on screen (really, how hard is it to research basic subway stops?) — so it’s always worth praising when a series gets it right. Here are the ten best and worst currently-airing shows about life in New York City, including High Maintenance, ranked.

10. 2 Broke Girls (CBS)

For a show called 2 Broke Girls, you’d expect it to be a little more accurate, considering its entire premise hinges on the most common problem with living in NYC: being broke as hell, all the time. Max and Caroline are only “broke” in the television sense: They live in a Williamsburg apartment with a backyard big enough to keep a pet horse (really). And also, like most of NYC shows shot in Los Angeles, no one has any idea what the subway system looks like in 2014.

9. Girl Meets World (Disney)

Speaking of woefully inaccurate subway systems, Girl Meets World doesn’t even bother to include the correct subway ticketing machine. There are some realistic elements — the parents’ hesitation about letting the girls ride the subway alone, the crazy lady on the platform who strikes up conversations — but there is also a scene in the pilot episode where a tiny, 12-year-old Riley pries open the subway doors with ease. Not possible. Also, Riley’s friends climb in through her window, which is totally a suburban thing. New Yorkers keep our windows locked and barred.

8. Mulaney (Fox)

Mulaney takes place in New York City because Seinfeld took place in New York City, and because a number of other popular sitcoms took place in New York City. It firmly establishes this in the opening shot, but that’s about it. The only real references to New York are in the scenes where Mulaney is doing stand-up (because it’s stand-up that he wrote before the show) and, I suppose, in the smallish apartment that Mulaney has to share with two other people. The roommate tension and struggle to “make it” are definitely New York but also too universal to be specific. Plus, though I know this is a classic sitcom trope, I’m still calling bullshit on the characters leaving their front door unlocked.

7. Law and Order: SVU (NBC)

OK, so maybe Law and Order: SVU isn’t the show you seek out after you’ve had a hard day and just want to settle down in bed and watch a comforting reflection of your life in New York City. But hey, it is shot on location, and it does often rip stories from the headlines. Law and Order: SVU is also the #1 show that all mothers reference when you first move to NYC, leaving you dozens of worried voicemails recapping “this one episode I dozed off during last night” and warning you about dark alleys and Central Park.

6. Girls (HBO)

Depending on who you ask, Girls is either the best portrayal of young people’s lives in NYC or the worst. Really, though, it falls somewhere in the middle. Girls does make an attempt to put money issues front and center, especially when it comes to making rent, but it also occasionally abandons this and gives the impression that these underemployed friends are able to pay for whatever, whenever. However, the apartments do feel appropriately small and cramped — and Lena Dunham shoots in the city, which at least rids the show of awful LA-created street sets.

5. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

First things first: To enjoy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you have to put aside the obvious fiction — an entire police precinct full of nice, well-intentioned, and non-corrupt cops in a major city — and just focus on the silliness. Still, despite the title, there aren’t many recognizably Brooklyn things about Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The precinct is way too clean and way too calm, the officers have loads of free time and mostly solve silly crimes, and a handful of them have personal cars — which, c’mon, is pointless in NYC (in the Season 2 premiere, there’s even a reference to valet parking at a bar). Still, the show get points for its adherence to randomly referencing Brooklyn neighborhoods and for having a truly diverse cast that is more representative of the city than perhaps any other show on this list.

4. The Mindy Project (Fox)

There is a lot about New York City that The Mindy Project gets wrong. For one, and this could be said for about 99 percent of shows that take place here, her apartment is completely and irritatingly implausible. I will suspend my disbelief enough to begrudgingly accept the foyer and the walk-in closet the size of my bedroom — she is a private-practice physician, after all — but a spiral staircase? That’s just insulting. However, although most NYC shows don’t include many subway scenes (they can be hard to shoot), Mindy has had plenty — even though, as Gothamist points out, its subway is also inaccurate. But The Mindy Project does, to a certain extent, nail the subway experience: The crowded commute full of weirdos, the fiasco of missed connections, and, most importantly, it’s the place where Mindy often drifts off and gets lost in her thoughts, letting her inner monologue takeover.

3. Louie (FX)

Louie‘s disjointed narrative finds the show spiraling into flights of fantasy or crafting mini-movies that take place in the Middle East, but the series’ core is always New York City. And there’s a reason why Louis C.K.’s NYC-centric episodes result in Woody Allen comparisons: he understands the city better than most and knows how to portray it. In “Subway/Pamela,” Louie accurately represents the odd juxtapositions of New York City — a busker plays beautiful music on a violin; a homeless man scrubs himself down — and imagines himself as a true NYC hero: saving subway riders from a gross, soaked seat. During the last season, he captured the horror of losing his daughter on the subway and, in one surreal scene, the annoyance of loud garbage collectors in the morning — so loud that they literally infiltrate his apartment.

2. High Maintenance (Vimeo)

The brilliance and originality of High Maintenance is not in its portrayal of public life in New York City, but in its decision to go inside the homes of various New Yorkers. Each episode focuses on a different person who orders delivery weed from “The Guy” and results in idiosyncratic character-driven stories, stories that dive deep into the lives of the everyday people who we pass by on the street or sit next to on the subway. We see how they live and become privy to their secrets — but only for a few minutes. It’s a reflection of those short, daily NYC interactions: Their time is up when the episode is up; they go about their day and we go about ours, and we never learn anything more.

1. Broad City (Comedy Central)

Has there ever been a show that captured the 20-something-in-New-York-City experience better than Broad City? As I’ve said before: It isn’t the first show to explore New York City, but it’s the first to explore the New York City that I live in. Broad City understands the small frustrations and intricacies of NYC living: the struggle to catch the Metro North at Grand Central, the Herculean task of finding a missing cellphone or picking up a package (have you ever been to the Maspeth UPS location?!), and the worst ordeal of all: finding an apartment. Depending on the day, NYC is either beautiful or draining, and Broad City consistently captures both of these extremes — and does so with a sense of humor that’s necessary to survive here.