5 Shows That Capture The Real New York

There are many TV shows that are either shot or set in New York, but only a handful are truly New York-centric. Here’s my top 5 of the ones that capture life in the City in the best and realest way possible:

#5 LOUIE

The only reason why “Louie” stands in fifth position is because it’s harder for me to relate to a mid-age divorced father than let’s say, a columnist with a passion for heels and fabulous girlfriends. But that doesn’t take anything away from the genius of Louis CK. The comedian describes the contrasts of life in New York with subtlety and a sharp sense of humor that is reminiscent of Woody Allen: from the low-key downtown artist life to the loneliness and anxiety of the Big City, “Louie” just gets it. I only wish there was as much jazz in the streets of New York as there is in Louie’s head.

#4 GIRLS

Having no idea where you’re going in life is a pretty common feeling for Millennials living in New York…and whining about it at a vegan Brooklyn coffee shop is their local sport. Yes, Hannah is annoying and that’s why “Girls” only gets the fourth position. I mean the girl has a paid writer position at GQ and quits because it’s not intellectually challenging enough for her? I die. But besides the obnoxious elitism of the show, “Girls” does a great job at capturing the mixed experiences of young adults living in New York. From trying to make it as an artist to having your heart treated like “monkey meat,” “Girls” is the first show to reveal the not-so-glamorous side of life in the City as a twenty something girl in a raw, yet hysterical way.

#3 HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA

A show that was cancelled after two seasons as #3, really? Yes, really. Because to this day, no other one did a better job at grasping the vibrant hustling spirit of New York’s youth. Ben and Cam have that cool group of friends you wish you had when you first arrive in the City. They are all fighting not to get sucked in the system and dream of becoming the best version of themselves. They are creative and street smart but get easily distracted by New York’s random adventures and endless parties. “How To Make It In America” is touching because it represents our complex generation: diverse, ambitious but also incredibly lazy and impatient. I’m still hoping for its return one day.

#2 SEX AND THE CITY

Do I even need to explain? “Sex and the City” was the first show to introduce New York as a character as opposed to a place. The City is one of the girls: it has a personality, a voice, a style. It’s magical, cheeky, and fabulous. “Sex and the City” is a  New York institution, restaurants or neighborhoods featured in each season  reflect what was “in” at the time of the episode, but also set the trend IRL. To this day, we still don’t know how Carrie could afford her stunning brownstone apartment and countless Manolo Blanicks by writing this one magazine column, but it doesn’t matter. The ups and downs of single life in New York and most importantly the sacred aspect of female friendship in such a crazy City are the reasons why the show will forever live on.

#1 BROAD CITY

How can I explain the hilarity of Broad City? If you haven’t started following the adventures of Ilana and Abbi, then stop everything that you are doing and turn on Comedy Central. If you have, then you probably screamed “YAS QUEEEEEN!” while discovering my #1. “Broad City” is simply the best show I’ve discovered in a very long time, and my favorite New York-centric show currently on air. “Broad City” is to 2015 what “Sex and the City” was to 2000. It paints a colorful portrait of what young souls in New York are up to these days: carelessly partying, smoking, Tindering, procrastinating, and laughing…a lot. You wanted “Girls” without all the whining? Broad City did it. Ilana and Abbi who both created and star in the show as fictional versions of themselves don’t take anything too seriously which is what makes the show so real and relatable. “Broad City” wasn’t the result of an all-star production team in search of the next big thing in comedy: it comes from the talent, energy and sass of two New York comedians who were trying to prove their parents they were actually working on something. It has that “Started from as a web series now we’re here” liberating format that makes it unique. Now go binge watch the first two seasons!

What are your favorite New York shows?

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Widow Basquiat: A Must-Read New York City Tale

Picture New York in the 80s. Graffiti is slowly emerging from the Lower East Side’s dark alleys to the trendy galleries. Artists, drug dealers, and pimps own Downtown: a (not so safe) haven for visionary minds. A girl buys a one-way bus ticket to New York with only a few bucks in her pocket. Suzanne Mallouk’s story starts like many others, but the rest is History. Literally.

I am not a fast reader, but I finished Widow Basquiat in 3 days. This book is as addictive as the nature of Suzanne and the legendary Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s relationship. Once you start, you just can’t stop. Kind of like the heroin that the two lovers used to do in the Great Jones loft.

It’s hard to imagine that the city described in Widow Basquiat is in fact New York. It made me wonder if we traded creativity and irreverence for safety and Starbucks at every corner. On her first night in the City, Suzanne witnesses a murder:

“I went straight to the Seville Hotel. The first night a prostitute was murdered by the infamous “Slasher.” (…) There were cops everywhere and the women who were staying at the hotel were moaning and screaming and cussing at the police officers. I was so frightened that I moved out to the Martha Washington Hotel on 29th and Madison, which was only for women.” 

But New York was also the beating heart of a new vibrant art scene. Running into Andy Warhol or Keith Haring was just a typical night out:

“My strongest association with Keith was at the Paradise Garage club. (…) There was no liquor so everyone came high on mushrooms, pot and mostly hallucinogens like ecstasy and acid. (…) It was really (Keith) who brought graffiti into the SoHo galleries. (…) He was a real social radical. (…) The white art world disgusted him. Jean was black and had to present himself as separate from graffiti somehow. Keith was gay and white and could glamorize graffiti in a way that Jean could not.” 

Today, Chris Brown throwing bottles at people is considered a hot club experience. Suzanne even got into an epic pre-TMZ era cat fight with no other than Madonna over Jean-Michel Basquiat:

“One night Suzanne goes out to the Roxy and finds Jean-Michel with Madonna. Suzanne throws herself at Madonna and starts pulling her hair, scratching and punching her. (…) Jean-Michel laughs and laughs. (…) Later he paints A Panel of Experts. (…) On the collage he crosses out the word “Madonna.”

Race was at the heart of Basquiat’s work and remains one of the most powerful themes of the book. If certain anecdotes tend to show that racial tensions eased compared to the 80s, it’s only in a superficial way. Obviously, Suzanne wouldn’t get fired for dating a black man today. But she could still be discriminated for it. The tragic death of Suzanne’s friend Michael Stewart in 1983 also feels sadly current:

 “He had a massive hemorrhage at the base of his brain that appeared to have been caused by strangulation from an illegal choke hold (…) A grand jury investigation did ensue, (…) but those police officers are still out there walking the beat.”

The addiction to both people and substances is the main subject of the book:

“They do coke six or seven times a day. He tells Suzanne she can only wear one dress. He tells her she can only wear one pair of very large men’s shoes. He does another line of coke and paints Big Shoes (…) Jean-Michel sticks black paper over all the windows so that they won’t know if it is day or night.”

Widow Basquiat gives such a unique perspective of what it was like to be a twenty-something rebel in New York City at that time. Finding drugs and finding love was definitely easier back then (Jean-Michel moved in with Suzanne a few days after meeting her.) People could live in Manhattan like a complete Bohemians and give zero fucks about society:

“They dress in long black waistcoats and walk down 3rd Avenue carrying black and silver walking sticks. (…) They live without electricity and only use candlelight. They have no appliances or even a telephone.”

Beyond an inexplicable form of nostalgia – it’s not like I WANT to be a heroin addict in an abusive relationship –  the book made me want to explore today’s New York art scene. Basquiat only gained recognition as a major artist in the last few years of his young life, and even then, his paintings sold for the fraction of what they do today. I’m now on a mission to meet the legends of tomorrow. And even if we all know how this love story ends, Widow Basquiat still makes it a fascinating journey.


Order Widow Basquiat on Amazon.

If you want to immerse in Basquiat’s world, don’t miss The Unknown Notebooks Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum until August.

Learn more about Jean-Michel Basquiat here


 

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