Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Best TV Shows Set in Major League Baseball Cities
Baltimore: Homicide: Life On the Street. I've never seen The Wire, but it's also very highly regarded. Roc was good, too.
Boston: The Practice. Beats the hell out of Cheers, which got too goofy at times. Also better than its own spinoff, Boston Legal; yet another David E. Kelly legal drama, Ally McBeal, and the medical drama St. Elsewhere, which was excellent, but too depressing for me.
I also liked Crossing Jordan, starring the luscious Jill Hennessey, but I kept calling it "Crossing Delancey," after a movie that was showing while I worked at a theater in 1988. (Set in New York, it starred Amy Irving, who still looks great by the way.)
Chicago -- the North Side, Cub territory: Perfect Strangers. Was there ever a better show in Cubland? A funnier one? As Balki (Bronson Pinchot) would say, "Well, of course not, don't be ridiculous!" Roseanne was set in a small town outside Chicago, the fictional Lanford, and the Conner family were clearly Cub fans.
Chicago -- the South Side, White Sox territory: Good Times. No show was ever more "South Side" than that one. Hill Street Blues was obviously set in Chicago. Never mind the lousy weather it always seemed to have and the El shots; the cars saying "METRO POLICE" were obviously redone "CHICAGO POLICE" cars. I'm not sure where in the city either The Bob Newhart Show or ER were set; not knowing that, I can't nominate either one.
Cincinnati: WKRP in Cincinnati. Not a whole lot to compete with, but the show was excellent. It wasn't a turkey, because it sure did fly.
Cleveland: The Drew Carey Show. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of contenders, which is too bad, because I like Cleveland.
I once did a "What if?" scenario for what would have happened if the Red Sox had won the 1986 World Series. Suddenly, Boston no longer seemed like a "loser city" (you really gotta use your imagination here), and so Cheers' ratings went into the tank. Not ready to give up, the producers decided to do a spinoff. So they decided Norm was from a "loser city," and sent him there to do a radio talk show based on his usual job, accounting and money matters. They chose Cleveland, and co-starring on "Norm" were Patricia McPherson, who played Bonnie the supermechanic on Knight Rider, as his previously unseen wife Vera, and... Drew Carey as Norm's even more Normish brother. In essence, I redid Frasier for Norm.
Dallas (Texas Rangers): Dallas. Not a lot of contenders here, either, unless you want to count Walker, Texas Ranger, but Chuck Norris is an overrated right-wing asshole. Yeah, you read me right. You gonna tell him? He's close to 70, so I figure I got a shot at beating the bastard.
Denver (Colorado Rockies): Dynasty. Unless you want to head out to Boulder and count Mork & Mindy. Oh, shazbot!
Detroit: Home Improvement. Laughter with more power! Argh! Argh! Argh! Argh! You'd think being such a big metro area, there'd be more Detroit-centric shows, but the next-most popular has been Martin. Oy...
Houston: Reba. Aside from country music superstar Reba McIntire's sitcom, the only other show I can think of set in the Bayou City is one in which a bunch of Wild West desperadoes got time-traveled to the present (the 1980s), and found a world that had passed them by. Fortunately, the gold they'd stolen was now worth a fortune, and they tried to make honest men of themselves. Unfortunately, for the life of me, I can't remember the name of this series, which didn't last long.
Kansas City: Jericho. Okay, it was set in a town in Kansas, and after a nuclear holocaust, but the next-closest any TV show has come to being set in KC was Gunsmoke, and Dodge City is 335 miles from KC -- it's almost closer to Denver -- and was set in the very early days of baseball. Yet another thin pack to choose from.
Los Angeles -- the city proper (Dodgers territory): L.A. Law. Maybe if I were old enough to have regularly seen Columbo, I would have put it here. Peter Falk was a gas. Nor am I quite old enough to have "gotten" either The Rockford Files or Starsky & Hutch. I'm also not familiar with Dragnet, either its 1951 black-and-white original version or its 1967 color version, aside from the basic format.
Los Angeles -- the suburbs (Angels territory): Three's Company. Santa Monica is much closer to Dodger Stadium than to Anaheim Stadium, but the show was definitely suburban. And I've gained a whole new appreciation for the show, which went off the air when I was 13: Now I get all the jokes. Arrested Development was set in Newport Beach, but I never watched it.
Miami (Florida Marlins): Empty Nest. I liked this one better than the show it was spun off from, The Golden Girls. Richard Mulligan was a likable guy, and all 3 daughters were gorgeous: Dinah Manoff, Kristy McNichol and (though we only saw her briefly) Lisa Rieffel. Dreyfus the dog was a hoot, and Park Overall was a holler.
Milwaukee: Happy Days. Come on, the only competition was its own spinoff, Laverne & Shirley. And That '70s Show, set in a suburb of Milwaukee, can, in the words of the immortal Fonz, "Sit on it."
Minnesota: The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Also not a lot of competition, but it would fall well short. Unless you count Coach, which was definitely set in Minnesota but not definitively set in Minneapolis, St. Paul, or a suburb of either, this is the only show set in the Twin Cities that ever looked like it was going to make it after all.
New York -- Queens: All In the Family. There have been other shows set in the Mets' home Borough, including Taxi and The King of Queens. But All In the Family may have been the best sitcom ever. You don't think so? In the words of the immortal Archie Bunker, "You are a meathead!"
New York -- Brooklyn: The Honeymooners. A strong, but not close, second is The Cosby Show. But Ralphie Boy, Alice, Norton and their pals have 'em all beat. Any other candidate is, by comparison, "a mere bag of shells." If you think any of them was better, well, "You wanna go to the Moon?" Then again, Welcome Back, Kotter, and a later show reminiscent of it, Head of the Class, were both very good.
New York -- Bronx: The Goldbergs. This was the very first TV sitcom, running from 1949 to 1956. Unfortunately, there haven't been many shows set in the Yankees' home Borough. The next best may have been Becker, which proves that even Ted Danson was better in The Bronx than in Boston.
New York -- Staten Island: Grounded For Life. It appears to be the only TV show ever set in the smallest, whitest, most conservative Borough. Although Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc on Friends) was supposedly from Richmond County.
New York -- Manhattan: Sesame Street. Don't laugh, it was great before they turned it into The Elmo Show. There was never a definitive location, although Big Bird once had a map which suggested it was off Great Jones Street in Greenwich Village. It is taped in New York, but has since moved from Teletape Studios on the Upper East Side to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.
The easy answer would have been I Love Lucy, but I was never a big fan. I could also have named The Odd Couple, and Aristophanes is still ridiculous. I could also have named Barney Miller, which was so funny it was criminal. And then there was Life On Mars, but that went all across the City. Don't even think of putting Seinfeld in this spot, even with all its Yankee references. (Note: Although Castle, like Barney Miller set in the NYPD's fictional 12th Precinct, had debuted by this point, I hadn't started watching it yet.)
New York -- Long Island: Everybody Loves Raymond. The Met-fan Barones lived in Lynbrook. There haven't been many shows set on The Island, such that Growing Pains is the runner-up, with the main family being the Seavers (they were Met and Islander fans) and their next-door-neighbors being the Koosmans.
New York -- Westchester on up: The Dick Van Dyke Show. Work scenes in Manhattan, home scenes in New Rochelle. A close second is Tuckahoe's Maude.
New York -- New Jersey: House, M.D. Set in Plainsboro, just 20 miles from my home base, although that actually makes it slightly closer to Center City Philadelphia than to Midtown Manhattan. And, no, it's not lupus. What, no Sopranos? No, no Sopranos. It was good, but not great. Incredibly overrated. The reputation far exceeds the reality. It's the Nolan Ryan of TV shows.
New York -- Connecticut suburbs: My Wife and Kids. Appropriately enough for a show with a mostly-black cast, Damon Wayans set it in Stamford, which is where Jackie & Rachel Robinson lived for most of their lives together. I Love Lucy was in Connecticut in its final season, but that was kind of what we would later call a "jump the shark moment." Who's the Boss? was set in nearby Fairfield, and it was good, but it wasn't better than My Wife and Kids.
Oakland: Hangin' With Mr. Cooper. Standup comedian Mark Curry's sitcom was, unfortunately, one of the few shows ever set in the East Bay, but it was all right.
Philadelphia: American Dreams. A period piece based around a 1960s Catholic family, whose teenage daughter becomes a dancer on Philly-based American Bandstand (which I'm not counting because it was non-fiction).
Bill Cosby's cartoon Fat Albert is also a serious contender. The ABC soaps All My Children and One Life to Live are set in fictional Philly suburbs. And, no, it is not always sunny in Philadelphia. As much as I love that city, no big city looks worse in the rain. New Brunswick, definitely. New Haven, maybe. But those are smaller cities.
Phoenix (Arizona Diamondbacks): Alice. Linda Lavin was great, and Vic Tayback as Mel was a classic. "Pickup!"
Pittsburgh: Mr. Belvedere, set in the suburb of Beaver Falls, Joe Namath's hometown. Not a lot to choose from here, either. Not having Showtime, I never saw Queer As Folk. And while Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood was taped from a Pittsburgh studio, it didn't really advertise its location, as it was supposed to be "any neighborhood," or even "your neighborhood."
St. Louis: The John Larroquette Show. Set in the city's bus station, this sitcom was highly regarded but didn't last long. As he proved on Night Court and Boston Legal, Larroquette is a great supporting player, but doesn't carry a series by himself.
San Diego: Simon & Simon. Despite great weather and beaches, San Diego has never been a city with TV producers looking for it. The next-best, if you want to go out as far as Oceanside, was the later Major Dad, which also co-starred Gerald McRaney, and that series moved after just 1 season, as Major MacGillis was transferred to Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico, Virginia.
San Francisco: Full House. Party of Five is more highly regarded, but I just loved Full House. Actually, I think I just had a crush on Candace Cameron, who has since married a hockey player -- the other Bure brother. Too Close For Comfort, Ted Knight's post-Mary Tyler Moore sitcom, was also set in San Francisco and was terrific. It was good to see him play a guy who was smarter and nicer than Ted Baxter.
Some people like The Streets of San Francisco, but I wasn't quite old enough to remember it, and, besides, I'm still not ready to forgive Michael Douglas for marrying Catherine Zeta-Jones. I do remember that show a little, and also Ironside, but I've never seen enough reruns of them to judge properly.
In the various Star Trek series, the location of Starfleet Command and Starfleet Academy is said to be the site of the Presidio military reservation (including the SF anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge), but none of the Trek series can really be said to have been "set" in the city. After all, the focus was "Space, the final frontier."
Seattle: Dark Angel. Sorry, Frasier fans, but who would you rather look at: Kelsey Grammer or Jessica Alba?
Tampa Bay area: Cougar Town. The fictional Gulf Haven is in Sarasota County, and that's as close as we can come. Too bad, because I love Courteney Cox, but the show isn't very good. It would have been better off as a feature film, over and done with in an hour and a half, instead of a sitcom whose premise was already beaten to death after the pilot.
Toronto: Degrassi Junior High. Few Canadian TV series have been shown in the U.S. -- or, at least, few shows obviously set in Canada, although quite a few have been filmed there in order to save money. Degrassi and its spinoffs are pretty much the only Canadian-based series that Americans knew prior to the growth of satellite TV.
As far as U.S. viewers are concerned, the next-best show would have to be... Due South? Although there was Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. It was set in L.A., but it was filmed in Toronto, and the map on the precinct wall was obviously of lower Ontario.
Washington: The West Wing. In a landslide. Though NCIS is growing on me, and my parents are crazy about Bones. (I gotta admit, Emily Deschanel looked damn good in that Wonder Woman costume.)