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Celebrating New York On Screens Big & Small

Everyone knows that no city on earth is the setting for as many films as New York City. As the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote back in late August, according to City Hall, there are around 120 film and television projects in production on any given day in the city, and there are about 12,000 permits issued a year. “We might complain, but really we wouldn’t want it any other way,” Scott writes. “Trailers, craft service tables and production assistants policing sidewalks with clipboards and walkie-talkies have long been fixtures of New York life.”

We thought what better time to celebrate New York city’s impact on film and television than a day before the 55th Annual New York Film Festival kicks off. We’ll be covering the festival, as always, and to start us off, we’re taking a look at how films and TV shows have lately been representing all five of the city’s boroughs. While the city, particularly Manhattan, has always held sway over directors, DPs, and screenwriters, the recent past has seen all five boroughs brought to big and small screens. Here are some recent faves.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn hits the big screen in two movies just this past August, neither featuring the borough’s oft-filmed promenade or stately, brownstone-lined quarters. Instead, they pay homage to far less bourgeois environs, from whence they also take their names. On August 18th came Crown Heights, based on the true story of Colin Warner, wrongly convicted of murder in 1980. A week later and a neighborhood north, Bushwick was set in a fantasy version of the present, in which Texas, in the process of seceding (bye, Felicia?) has sent militias to New York to use the city as a negotiation tool.

 

Besides Crown Heights and Bushwick, the hacker drama Mr. Robot, now in its third season, makes liberal use of New York and Brooklyn’s Coney Island in particular as a backdrop to the hacktivist group fsociety’s efforts.

Premiering at the end of August and likewise set in the environs of Coney Island is the Sundance winner Beach Rats. The indie drama centers on teenaged Frankie, who explores his sexuality while grappling with a protective mother and delinquent buddies.

Queens

 

The oft-rebooted Spider-Man franchise keeps the borough of Queens on the map. While this year’s Spider-Man Homecoming offers plot points aboard the Staten Island Ferry and sees Spider-Man hit Coney Island, among other neighborhoods, Peter Parker’s roots are in Queens, thanks to his aunt’s apartment, in this iteration. Due to family first, New York’s most diverse borough takes precedent over the others in this franchise.

It was a toss-up whether to throw Broad City into Gowanus, Brooklyn, where main character Ilana (Ilana Glazer) resides, or Astoria, where her best friend and other lead, Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) lives. The ladies spend marginally more time puttering around the Astoria apartment, as does Abbi’s unintended roommate, so we’ll give it to Queens. Also, we’re thrilled now that Abbi, Ilana, and their really real-ness all returned to Comedy Central on September 13th.

The Bronx

 

Unfortunately, Baz Luhrmann’s two-part first season of the hip hop musical drama The Get Down will be it for the Netflix series, a tale of family, love, and musical aspirations set against a backdrop of the borough’s groundbreaking clubs and alternately vibrant, deserted, and occasionally burning streets. However, at least Luhrmann got in eleven episodes’ worth of a riot of color, dance, and of course, music, which should at least be preserved on the streaming service for the duration.

Staten Island

 

Starring Sally Field and directed by comedian Michael Showalter, last year’s Hello, My Name is Doris offered audiences an unlikely, kooky, and heartbreakingly lovable heroine in the form of office worker Doris. Living in a sheltered life in her late mother’s Staten Island home, Doris’s drudgery is turned upside down when she falls for her new young co-worker, the company’s new art director (in Manhattan, of course).

Manhattan

 

The first season of Netflix’s adaption of the Marvel character Jessica Jones was a hit when it premiered in 2015, and the next  season of the New York-set superhero series is due out next year. We’re looking forward to more of this noir-ish take on Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, even if what  passes for that neighborhood today is typically shot in Brooklyn or Queens.

Springing from Jessica Jones and heading uptown to Harlem, Netflix’s series Luke Cage sees Marvel superhero Luke Cage, victim of a sabotaged experiment from whence came his strength and unbreakability, take refuge in Harlem, using the uptown neighborhood as a base from which to fight crime. The first season met with good reviews when it debuted last year, and the second is on its way in 2018.

Times Square is hardly lacking for television, film, and theater representation, but HBO’s new show The Deuce starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal examines a side of the once-gritty locale so responsible for making it that way: porn. Set in the 1970s during and after the legalization of New York’s porn industry, the show also confronts the beginning of the AIDS crisis, against a backdrop of the city’s fluctuating landscape.

 

Like Times Square, the Upper West Side is no stranger to the screen — but if you’d like to see a more recent rendering of the area captured by a director other than Woody Allen, this summer’s Landline is an honest comedy to fill the quota. Directed by Gillian Robespierre and starring Jenny Slate, Landline’s central family deals with infidelity and each other, set in 1995’s UWS.

Will & Grace returns to 155 Riverside Drive, the address of the titular characters’ shared apartment, for a ten-episode run on NBC this fall. Who else thinks a martini with Karen (Megan Mullally) couldn’t be better timed?

For Sex and the City meets The Devil Wears Prada, tune into new series The Bold Type, about a group of women working at a fashion magazine and being in young in Manhattan. Created and inspired by former Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles, the show is set in the native habitat of both glossy magazine publishing and recent arrivistes who don’t know anything about anything: midtown.

Oft-filmed but rarely highlighted, Manhattan’s Southern District of New York (SDNY) Federal Court almost all the way downtown is the star of the show in For the People, a court drama premiering on ABC this fall.

We’re not really sure where in the city they’re residing, but we’re going with Manhattan for CBS’s upcoming sitcom 9JKL, which is literally named for the main characters’ apartment numbers. They’re sequential appearance is hardly a buried lead; Mark Feuerstein plays Josh, who moves back home to an apartment in between his parents and his brother and sister-in-law. Hilarity necessarily ensues.

Featured image: The Deuce. Center, Gary Carr, Cliff Smith/Method Man, Gbenga Akinnagbe. Photo: Paul Schiraldi. Courtesy HBO.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susannah Edelbaum

Susannah Edelbaum's work has appeared on NPR Berlin, Fast Company, Motherboard, and the Cut, among others. She lives in Berlin, Germany.

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