As far as I know, there are only two things all New Yorkers truly love: 1) Wu-Tang Clan, and 2) complaining about the city’s famously impossible real estate. Neither of these things are especially new or novel, but will that discourage the New York Times from writing about the inherent disconnect between TV apartments and reality? No it will not.
A piece in the paper’s infamous Real Estate section this weekend examines the evolution of fictional apartments from the Sex and the City/Friends era to present day, represented by shows like Broad City and Girls. The difference, argues Ronda Kaysen, the Times’ real estate columnist, is that the apartments of today are no longer the aspirational daydream fodder offered by Carrie Bradshaw and her gargantuan walk-in closet. Today’s TV insists that its characters are just like us, staring at blood-spattered walls not with horror, but determination. That’s nothing a little Oxiclean can’t fix, we think, handing over the deposit:
Television has become smarter since then — viewers expect more rawness. Well, maybe they expect more truth. It just happens to be raw. But dig deeper and shows like “Broad City” and “Girls” tell a different coming-of-age story, one that is experienced in the shadow of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
By way of proof, Kaysen points out that poor Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t get her dream apartment in the West Village, having to settle instead for “far Greenpoint.” (Make no mistake: Greenpoint is a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood increasingly out of reach for plenty of wage-earners, millennial or otherwise. Saying someone had to settle for Greenpoint is like saying they couldn’t afford a yacht, so they had to get a speedboat. The horror!)
But is the grim portrait painted in Girls the actual reality of New York? A spin around the Times’ own real estate section reveals that plenty of authentic, unscripted New York residents with meager incomes nevertheless live in spectacular luxury. The 26-year-old design assistant who bought a $400,000 apartment in Williamsburg? The three recent grads who would only deign to look in the East Village or Lower East Side? The motherfuckin’ 22-year-old photographer in the $3,700 per month Greenwich Village loft that “matched his aesthetic”? These cringy stories are released each week like emetic clockwork, which suggests that Times reporters can’t toss a handcrafted mason jar without knocking down a pile of moneyed potential subjects.
Moreover, rent-controlled apartments do exist: According to New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board, the city is home to around 27,000 of them. If you’re incredibly unlucky, you might even know someone who has one. I’d rather be jealous of a fictional character’s good fortune than a real-life acquaintance whose apartment life is objectively better than mine. The article is also strangely timed in that Brooklyn rents might finally be starting to stabilize, thanks in part to overzealous developers who appear to have at last saturated the luxury high-rise market.
There’s nothing wrong with watching a show in which a character has a nicer apartment than I do. If I wanted to watch someone struggle to pay rent on an overpriced Brooklyn apartment, I’d simply film myself Venmo-ing my landlord! For my escapism, I’d prefer to briefly check out into a world where I get three beautiful street-facing windows (versus one trash lot-facing window) and a closet full of dope designer dresses (versus an IKEA rack full of athleisure I’ve largely found on the stoops of my wealthier neighbors).
My point is, I don’t watch Broad City for its lifelike portrayal of the real estate struggle, of which much of New York doesn’t appear to be engaged in anyway. I watch it for this: