It starts with fair warning: a bright colored "no parking" notice taped to every other tree or pole in a Manhattan neighborhood, announcing that a movie or television show will soon be shot there. Though it comes with congestion, noise and occasionally civilian adherence to the cry, "Quiet on the set!" It doesn't bother me that living in New York City sometimes feels more like living on a lot at Paramount. It also comes with great memories -- Colin Farrell winking at me when my dog barked, interrupting the filming of The International; the sunny day when my youngest, dressed in her slicker and galoshes, insisted we watch Sarah Jessica Parker run through fake rain, take after take after take, on East 89th Street; and my first ever sighting, Telly Savalas as Kojak stepping out of a brownstone on the Lower East Side, with his signature Tootsie Pop.
I never minded it that passing the set of Law and Order would inevitably implant the theme song in my head for the rest of the day or leave me with the uneasy feeling that I was about to stumble on a corpse. After all -- the shows were ripped from the headlines -- making their violence realistic within the limits of the city I chose to live in. It was all good, all welcome, until a few months back, on Madison Avenue, when I approached a flier that read The Following.
If you are not familiar with The Following it is a series that trails an Edgar Allen Poe obsessed, crazy man, Joe Carroll, and his cult of satanic followers. Last year's season was filmed mostly in the Maryland and D.C. area and to sum it up briefly, the show had it's characters stabbing, shooting and setting fire to random people, out of nowhere, for reasons that were hard to discern. Quite simply: The Following scared the crap out of me. Watching it before I went to sleep, often prefaced by the misleading promise by my husband, "Honey, let's go inside, wind down and watch a show," gave me nightmares. False advertising that already led me to veto all franchises with only letters in the title -CSI and NCIS. I will no longer be listening to autopsy reports unless they involve a coroner singing them from Munchkinland.
When I say The Following scares the crap out of me I am not joking. Last season gave me a serious case of the heebie jeebies. I even found myself looking at a perfectly un-sketchy guy on my corner thinking there was a very real possibility that he would stab me seventy-three times for no reason. Why did I keep watching you might ask? There are two kinds of people in this world: the ones who ride by road kill on the highway and turn away and the ones who look. I look. And I kept watching, as I did last week's premiere where the cult of satanic lunatics did their murderous business on a NYC subway train. The 6 train. My train. Now really, couldn't they have just stayed south?
Let me state for the record -- I am not a wuss when it comes to movies or television. I can recite nearly every word in Goodfellas and have seen every episode of The Sopranos multiple times; neither causes me to spend the next day looking over my shoulder to see if I'm about to get whacked. I watch Criminal Minds, and I don't go to sleep worrying that some UNSUB (Unknown Suspect) is going to come into my apartment, VIVISECT me (dissect me while I'm alive) and leave with a TROPHY (a personal item taken from a victim -- in my case probably my Camp Olympus Color War General plaque, which thirty years later still represents the highest title I have ever held.)
I am also a big fan of Blue Bloods,which definitely scores points for it's romanticized version of New York. While it has its fair share of shoot 'em ups, the depiction of the Reagan family guarding our city leaves me at ease. The message seems to be -- New York is safe -- Tom Selleck is the Chief of Police and Donny Wahlberg always has your back. It is the most quixotic portrayal of law enforcement, with overhead shots of the skyline flanked by a handsome patriarch and charming Sunday night dinners, since the days of Hill Street Blues. That was a show that put you to bed with a smile on your face along with Captain Frank Furillo and Public Defender Joyce Davenport's secret love affair. I may have been in High School, but if memory serves me right, that was about as romantic as you could get on the small screen, even if you were never really sure what city they were supposed to "Be careful out there!" in, you thought it was you own.
I yearn for the days where films and television shows that took place in New York were akin to an "I Love New York" commercial. Nora Ephron's New York: of changing seasons in Central Park and little shops around every corner. I miss Carey, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte. Hell, I even miss Gossip Girl's Serena Van Der Woodson and Blaire Waldorf. Though our one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite caused so much congestion and fanfare that they had to rebuild their set at Silver Cup Studios in Queens -- at least they continued to sign off with xo, xo, not bullets.
Whenever I think to myself, "Why do I live in this crazy city?" I just have to pull up a Woody Allen movie from my queue and I have my answer. From Manhattan, splendored in black and white and "Rhapsody in Blue" to Everyone Says I Love You -- with its nannies and store mannequins singing their way up Madison Avenue. As the final credits rolled, I was won over, once again. Like Woody Allen's promise from Manhattan -- "It was my town and always would be!"
But Woody Allen didn't stay true to those words. He has been spending his time romanticizing Paris, Rome, Barcelona, even San Francisco. He has left us behind to suffer through a plethora of cops, robbers and post-apocalyptic nightmares, and now: a cult of complete irrational lunatics whose crimes have not been ripped from any headlines that I have ever read. Allen's latest film Magic in the Moonlight is set in the French Riviera in the 1920's jazz age. We had a jazz age; we had moonlight - Come back Woody! We are being attacked by a satanic cult from suburban Maryland!
Has the entertainment industry given up on the romance of Manhattan? Did it flee the country with Woody or migrate to Brooklyn with Lena Dunham? Are we destined to be portrayed as an urban wild west, ducking gunfire instead of drinking Cosmos? The crime rate in N.Y.C. is the lowest since 1963, but pop culture is leading us to believe we best trade in our Manolas for sensible shoes -- just in case we have to make a run for it. I want to watch television and films and call out "Look -- that's my corner, or bookstore or butcher," without the end of that sentence being "...where that dead body is lying." I want to hear "Quiet on the Set!" and witness two actors in a deep embrace, eyes closed, snowflakes falling, as I hum to myself a Gershwin tune. The End... of the story, not the end of the world as the Statue of Liberty's head comes floating by.