Setting is the first thing to think about when telling a story. But just how crucial is it to television shows? There are some shows that simply don't need any specific location. For example, Friends takes place in New York, but that's really not a very important part of anything. The series could take place in Boston or Chicago just as easily as any other city.
On the other hand, there are some shows that could not take place anywhere else. House of Cards is deeply entrenched in American politics, meaning that there is no place that would suit the story quite as well as Washington D.C. On the other hand, True Detective finds its inspiration from the styles of Southern and L.A.-style detective stories, using the rich religious undertones and glamorous politics of the two settings respectively.
But, there are some shows that go above and beyond in their use of setting; these are shows that have incorporated their locations so deeply into the structure that they simply could not work in any other place.
There are few lists exhibiting excellence in television that don't include Breaking Bad. It's recognized as one of the best shows of all time because it manages to do some really extraordinary things in nearly every aspect. The location and setting is no exception to this fact.
For those who are still living under a rock, Breaking Bad follows Walter White, a chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and subsequently becomes part of the crystal meth business in an attempt to make some money for his family after his passing. Starting with the second season, we begin to see the cartel's influence on the characters in the show. Whether it's fighting off encroaching enemies in business or beheading spies to blow up DEA agents, the influence of the cartel is far-reaching and powerful.
This is particularly important due to the close proximity of Albuquerque to Juarez. It is one of the closest large cities to the Mexican border, making the city prime real estate for the drug business. This allows the cartel to exhibit much of their power and keep a chokehold on their empire. However, it's still about 200 miles between the two cities. When Hank is sent closer to the border to deal with the cartel, their brutality is shown in a much clearer view.
It is because of this distance that Walter is able to muscle his way into the scene without more resistance. While it's not optimal for the cartel to let him find so much success, there is also little that they can do from such a great distance. And this is only one aspect that the location has on the telling of this story. With its sweeping shots of the desert and the all-too-true dangers that crystal meth provides to the underbelly of the city, it's hard not to be entranced with the grim isolation of Albuquerque's drug trade.
Parks & Recreation
On a distinctly lighter note, we get the story of Leslie Knope, the deputy director of the Parks & Recreation Department in a small Indiana town called Pawnee. The comedy follows the exploits of various members of the Parks & Recreation department as they work to better the community.
In this instance, most of our characters are shaped by their thoughts on the town. Leslie is entranced by the magic of Pawnee, believing it to be the best place to live despite what anyone else might say or think. Because of this, she spends much of her time pursuing ways to better her community and create events and locations to enhance the experience of the residents.
Others that work for the department are also influenced by their choice (or lack of) to live in Pawnee. Ron embraces a deeply libertarian standpoint and seeks isolation from others wherever possible, joining the parks department for the sole purpose of lessening government impact even more. April detests the town and often mocks its residents, showing her pessimistic attitude and dislike of people.
More important than the parks workers are the residents that they deal with. They're often seen to be fairly unintelligent, making ridiculous requests or complaining about frankly unimportant things. This is compounded by the apathetic natures of many of the politicians in the town. What makes the show so entertaining is that the characters are genuinely believable. With the small town mentality being exhibited by everyone, it's easy to believe that these are conversations and events that could actually happen. It simply wouldn't work in any place with a population greater than 5,000.
Yes, I know that there are only a couple of episodes out. It might seem a little premature to declare this show to be at the same level of success as the previous two on the list. But with the first two episodes gaining critical acclaim, with some reviewers going so far as to call it the best TV show of the fall, it's hard not to talk about the show.
One of the things that makes it so exceptional is the subject matter. It's an unapologetically black show; it doesn't make any efforts to try and appeal to the typical white audience. Instead, it focuses on creating a tightly-woven story and a rich landscape.
With a name that literally puts the focus on where the story takes place, it's clear that this is a significant factor. But there's definitely more to it than that. For example, the decision was made to have an entirely black writing staff. This is an effort to make the most authentic experience possible.
There are a few good examples of just how this is achieved. First, the exchanges between Earn and Ryan. Ryan, a radio DJ who Earn is trying to impress, casually drops the n-word into conversation in typical white frat-boy fashion. However, he refrains from doing so around black men who he views as more threatening. This is something that is such an intrinsically black experience that it really can't be fully appreciated by anyone else.
Going off of this, they are able to portray the realities of primarily black neighborhoods in Atlanta. One of the highest praises to the show is just how realistic it is. Every part of these episodes features locations and landmarks from Atlanta. With many of the writers being Atlanta natives, this show plays less like a character drama and more like a direct homage to Donald Glover's hometown.