Often, the setting of a show is a simple statement of fact, something to establish where the story is taking place and nothing more. Some shows, however, go a bit deeper, and through its characters, it develops the setting to the point where it becomes a crucial element to the story on a whole. Here, we’ll look at a few examples of shows that made a fully-realized character out of their settings.
Fargo – Bemidji, MN
The widely acclaimed TV adaptation of the 1996 Coen brother’s movie, Fargo moved its location north of Brainerd to the town of Bemidji, Minnesota. Keeping with the same semi-serious tone and characters that seem to walk the line between genuine and caricature, the first season also successfully balanced the warm-hearted, “Minnesota nice” collective personality against the flat, desolate, snow-covered landscape, the latter due to it being filmed in Calgary, Alberta. While Bemidji wasn’t portrayed as idyllic, the quaint conventionality of its residents is underscored with the introduction of the mysterious Lorne Malvo, who’s very presence wreaks havoc on the town and drives much of the story.
Dexter – Miami, FL
Despite the wide-spread consensus on the show’s later seasons, Dexter always managed to consistently depict its uniquely sweaty, claustrophobic take on the city of Miami. In the pilot episode, our serial-killing main character even gives a loving ode with the line “Miami is a great place for me, great place for me to hone my craft. Viva Miami.” While the bulk of the production was done in the Los Angeles area, key landmarks were chosen for several iconic scenes. Even the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue headquarters stood-in for the Miami Police headquarters early on in the show’s run.
Parks & Recreation – Pawnee, IN
The fictional town with the most involved city government in TV history, Pawnee succeeded in accurately parodying the angry ignorance of middle-America, most often in their own frequent town meetings. While Parks and Recreation won audiences over for the likability of its characters, a lot of that was tied to Leslie Knope’s unyielding dedication to her beloved town. While the city was a constant source for storylines, the entire sixth season built up to the unification with it’s rival city Eagleton. The seventh pit Leslie against a number of obstacles that ultimately allowed her to save one of the city’s worst neighborhoods while creating a national park at the same time. Watching Parks and Recreation, it’s impossible to not care about the city of Pawnee, often in spite of itself.
Breaking Bad – Albuquerque, NM
Originally planned to take place in San Bernadino, California, the location for Vince Gilligan’s ‘Mr. Chips becomes Scarface’ opus was moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to take advantage of tax incentives. Taking full advantage of the change, Breaking Bad used the desolate, sepia-toned landscape to its advantage as it became a stylized modern western telling the tale of Walter White’s meteoric rise to the top of the drug trade. Directors of the show were encouraged to watch the first 15 minutes of Once Upon A Time In The West for inspiration, helping them utilize the vast, empty landscape to punctuate its storytelling. Several Albuquerque landmarks make appearances throughout, and since the show’s end, Breaking Bad sightseeing tours have become a regular destination for fans. Just refrain from throwing pizza on the real-life White house.
The Wire – Baltimore, MD
Show runner David Simon started the first season of The Wire with a detailed examination of the police pursuit of Avon Barksdale, the new drug kingpin of west Baltimore. Each season that followed, another layer would be added that would build on the parts that had already been established for a unified whole. The second season introduced us to the docks, the third forayed into politics, the fourth into the school system and the fifth the inner workings of the media by way of the city’s newspaper. By the time the show drew to a close, Simon had built an almost fully-realized scale model city of Baltimore. Striving for authenticity, locals were often used for extras and supporting roles. Although the authenticity wasn’t always appreciated, as Martin O’Malley, the mayor at the time, thought it portrayed the city in a negative light, and allegedly urged police to arrest the cast and crew for the slightest infraction, sometimes delaying production by several days.