To be frank: New York is not New York right now. With shelter-in-place orders still in effect, residents are confined to their apartments. During the season the city traditionally reawakens, her famous streets are empty… it’s fucking depressing.
To ease your lockdown blues, we’ve compiled a list of TV shows and films which feature the Big Apple in all its gritty glory.
The Get Down (2016)
Set the South Bronx during the 70s, Baz Luhrmann’s fantasia tracks the the fall disco and rise of hip-hop in dazzling style. Zeke and his buddies navigate love, poverty, and making it as MCs. Featuring a stellar cast and soundtrack, The Get Down is a singularly New York story. The clothes are dope, too.
High Maintenance (2012 – )
We can’t think of show that captures the NYC ethos quite like this beloved HBO project. Each episode offers a peak into the life of a different New Yorker, with the only narrative constant being a weed dealer referred to as “The Guy.” Always funny, often touching – the anthology show features incredible shots of the city and showcases the diverse residents that call the metropolis home.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s modern classic explores race relations in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Destined to be iconic from the opening credits alone – Rosie Perez, come on! – Do the Right Thing‘s examination of community and the divisions that threaten it remains as relevant today as it was in the late 80s. I mean, the main character works in a pizza shop… it can’t get much more New York than that.
Betty is HBO’s latest teen offering. A spin-off of creator Crystal Moselle’s flick Skate Kitchen (2018), the show centers on a group of female skaters in – you guessed it – New York City. With long shots of the gang skating around Chinatown, Betty captures the city as it was only a few months ago.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Known for its iconic soundtrack (ahh, ahh, ahh, ahh… STAYIN’ ALIVE!), this John Travolta-vehicle is actually surprisingly dark. Set in Brooklyn, Travolta plays a working class kid who works a dead-end job. His parents are dissatisfied with their son’s career prospects and think he’s altogether too interested in clothes and hair gel. But at the discotheque – Travolta is a star. Less narrative and more a snapshot of the time, the film has killer views of a pre-hipster Brooklyn. You gotta check out the retro dance moves!
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski’s masterpiece functions both as a Gothic horror tale and social satire of New York’s upper-class elite. Starring a never-better Mia Farrow as the mother of… well, you’ll find out. Stylish and creepy, it showcases the famous Dakota Apartments – a stuffy Upper West Side apartment complex off Central Park. It’s real estate porn with a dash of thriller!
Escape from New York (1981)
This campy action flick takes place in the then-future 1997, where the government has – wait for it – quarantined Manhattan and converted the island into a maximum-security prison. (A less out there plot point if you consider the crime rate of NYC in the 70s). In lieu of local authorities, gangs have established tribal rule. Terrorists hijack the President’s plane and crash it into the city, and ex-solider Snake (Kurt Russell) is sent in to rescue him. Yes, it’s absurd, but it’s an appropriately dystopian fantasy for our dystopian present.
Party Girl (1995)
Forced to clean up her act, downtown socialite Mary starts working at the Public Library to repay her debts, whereupon she falls for the owner of a Lebanese food-cart. This 1995 cult classic was notably the first film to ever premiere on the internet and stars indie-queen Parker Posey. Sardonic, hilarious, and very New York – Party Girl is undemanding viewing which captures the once-in-a-lifetime club scene of the mid-90s and an attitude still seen today in SoHo’s underachieving It-Boys and Girls.
Russian Doll (2019)
Netflix’s twist on the Groundhog Day premise featuring the patron saint of fast-talking, chain-smoking New Yorkers, Natasha Lyonne, is set almost entirely in Alphabet City. In you’re missing the East Village, particularly the bars and delis flanking Tompkins Square Park – this is the show for you.
Everything a RomCom should be, Moonstruck is an Oscar-winning tale of an Italian love-triangle. Starring a young Nicholas Cage and young(ish) Cher, the film is set in Brooklyn Heights and plays like a love song to immigrants and New York City. It’s also hilarious. Pour a glass of wine and revel in someone else’s problems for a change!