‘High Maintenance’ and the New TV Fantasy of New York

As the city is transformed by gentrification and inequality, comedies have begun depicting it as a place of magical connection.

Comments: 185

  1. Thank you for this beautifully written piece. I've long been of the opinion that High Maintenance is an exquisitely detailed and hilarious short story collection (disguised as a slacker/stoner comedy) that, chapter by chapter, gives us a rich and sensitive portrait of the city and its denizens.

  2. this is so lovingly written. thank you! been here almost 30 years and still adore this city with all my heart. and LOVE high maintenance.

  3. This is brilliant. I'm a life long New Yorker, who grew up in Brooklyn and then Manhattan. Now as a residential real estate agent, I have often thought High Maintenance must be secretly following me as I spend my days (and nights!) toggling between the "magical fantasy" of New York, and the reality. I can tell you that I have many millennial and Gen X clients, and the fantasy narrative they are chasing is remarkably optimistic and hopeful. While their dream often starts divorced from housing reality, they are pretty quick to adjust expectations. And sure, sometimes these people act out and get needy and spoiled ...this city has always been hard, and alienation and isolation in the midst of the crowd isn't new. But 9 times out of 10, they regain their composure, recover their grace, and continue to chase their fantasy like a horde of New Yorkers who came before them. The biggest difference now, is they all move to Brooklyn and order their pot in.

  4. I remember watching the final episode -- I think it was season 2, the Guy is saying goodbye to his girlfriend sitting atop a camper... And suddenly it hit me. That was right outside my window! It was the grocery store they were sitting outside of with the sign that reads 'Produces and Fruits' ... Wish I'd been awake at whatever hour they were filming that.

  5. @me yeah ! In almost every episode I see my neighborhood ( Billyberg ) or another which I've just visited. Strange how I too , see a glimpse of some incidental sign or alike that perks my recognition and warms me monumentally.

  6. This is so beautifully written; the idyllic version of places that we craft are often destroyed by our very own actions. This is such a thoughtful, richly depicted account of how New York City (as a concept) influences the way that we live.

  7. I am a big fan of High Maintenance and really enjoyed this thoughtfully written piece. I’ve never lived in New York, but I felt like the series was giving me a glimpse of an unseen, but real and fascinating world. The web series and the season 1 of the show are my favorites, but I started to become disappointed somewhere in season 2. The author nailed exactly what was bothering me: contrived storytelling. The early shows let the stories play out in poignant but unpretentious ways. I wish the show would return to this type of storytelling, but I’m afraid it’s lack of self-consciousness has been lost forever. That said, can’t wait for the season 4 debut!

  8. The scene on the subway perfectly depicts how the magic of New York can bring strangers together for a moment of joy, despite any isolation, fatigue, or personal struggle. High Maintenance consistently does this with beauty, humor and grace. Loved this article and love High Maintenance, New York, and The Guy!

  9. Fantastic article. Even those of us who will never get to live in New York still like to imagine an idealised city - mostly through the metropolitan diary on Sundays.

  10. Visually, High Maintenance looks a lot more like the city I live in than most shows set in NYC, even (funnily enough) the ones that film here.

  11. @Junewell "High Maintenance" must film at least partly in actual NYC. Last fall I walked by them shooting a street scene on Broadway near 96th. It was nighttime and "The Guy" was behind the camera, directing and looking very pleased.

  12. as a 78 year old mother whose daughter escaped to NY 32 years ago, I love High Maintenance to get a tiny feel of her new home. The guy is a relief in this mean world. Some of the episodes are not this old woman's cup but most are magical. The proposal in the park on the day of the solar eclipse is my favorite. The other was the amazing scene of the guy on the big swing at the all night rave. The guy brings out the best in everyone.

  13. Fantastic, very well-written article! Can't wait for new season of High Maintenance, wish we could see more Master of None!

  14. I loved this article. The writer placed me in scenarios that describe my daily life in a Silicon Valley covered over a Valley of Heart's Delight! I have never viewed High Maintenance but will do so now. Thank you for describing the Bodegas as hubs of a wheel. Those connections with ordinary sages speaks volumes to a daily bread. Be well.

  15. Great writing. Fraught and beautiful like the city it describes.

  16. Much - and I cannot stress this enough - ado about nothing. Articles critiquing the role of New York on television are as overdone as shows set in the city itself. Missing any notion of irony whatsover. All the other people are traffic.

  17. Nice summation of the NYC experience!

  18. "Like many representations of New York on TV, it’s loosely predicated on the notion that people who live here are inherently more interesting than people who live in, say, Milwaukee." Well, come on now. Are you trying to say we're not?

  19. He used the word “notion” to suggest its an assumption not necessarily a fact.

  20. @J Oy. I hope this is /s, otherwise. . .yeah.

  21. Moving to NYC nearly 5 years ago was, for me, the culmination of a dream I’d had since I learned there was a NYC. I was amazed my first time visiting the city that it looked exactly as it did in the movies. I longed for the anonymity that I could never have in my hometown, where you are constantly reminded by others of who you were, seemingly predetermined for you by grade school. My husband is a native New Yorker, raised in the city, and when we first got together he told me we were never moving back. When we did, never say never, I was recently married, employed in the job I was told I would never get studying art history, and now living in New York—the penciled of urban life! I felt incredibly, smugly, ambitious, capable and deserving. A face I see reflected in infinity here. I was unprepared for the psychological toll of this city, the countless people to compare yourself to, never knowing if you’re truly succeeding or not. I got everything I wanted, and then realized maybe it wasn’t what I really wanted. New York still is, and in those times when you find yourself someplace you hadn’t known existed, with the kind of company that seemingly could only congregate in this city, I know what it is that lured me here originally. The promise of figuring out who I was and living that uninhibitedly. High Maintenance has been an invaluable tool for me to keep pursuing that role, to never give up on my potential authenticity, and to wish it for all my fellow New Yorker.

  22. @KM so you and willy are the same age. Nice. You two should get together. You both have something in common.

  23. High Maintenance is so 2018. we've all moved onto "It's Bruno".

  24. @Baltimark Yep!

  25. @Baltimark haha nailed it! Best show on Bushwick ever made!

  26. I have lived in Washington Heights, Brooklyn, Bronx (Soundview and Riverdale) and, now, Manhattan for the past 40 years. I have had a front row view to all the changes as a penniless immigrant in 1964 and now a very comfortable NYKer. The writer is over-thinking it. NYC and the 4 boroughs are and have always been dynamic immigrant-striver driven with a poor-non-white core, a privileged insecure white middle class that viewed the wealthy and famous that sat atop with admiration, respect, curiosity, and a healthy dose of suspicion. During the sixties, the white middle class left for the suburbs of Long-Island and Staten Island. They constitute New York's conservatives. The city works because we are all strivers with little time or space for being judgemental; we are too busy. Whatever time we have for self indulgence is for self-expression. And, Oh boy, do we self-indulge! To be otherwise, we would all go crazy and many do; just ride the subway. It helps explain why New York City is a liberal's paradise: we would not and could not have it any other way.

  27. @Ian Quan-Soon willy is merely self-espositating, except he doesn't need to do this in a midnight subway car with no one for an audience.

  28. @KomaGawa Very funny!

  29. This is the journalism I'm here for. Thank you Mr. Staley, for so eloquently putting into words the way all New Yorkers feel. It's sometimes hard to describe why we love the city so much. From now on, I'll just send your article along as explanation.

  30. Beautiful essay. I read it with the same fury as New Yorkers do when walking to the bodega.

  31. Recently, I had an experience riding the subway. Just when my love of NYC was about to expire (along with my faith in humanity) a random encounter with a total stranger restored it all. It was a true New York Moment and it reminded me of why I still love this town, warts and all. Great article!

  32. “Like many representations of New York on TV, it’s loosely predicated on the notion that people who live here are inherently more interesting than people who live in, say, Milwaukee.” This idea is not a notion. Due to a quirk or my professional and personal life, I split my time between New York and a second-tier city and often travel for work to the rest of the United States. People who live in New York are not only more interesting, but more creative, open-minded, and broadly accomplished. New Yorkers are a tribe whose purpose is to fabricate a rich and illuminating experience of life. While I enjoy my time elsewhere, I treasure the people that make up New York City.

  33. @CHH Amen, when you travel and have a conversation with someone on the corner crossing the street you start talking and by listening to the answers, you can spot a New Yorker. You don't want to let the conversation go because it is engaging and you feel part of the world.

  34. @CHH They're no more accomplished on the whole than anyone else. They're simply more financially well endowed and can therefore afford to adopt sophisticated personae.

  35. @Orangina I feel sorry that you haven't experienced that being interesting has nothing to do with income.

  36. What a beautiful essay. I'm an older X, it clocks with my memories of my early 30s as a midwestern country creative immigrant at the turn of a new millennium. It was magical for me, despite 9/11. Being invited to a studio visit in Bushwick now, and not to "East Williamsburg " as it was called by some then due to Bushwick's scary rep is curious, but unsurprising. I left the area, eventually coming back to orbit on the Jersey side which doesn't sound as cool, but it is, just different, and every bit as cosmopolitan. As a monoculture misfit, NYC was the first place that felt like home to me, I fit. I love that NYC is still a place young people can find themselves by losing themselves in all these myriad ways, places, and people.

  37. Loved this article! I’m not a New Yorker, but a Chicagoan, and relate to seeing the landscape of the city change. 26 years ago I moved to an edgy gentrifying neighborhood in Chicago and love the creativity and edginess and yes the grit that went with it. Now it’s all so sterile! And I don’t know that people in their young 20s cram theirselves into 2 bedroom apartments with 3 roommates like we did. But let’s not bash on Milwaukee! Milwaukee and other similar cities may not have as many interesting people as NY but they are there! Milwaukee is a great city with rich history and a beautiful lakefront, and if I were a young person trying to live a creative or at least non corporate life, I’d for sure be looking to cities like that to enable a lifestyle where paying the rent isn’t the overarching driving pulse of my existence.

  38. @Ohk I live in a large, affordable apartment in Humboldt Park. I would not call it sterile.

  39. Is edgy just a euphemism for poor? I don’t get it.

  40. @VivV Humboldt Park; I remember when the Puerto Ricans pushed out the Poles and now the gentrifiers are pushing out the Puerto Ricans. And new people now calling Humboldt Park part of North Side even though it's on the West Side, the West Side side having too many Blacks and Mexicans to sound trendy.

  41. I was born in Queens, grew up in Nassau went to college on Staten Island and moved upstate. Took a job with the state that had me in NYC a lot and now am retired and go in on Amtrak once a month or so for doctors and museums and just to walk around. I am not sure all this analysis of what is really going on in NYC is very accurate. The place changes fast and yet retains the qualities of my childhood in Corona; gum stuck to the sidewalk, people sitting on stoops, amazing museums, hurtling subway cars, ethnic diversity, the breathtaking views from the Staten Island Ferry and the feeling that you are at the center of the solar system if not in fact the universe.

  42. Wow ! An accurate and detailed depiction of current situations and experiences in New York ! Yes this place is interesting, fluid and a place where various cultures , religions,morals intersect sometimes well and sometimes with conflict ! I am a lifelong New Yorker grew up in Rockaway,lived in the Village , Chelsea , upper west side and raised kids in westchester finally to escape to Brooklyn , the reasons for the move are clearly described in this article!

  43. I cannot believe what is happening in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I remember when I returned from a 26 months military assignment in western Europe, I rented an apartment on Midwood Street. The rent for a one bedroom was only $75.00 monthly. The apartment was nicely kept with beautiful hardwood floors. I went to work on Kent Avenue while I was earning a Bachelor of Science Degree. I recently checked out what Kent Avenue now looks like and I was amazed at the transformation. Gentrification has pushed out those who cannot afford an apartment that was once $75.00 and now goes for about $1,500 monthly. The small shops on Kent Avenue is no longer and taking over by an upscale transformation. I guess many will call it progress.

  44. @Tonjo This is happening in far too many cities; San Diego, LA, Austin, Toronto, Mex City. One way we plebs can make a difference with our money is to refuse using Airbnb and the like.

  45. This is a wonderfully written essay. High Maintenance is one of my favorite shows for the reasons you write about. Unlike so many other shows that take place in New York, High Maintenance portrays the city in a casual "non-judgmental" way as if it's unfolding live in front of the camera. There's an air of authenticity about it. So many other shows seem to be representing ideas of New York of people who have never lived here, hitting the viewer over the head with "THIS IS NEW YORK PEOPLE AND AREN"T YOU LUCKY WE"RE SHOWING IT TO YOU." I do think people are interesting and zany everywhere, but there is something about the collision of these types of people in New York that make it different.

  46. I was intrigued by this article. I’ve lived in the same apartment in Harlem for the past 16 years. I looked all over Manhattan for an apartment with character and found it in West Harlem: hardwood floors, exposed brick, even an outside deck. But I got to know the city because 16 years ago there were no good restaurants or bars or nightlife here and most of the surrounding brownstones were abandoned with squatters playing boom boxes until early hours. I worried whether I made the right decision even though I’m an African-American and was fascinated by Harlem’s history. Today, all of the brownstones have been renovated or gutted and reconstructed on my block; the jazz clubs are back; we have a new Art Gallery; the restaurant and bar scene is booming; there’s a Whole Foods; and I see white people. I’m not sure if I miss getting up at 3:00, going across the street and unplugging the boom box.

  47. The bodega really is the canary in the coal mine. Mine closed two years ago and I am still shocked and heartbroken.

  48. Well observed. I love the personal accounts in the comments as well, and I will add my own: I came to the Village 15 years ago and felt a shift occuring: gentrification, of course, but something more, too. I can still feel it today. While it still saddens me when my favorite music venues close and more banks and pharmacies pop up, I now see this loss and rebirth as part of the essence of New York. While I despair at losing my work-adjacent grocer and my neighborhood toy store, this essay reminds me that there are still traces of the New York we love, and perhaps in recognizing it we can make the next rebirth less about condo towers and more about community.

  49. if you moved to the Village 15 years ago, YOU are the gentrifier!

  50. LOL maybe if it was 30 years ago - the Village has been fancy a long time!

  51. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I feel like too many young people see the world as nothing but identity boxes to be checked. White, black, male, female, straight, gay, rich, poor and on and on and on. The notion that we are actual people, individuals with our own thoughts, dreams, fears and personal histories seems to never occur to them. Every middle class, straight, white male in his 30s is exactly the same as every other one. The Holy Grail of diversity can only be achieved by gathering people who have checked different boxes. We are not robots, exactly, but our countless personal experiences are not really relevant either.

  52. Identity politics initially conceived with the noble intent of celebrating the diversity of American society and humanity itself has gone on to divide rather unify people. Classifying individuals by race, ethnicity, religion, gender has transitioned over time into categories with cult like elements focused on their own self-interests.

  53. @Sparky You are stereotyping “young people” as guilty of stereotyping. Like all stereotypes, the one you are promoting is just not true. Try seeing “young people” as “individuals each with their own thoughts dreams fears and personal histories.” Their countless personal experiences continue to be relevant, they’ve just made a move toward including others who were previously left out and unable to express theirs.

  54. @Sparky "Every middle class, straight, white male in his 30s is exactly the same as every other one." Good Lord, I hope not.

  55. I'm not a New Yorker (I'm from the provinces: grew up near Boston, lived for a long time in Philly), but I am a great fan of HM. I spent a long time at a big family dinner recounting the "Proxy" episode from Season 3 to the table -- and why? It wasn't that I needed to see NYC in a new light. I was living in Austin and I needed to be reminded to see anywhere I WAS in a new light. Behind the stresses, the inequalities, the preconceptions active in all American cities, we do well to remember that everyone has an internal life worthy of our respect (and that episode challenges our prejudices in beautifully profound ways). The article's author puts it very well: "Isolation perfumes the show." We are all increasingly isolated these days. The solution is not only to talk with other people but to listen to them. I thank HM for modeling that for us week by week.

  56. Soon after I had watched and enjoyed the first season, one day I was hanging out at my dingy railroad apartment in N Brooklyn. I rarely smoke up in the afternoon, but it was a nice summer day and I wanted a boost before taking a walk. Feeling a good buzz, I bounded out of my front door, and within a few feet I looked up and saw what looked like “the guy” walking toward me. I glanced at him, and with a knowing smile and glassy eyed, he said a quick “hey” as he passed. Yup. Definitely him. When I reached the corner, I smelled the pungent odor of weed. Coincidence?

  57. Brilliant article. Ive watched all these shows and wondered just how much fantasy they really are. Your article has so many truths to how I feel living in Chicago, especially the point about living alone, together. And they way you lament the loss of many aspects of the culture of New York you once knew, I have heard similar expressions from long time residents here as more and more luxury glass apt towers with endless amenities interrupt and dilute the street level communities of people that once existed. I am from Wisconsin originally, and the first big city I truly lived in was Baltimore, which was only three years ago. Of course, Ive traveled to many others as well. Compared to Chicago, Id say the medium sized city is, authentically, more like what New York used to be. At least thats the way I felt in B’almer, as residents call it. But if I moved back there, would my successful, creative professional life of mid-century West Elm furniture only be an instrument of destruction of the very thing that I love about it? A predicament that seems so central to so many aspects of existence today. Especially considering the fact we are witnessing our own real-time destruction of the planet.

  58. Wonderful article. I'm a native Manhattanite of GenX vintage and I love HM. It serves to remind me that my precious East Village of the dirty 70s and 80s is no more special than the Williamsburg of the 90s and Bushwick of the 2000s.

  59. I’m old enough to remember before bodegas when there were corner candy stores. I miss them.

  60. Beautiful article, but I take issue with one detail in particular: I am a doctor who occasionally parties at places like House of Yes until the wee hours, and frequently encounter other doctors there, too. I loved this episode because it rang so true to me. Many professionals find an outlet in nightlife, and doing so should not be stigmatized.

  61. @AZ I guess once you've done your residency, staying up for a mere 20 hours is easy...

  62. Thanks for the introduction to so much that's curious and wonderful In NYC and hinting at so much like it on the other side the divide. After goolging ASMR so many of us can think back on your writing and experience it.

  63. Often the way we attempt to have empathy for those unlike us is to place ourselves in their shoes—what would it be like if I was in that situation? It seems like the creatives here have done that a bit too literally, putting a millennial aesthete’s identity into a working-class immigrant’s body. Class difference is a tough barrier to climb—how can television depict their perspectives and values if the creative class can’t ever actually understand them? Not coincidentally, this is also why the Democrats lost the 2016 election—failure to understand a critical portion of the electorate that doesn’t look like the traditional left or center establishments.

  64. Great piece, beautifully written. Thanks!

  65. This is a great essay, very thoughtful, reflective and accurate -- I think as well as a non-native New Yorker (as I am) can speak about the city. I've been here 14 years and lucky enough to have a rent stabilzed apartment in a now very trendy neighborhood.... It would be wonderful to also see this kind of reflective essay written by the gentrified "Other" as it is implied Staley's piece. I feel like if anything Eric Adams (mostly pandering) "Go back to Iowa" rant might not be far off the mark. It's a complicated and facsinating subject. But how gentrification affects the social aspect of the city is one thing. Crazy rents, cheap ugly construction and a proliferation of chain stores is something harder to find a way forward from.

  66. @another dad Finally someone cited Eric Adams. I got his point, whether or not is was pandering is a matter of opinion.

  67. New Yorkers tend to be skeptical about everything except New York—its "magic moments," those special things that happen "only in New York!" Other saccharine expressions are common. New Yorkers have an obsessive need to repeat to themselves that it's "the greatest city in the world!"—as if cities were prize-fighters, or bake-off contestants—a need that denizens of the world's other great cities don't share. As somebody who lived in New York for a long time and then a lot of other great places, I found this silly, and then a little sad and vulgar. Part of the reason why I left. The more interesting and unique the yuppies, gentrifiers, and trust-fund kids claimed it was, the less it was so. So this critical essay about the city's self-mythologizing is a helpful corrective.

  68. @Jim Sorry it didn't work out for you.

  69. I am living this Sisyphean existence. 50-70 hour work weeks, endless new sets, work rules that have us working weekends for straight time and no time off until you get sick, which of course is unpaid. I couldn’t finish reading the article.

  70. It's somewhat ironic many, outside immigrant communities, in these areas are transplants from other places like (gasp) Milwaukee, NJ, PA, Ohio and elsewhere. So were the people interesting before they moved to NYC or only because they live in NYC? (After all, it isn't typically native NYers gentrifying Brooklyn and Queens, as many are moving out). I think about years ago time in Ft. Grn/Brklyn or cousins who lived in Bushwick, both fairly rough areas then. The reality is they are now whiter and evidently more interesting to portray. In the past, they would have only been depicted as places of crime or poor. Having lived other places, yes NYC has interesting people (perhaps simply because it has so many more people). There are a hellava lotta boring souls dwelling there too, they just don't make good drama though .

  71. It’s not gentrification when the children of the suburbs, who are taught racism is terrible growing up, feel comfortable moving into diverse neighborhoods they can afford, its progress.

  72. Nailed it. Whip-smart, beautifully written. Thank you, sir. "Bodega fetishism" alone makes this an essential read.

  73. I haven't owned a television since the 80s. I am still fascinated by people who not only watch it, but give it any kind of importance in their lives, and it's difficult to comprehend the scrutiny this writer applies to it. I wish it didn't exist. I wish people would go out into the streets and stores and encounter each other, like I do sometimes - just go OUT and explore, day or night or even at 3:30 AM, where there's "always something cooking." I am a working musician/singer so it's easy for me to make friends, and I understand that's not easy for some, who would prefer to watch. But the other day I was in a restaurant and I saw a toddler stagger by, both her hands gripping a smart phone. This is what it's led to. People say to me "You're awesome! You do so much! You know so much!" But that's not "awesome." I just don't give 4 hours of my life per day to a glass teat. I check out 4-5 books from the library every week. (Smug self-congratulatory back-patting over.) Anyway, have fun watching TV if you watch!

  74. @Jack you must watch a lot of television

  75. This essay perpetuates the belief that everyone in New York City is more important than other parts of the country, say Milwaukee. New Yorkers will love it, but it is just going to reinforce for the rest of the country that New Yorkers are self-centered and self-obsessed. The more I read the Times, the more convinced I am that Trump is going to get reelected.

  76. @Eli My wife is beautiful, talented, self disciplined, hard working, generous and kind. Deeply religious. And very, very smart. She comes from MIlwaukee, but we live here. Do you think that is a coincidence?

  77. @Frank D I thought you said she came from Mequon. Mequon and Milwaukee are hardly the same place.

  78. @Eli You just don't get it. Never will. So why do your read the Times?

  79. The critic sits atop the city, but not in it, never in it, as one who serves us the sum of their personal projections will do.

  80. A beautiful piece. The author describes the phenomenon of gentrification that retains a drug-like urban heterogeneity while removing people of lower social and economic classes. The city has the appearance of diversity without any deep urban diversity. Living in the big (and formerly bad) city in this way ultimately feels a bit empty; like being in a relationship with a good-looking person with whom the sex is great, but with whom you have no actual connection.

  81. A spoiler alert would have been helpful...I stopped reading after the surprise endings of several episodes spilled out.

  82. Beautifully written piece. Stay home and read!

  83. Okay, but keep in mind that in the real world, inequality has nothing to do with race. Follow the money.

  84. For many NYC is like a Brand to adopt as ones own. "I'm a New Yorka!" Says the newly arrived, after her first drunk and vomiting on the street. Living or heavily visiting and partying in NYC, and now its trendy boroughs, is about claiming you own the Brand. Suburban kids love to say they went to the City, around their peers. It adds value add to them, to be known to spend time partying (brown bagging, smok'n, etc, in the Park, or Village) in NYC. NYC is also a Pilgrimage hot spot for outsiders. A place to come, maybe stay awhile, take some hits, get bruised (or worse) and claim you've been tested and burnished into a greater version of yourself, by the Big Apple's Roman-like Gladiator games. (Hunger Games for the younger crowd) Nowadays, its far too much of a destination Amusement Park for visitors and temporarily relocated. An entertainment place that also offers, if you're lucky, to "leave a mark" on you. Oooh! Then there's its Instagram backdrop status. To make a quick and gritty statement 'Gram, about how cool you are for even going there. What I found most compelling about my decades, at all hours, in and around NYC, was; The Not Expected. All the What/s I wasn't looking for, everything that was contrary to what I was hoping and dreaming it would do for me. All the stuff that caught me off guard (even the dangerous ones) that seemed to change my DNA. That stuff was the real life altering experience. And none of it has been, or ever will be captured on TV.

  85. Am I the only commenter who read this article (and did enjoy it) and took away from it that these shows are depicting the magic of a New York that is completely fictional and of the past? Maybe it's just me but I feel like readers might be missing the critical piece of this article: flattening class, diversity, and race into one harmonious fantasyland depiction of NYC is inaccurate, offensive and harmful to newcomers' reading of the city that surrounds them. Sure, once in a while you get a "magic New York moment" but I've honestly had those in other places where I encounter decent people. There is something vile and sinister about the direction this city is headed. Vast populations of wealthy young professionals (overwhelmingly white) are displacing long-term communities of color, and real estate development is unchecked and out of control. Real artists don't live in Lower Manhattan, working-class people barely live in Bushwick, and your bodega guy doesn't relate to you at all. I was glad to finally read an article about this topic. Tone deaf New New Yorkers who live journal about their "New York Moments" drive me nuts.

  86. @Rania As an aging New Yorker, I've seen a lot of change. Not all of it positive, of course. But to say the increasing wealth and education of New Yorkers, foolish as it can so easily become, is "vile and sinister"? Vile and sinister? Wow.

  87. New Yorkers aren't actually more interesting than people in Milwaukee, it's just a self-defense mechanism you develop here when day after day you find yourself packed in a crowded subway, part of a rush hour streetscape, or squeezed in a tiny apartment. Everyone is born thinking they are special; once you see you are just someone in a crowd you go bonkers

  88. @Lou My wife comes from Mequon, WI. All the interesting people in her high school moved away. Just saying.

  89. @Lou Every New Yorker is special. We recognize this about each other.

  90. This article is so well written and the analysis is insightful. Thank you. I’m a black NYC liberal newly married to a white veteran from Appalachia, and for the first time I’m getting to know some Trumpland people well. The hypocrisy described in this article—liberals feeling self-satisfied for consuming depictions of diversity that in fact obscure actual diversity—speaks to some of the vitriol my new in-laws feel toward left-wing elitism. I don’t agree with them politically, but when I’m leaving my husband’s family’s trailer to return to my NYC doctoral program, I am reminded that privilege and diversity come in many flavors. Leaving poor people out of our media—or leaving them in but with the thoughts and concerns and language of what Staley calls the “professional class”—is just as pernicious as other forms of underrepresentation. When that underrepresentation is paved over with a lot of self-congratulations about how accepting and open minded we are, it can be infuriating to people who already feel erased. I say none of this in defense of the abhorrent behavior of the right (Anyone Else 2020), but because our own house is still in tremendous disorder. White guilt is fine and all, but where’s that rich guilt?

  91. @Alice Very well put Alice. You almost make too much sense.

  92. My favorite sentence of the week: “White guilt is fine and all, but where’s that rich guilt?”

  93. @Alice As insightful as the article. You should write about NYC!

  94. Fantastic piece, thank you.

  95. Wonderful read. Thank you.

  96. New Yorkers really do think they're special. Believe it or not interesting things happen everywhere.

  97. @Louis Not in some suburbs I could name. :)

  98. For some historical perspective it should be noted that the first TV show depicting "Life in the Big Apple" was "The Honeymooners", an improbably impeccable comedy series (39 episodes) on CBS from 1955 'til '56. A bombastic bus driver, Ralph Kramden, played by the rotund Jackie Gleason, and his sidekick, Art Carney, a plumber, live with their wives in a Brooklyn tenement, scheming and bumbling their way through life in the confines of the Kramden's drab kitchen to hilarious effect. New York was another world a half century ago, but has never lost its entertainment value.

  99. @Reed Erskine, you rightly cite “The Honeymooners” as a prototypical NYC show, but note that Art Carney's character, Norton, was not a plumber but a sewer worker.

  100. @Reed Erskine And the MTA even named a bus maintenance yard in Brooklyn after Jackie Gleason.

  101. @Mikeweb His statue sits right in front of the NY Port Authority Bus Terminal by 41th Street.

  102. Agree the NY in shows is a fantasy. The reality is fear, crowding, bad odors, nasty people, traffic congestion and dangers, and very little comfort. But it does look good in pictures.

  103. @rich williams Yeah. The reality is 60% of your income is thrown away on rent, you got nothing saved for retirement, and chances are your rent will go up by 10%. You're probably sitting on the L train 1-2 hours per day because of all the maintenance work.

  104. Loved this piece!

  105. Great piece but an interesting aspect I thought was missed In High Maintenance ‘the guy’ is supporting himself illegally, carrying around enough weed to be jailed for a felony even in legal weed states. His customers’ blithely consume the weed - getting high being just as aside in the poignant vignettes the writers create. He may as well be delivering pizza.

  106. The episode where the construction worker falls for the bodega guy was entirely set in the Rockaways, and was utterly charming. Why does the wrier seem to long for actual reality rather than verisimilitude?

  107. Woke post warning: How can you have an article about Brooklyn gentrification and race without mentioning She’s Gotta Have It? Those are the two main themes of the show.

  108. Great criticism. Is "the collapsing value of creative labor in the age of streaming TV" an accepted fact at this point?

  109. What is this mystical feeling about a bodega? Bodegas were a first stop for non English speaking immigrants. Lin Miranda might have glorified bodegas in Washington Heights. For a native New Yorker, seeing a bodega in your neighborhood was the first sign that you should be thinking about moving. They forecasted your neighborhood decline. Bodegas are not a good thing; they show you live in a food desert. No real supermarkets. Fifty years ago, Bushwick was a slum “to be”. Whatever charm existed there was muffled by the screeching of the J Train (El Jota ) Until the beginning of the new millennium, it fulfilled that promise. Over priced Manhattan real estate brought younger people into the area. They created a “scene” which morphed into a “cool” and now is a locale for streaming TV. Walk around there during the day. The streets are dirty. Graffiti, the past curse of all NYC neighborhoods, flourishes. Do you want to eat regularly from a bodega? You can in Bushwick. You want to pal around with the “Bodeganero”? You can if you want to. But why? Bushwick in the day light stinks. Don’t glamorize it. Leave? Best kept secret in NYC. RICHMOND HILL. All the bodega’s you want at 1/4 the price.

  110. Do yuppies and hipsters know that they’re yuppies and hipsters? Real question.

  111. @NessaVa I believe they do, given the (stereotypically) high levels of self-awareness. Or, their apparent lack of self-awareness, which to me is nothing more than a well-curated front.

  112. @NessaVa Yup, they do... It’s easy to tell from all those marks from self-flagellating about not being woke enough.

  113. Wonderful illustration! I was so lost in it I almost forgot to read the article.

  114. I was teading the article on my phone and the finer details of the illustration were lost to me. Thank you for drawing attention to the illustration! Wonderfully comic.

  115. I worked as a bartender in the same place for ten years from 2006 to 2016. My rent was $450... a 10x7 room with no common area, but it was in a nice quiet part of south Brooklyn. My customers and regulars were an Ellis Island of drunks -- black, white, Puerto Rican, undercover Hasids, yuppies, bookies, former West African pop stars, toy makers, doctors, lawyers, cab drivers, RN's, ex-cons, ex-wives, ex-punks, GenX, Millennial, Boomers, ... you get the idea. EVERYONE. They told me their secrets. I heard thousands of stories. It changed my life... one pour at a time. That said... High Maintenance is the best portrayal of New York I've seen on TV. Hands down.

  116. Great read. So was the last on Tyshawn. This is why NYT

  117. As an avid viewer of High Maintenance and Master of None, it gives this mid-westerner a view of NYC that is slipping away. Two of the best shows. Furthermore , HM is the only show that accurately portrays the the underworld of weed world. Let us say a kaddish for the NYC that is no more.

  118. My girlfriend and I are big fans of High Maintenance and jokingly describe it as “Brooklyn porn.” The well-written analysis in the article clarifies and expounds on what I think we mean when we use that term.

  119. much ado ab out nothing. speculation by a new pair of eyes to ny.

  120. Television ruined New York, all these people watching Seinfeld, Friends, Girls, Sex and the City and thinking that was reality. Then they come here force out people who were here for generations turn Manhattan into the mall the escaped from and proclaim themselves cool New Yorkers. They call up their college class mates and all hang out together, like Americans in Costa Rica asking the natives why they don't speak English. There is graffiti stenciled around saying the Rich Killed New York, I propose it was television.

  121. I'm not sure you don't have cause and effect reversed. I have mixed feelings about all of those shows but I think that there are a lot of "creative" types who come here because this is where the jobs they are looking for are and not because they want to be like the characters on Sex and the City. NYC is still the East Coast media and publishing center not to mention the art world.

  122. @Peter B Hate to break it to ya Pete but NY is only a small part of the new world order. What you describe is happening in every city in America. I lived in Manhattan in the 70's and 80's and had a place at 100th and Columbus. It was an open market for drug dealers and my friends refused to visit me. As for Brooklyn? It was where new citizens went to find cheap places to live. Your anger is a waste of your time and energy. High Maintenance happens to be a very well written and interesting take on society and is a much better way to entertain oneself than some violent horrific police procedural chasing serial killers, rapists, and other unseemly members of society.

  123. @Peter B I just finished a "Girls" binge of the entire series. It hardly romanticizes NYC. I particularly recall the grubby tiny apartments and the exploitation of the young workers. I loved the show. Frequently hilarious but also sad and even tragic, and universal in its focus on young adults stumbling around trying to find their way and understand their true selves.

  124. Old Man Yells At Cloud So sorry this new generation isn't gentrifying the right way, like you did

  125. @Jessica Thank you! When HE moved to Ridgewood (oooohh...) it was COOL to do it

  126. @MDCooks8 If I wanted to see something "ripped from the headlines" I'd tune in to season 74 of "Law & Order SVU." "Master of None" and "Russian Doll" were brilliant, and I'm looking forward to checking out "High Maintenance," which I'd overlooked.

  127. You're a good writer.

  128. Awesome article, thank you. So much insight! This piece and the feature on Adam Sandler have been wonderful. Furiously googling Willy Staley's other work.

  129. Massive spoilers for Russian Doll tossed into the middle, and minor spoilers for High Maintenance throughout, it'd be nice to warn people about that at the start. But I liked the article anyway, and the fantasy of NYC presented in these shows is definitely interesting and not entirely like reality. I guess it's very close to reality for those millennials who have financial support from their parents, doing jobs that are obscure but creative, living in gentrified areas and wondering where the old NYC went, that was destroyed by their arrival. But there's still a real NYC here, in less well-lit corners with no fancy $22 cocktails. There's the real bodega workers, that aren't writing screenplays, that are working hard and not ordering Seamless for every meal. That real NYC would be tough for media to represent, because it's a bit more gritty and not as entertaining. But while the millennials don't encounter it often, part of this city's framework is still the working class that keeps it running.

  130. I think the show Broad City had a good, accurate depiction of gritty and beloved NYC.

  131. Loved your depiction of life in NY and the time / place we find ourselves. I moved here in 2003 / 2009-present. Also lived in a $500 bushwick adventure. Thank you for writing it.

  132. Terrific. Currents of the New York City nervous system revealed. Born in Bklyn.Grew up in the Bronx. Moved to E. 10th then Westbeth in Manhattan before leaving for Amsterdam and now Capetown.... and so thanking you for taking me home.

  133. A sure sign of old age is saying I remember when.

  134. @Peter Yours is a statement of perspective, is it not? I've heard plenty of 22-year-olds wax nostalgic about flip phones. And to them, 40 is old age.

  135. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes -- Youngsters haven't been around enough to see changes. Someone who was born yesterday -- well, it's the same today as it was yesterday. In ten or twenty years? No, there'll be changes. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes Turn and face the strange Ch-ch-changes . . .

  136. @Peter Is a problem for you? Do you not like people older than you?

  137. Offtopic comment: I am having a hard time getting the point in long articles. Am I a victim of memes? I find myself saying to myself: "She likes the show. No, wait. She does not. She thinks it's realistic. Not quit, though since it romanticizes NYC. So, she does not like it, right? The whole problem is gentrification or there is something else?" I scroll down, read the closing arguments and read the article back again. I am slowly becoming a teenager. And I am 46.

  138. @Xavi It's a writing thing. You can present alternate viewpoints, to which you partially agree or not, instead of bolstering your primary purpose for pitching the article with more sources, examples, pieces of evidence, etc.. Doing the intellectual flip-flop is a stylistic thing and not necessarily incorrect, it's just a little weaker/more informal.

  139. None of it seems particularly real to me. Nor even particularly clever. New York isn't really a place best captured in the doldrums of television tedium. As my friend the former law student turned Tai chi instructor once explained: Just spend a day walking around New York City just looking. Really look. I would reflect on that statement often when I was too broke for the subway. The endless miles of hot or cold misery surrounded by an odd but inevitable beauty. What is this place really? Its hard to wrap your head around. I wondered at what I looked like to someone watching as well. If I could step out of my body and see what I looked like the time me and some fellow strangers pulled a drunk back onto the platform seconds before the train hit him. Literally seconds. Or the time a drunk date spent 45-minutes screaming at me because I said I didn't particularly like the name "Annie" for a daughter. I sat there quietly as a large group of Orthodox Jews silently watched-on. These sound like clever anecdotes for a book or a television show but they are not. These are the weird ensemble of too many people living in too small a place. A cacophony of humanity you can't quite encapsulate. The New York Whisper. Public isolation as a real world survival mechanism. Earmuffs on. I'm reminded of the Amanda Palmer lyric: "I like being alone around people Yes that's how I like it" The song gets nothing but more colorful from there. Living in New York is sort of like that.

  140. So help me God if I read another article about the evils of gentrification I will move to East New York and open a fair trade coffee shop. Of all the delicious ironies in this article, written by a white person from the Midwest who lives in Brooklyn, about how streaming TV shows portray a romanticized version of New York that glosses over the subtle evilness of other white people from the Midwest who live in Brooklyn, my favorite is the utter obliviousness connecting sentences like, "[Bushwick] became a center of beer brewing, fueled by droves of German immigrants; they gave way to Italian-­Americans — you can still see grapevines in some backyards — who fled during the postwar years as Puerto Rican and black New Yorkers and Latin American immigrants made the neighborhood their own for decades" and "if anyone’s the bad guy, it’s probably you." you can't make this up. God bless you, New York Times.

  141. No, you can't make this up. But you can recognize that the previous waves of immigrants -- and yes, the new;y arrived millennials are immigrants, to NYC -- each brought their own culture and their own foodways and their own flavor to the city. The unfortunates who scuttle home and close the door, turn on the TV and order something from GrubHub -- what of significance do they offer to the city except rising housing prices?

  142. Great read. Thanks. NYC is a village I learned long ago visiting my uncle. He lived in the same apartment at 37th and 2nd for 50 years. 800.00 a month. Rent controlled. Everyone knew everyone else's mishegas. The Kitty Hawk saloon on the corner was his watering hole. The bar tender told me he'd been there for years, and knew everyone and their secrets within a 3 block radius. The building went co-op, then condo...and my uncle moved into the Actor Equity Assisted Living in Jersey. He would go back almost daily to Murray Hill to see "anyone who was left" at Sarge's deli...ordering the Nosher's Delight. Being from Portland I saw only the romantic side of his existence and longed for a similar experience. But it was all a dream. Gentrification soon destroyed the village, new people came and the old connections disappeared. I quickly learned on my subsequent visits how lovely but brittle the community really was. That was my view of NYC....and now when I visit I too long for that village...

  143. The adventure and "real-world" experience that generations of young Americans sought and came of age on in NYC now seem lost in a Millennial vapor of gentrification, political group-think, and callow nostalgia for what was deemed commonplace just a few years ago. You want to challenge your assumptions and yourself, expand your view of what is possible, and plain just grow up these days? Try Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Hanoi, Saigon, Jakarta, Bangkok, Manila, Phnom Penh, Seoul, Busan, or any other of the ascendant, pulsating cities of Asia.

  144. I don't think the millennials are worse than any other generation.

  145. I guess I'll ask the question, why not set up a new hipster enclave in Upstate NY in a city like Albany, far from gentrifying our city you would be occupying our empty buildings and preventing arsons from torching our neighborhoods. Or any other city that isn't Austin, NYC, NoVA or Cali ?

  146. @matt I honestly think it's a status thing. A SF or NYC apartment is really just a designer handbag or luxury car.

  147. @matt That's actually happening already. Visit Hudson NY some time and you'll see what I mean. And it's not the only town/small city.

  148. I like the idea of New York. I went there once in 2004. I went to the top of the Empire State. I would like to go there again.

  149. @James cool story

  150. If you live in New York you don't need to watch an idealized show about it. These shows are for outsiders and tourists to marvel at. Who benefits? Real estate for sure.

  151. @Rick Schricter It all began with Seinfeld and Friends — New Yorkers" who left the doors to their apartments unlocked. As if.

  152. I don't really get the article, well written as it is. I haven't watched High Maintenance at all, but based on what the writer described in this article, that's not a fantasy version of Brooklyn. That scenario wasn't the least bit difficult for me to imagine. I almost felt like it happened to me. I do agree with the part about young people in NYC glamorizing bodegas. Like chill.

  153. The author failed to mention another New York centered series: The Deuce. It's three seasons follow the lives of people from the early 70's through the late 80's in the Times Square area. The series has a more historical approach to the changing city than the others mentioned in this article.

  154. I love the show but I'm afraid it isn't as good as the webisodes now that HBO got its corporate, money-hungry hands on it.

  155. Disagree.

  156. The illustration that accompanies this piece is a masterpiece. From the pizza line to the drag queens, each detail is spot on. The diverse humanity and activity is the true magic of NYC. The only thing missing are trash bags on the sidewalk waiting to be picked up-maybe it's not trash collection day.

  157. I'm still thinking about this article. I read it yesterday. Gentrification could have been (can be?) empowering to the affected communitities. Instead it is mostly the opposite. I think there is no one to blame but city government because they encourage and even institutionalize development/rezoning/change that comes at the cost of the longstanding members and businesses of affected neighborhoods. Development and real estate practices in the city are designed to benefit newcomers and speculators - so called affordable housing, for example is mostly a farce, if anything it encourages the negative aspects of gentrification. The people who are making money are not going to consider anything besides their own interests unless someone or something intervenes. Gentrifiers have a responsibility to have some self awareness and respect the neighborhood they are changing. But the rest is on the systems that have little respect for anything that isn't somehow related to making money.

  158. Im not even from the City, but this is I keep going there every chance I have, for those unique magical new york moments, definitely beats Milwaukee!

  159. Just what the country needs: more TV shows based in NYC, home to a mere two percent of the US population.

  160. If people outside NYC weren't interested, they wouldn't watch them.

  161. Actually 1 out of 16 Americans lives in or near NYC. NYC's the biggest, most important city America has. So yes, it's what the country needs, we have absolutely no need of a TV show based in Scottsdale, AZ.

  162. @MDB Maybe the rest of the country needs to be more interesting.

  163. A great read. Loved the analysis of shows mentioned, of nyc, and how he ties it all up together. Plus I will check out some of these shows mentioned. I landed in manhattan ca. 1990 with nothing but the proverbial clothes on my back, an MBA, my determination York was the place to do that. worked hard in a challenging industry,

  164. We constantly tell each other that "Diversity is our strength" (as Dan Quayle proclaimed in 1992), but the truth is that diversity just makes us lonelier and less neighborly, as Robert D. Putnam documented to his regret. So we go home and watch TV shows set in a fantasy where diversity actually is our strength.

  165. @Steve Sailer I grew up in a diverse community and I’m grateful for it. The food was better and I gained perspective from other people’s experiences. Yes, diversity requires more work of us sometimes. But it is better than being trapped in a country with unimaginative people with no practical skills— hordes of unwashed Steve Sailers spreading hate and fear on the internet. I hope the person who changes your catheter when you are just a little older, who will statistically be a woman of color, is kind even after she learns who you are.

  166. "predicated on the notion that people who live here are inherently more interesting than people who live in, say, Milwaukee." That's just it, they aren't and the show just follows people through the monotony of their day-to-day lives, which leads to an incredibly boring show. I understand what is trying to be done artistically and can respect that, however, it is just not entertaining.

  167. "predicated on the notion that people who live here are inherently more interesting than people who live in, say, Milwaukee." That's just it, they aren't and the show just follows people through the monotony of their day-to-day lives, which leads to an incredibly boring show. I understand what is trying to be done artistically and can respect that, however, it is just not entertaining.

  168. I fail to see the point of this article. These are TV shows, not documentaries! Hard to tell what the author wants from his NYC-based entertainment, and why it should matter. By the way, I've rarely heard "bodega" used by anyone who isn't a recent transplant trying to sound in the know.

  169. @D. Stein Because you rarely hear the word bodega used by a native NY-er living in Manhattan south of 110th street doesn't mean that other native NY-ers don't.

  170. @Mikeweb I’m a Native New Yorker- I live north of 110th- I’m surrounded by bodegas in this most Latin of neighborhoods- about to be featured extensively in the film “In The Heights”. I call them Deli’s

  171. You are right! They are called Deli's

  172. I'd never heard of High Maintenance before, but this article makes a convincing case for it.

  173. That last paragraph is poignant, brutally true*, depressing, meta, yet strangely beautiful all at once. *As a 25 year New York city resident I personally feel the longing for friends who have been scattered to the farther reaches the 4 boroughs by the relentless march of ever increasing rents in a flat income economy, and for times and places that felt more... magical.

  174. Of all the TV series based in NYC, the most fantastical one has got to be 'Sex and the City.' While funny in spots, it is mostly wish fulfilling - much like stalking celebs with Robin Leeeech.

  175. I am borrowing Ian Quan-Soon words as my comment: "The city works because we are all strivers with little time or space for being judgemental; we are too busy. Whatever time we have for self indulgence is for self-expression." And, I would add, enjoying the comments of other New Yorkers!

  176. The reason that New York is the location for many sitcoms and other relationship shows is due to New York being a real city with big city life, contrary to the isolated lives of suburbia and many other cities that are nine-to-five shells.

  177. My favorite show. Like nothing else. I cried happy tears after every episode of season two. I’m a 38 year old man.

  178. You really have to watch it to understand. Like nothing else.

  179. As much as any other city on earth, much has been written about NYC, much Film/TV has been based on/created in NYC, but the article feels over-thought & over-wrought. Perhaps because I don't know the city well myself-?

  180. "Can't book a table -- table a book!" The billboard in the article art. Absurd and brilliant.

  181. Mr. Staley, it's like you cracked open my soul and peered right inside it. In one essay you've managed to capture the inherent contradictions of non-native millennials living in New York in 2020, while also identifying what is both so appealing and yet so troubling about three of my favorite NYC-set TV shows. This essay somehow both made my day and discomfited my existence.

  182. The only thing that makes me miss NYC is "High Maintenance".

  183. A story about people tied together by a drug experience and its purveyor. I’m sure for NYers it has more meaning than that because of the situations and locations, but from the outside...goofy people of limited depth all dying (some literally) to get high.

  184. You forgot to mention Gossip Girl, much of it filmed on Upper East Side.