TV shows that reveal another side of California

‘There’s something special about seeing the real places you know show up on screen’

By Soumya Karlamangla

New York Times

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the rise of a certain kind of Los Angeles television show.

Instead of exclusively depicting LA’s rich and famous, this newer crop of shows reflects a majority-minority city, where the median annual income is below $30,000 and, for most people, life is not all that glamorous.

For me, an Angeleno who lives far from the beach and knows few people who work in Hollywood, the joy of these shows is seeing a version of my life reflected back.

Many of you wrote to me about TV shows that feel true to your experience of California. Some reveal the grittier side of San Diego, or showcase reliably stunning views of the Central Coast.

I’ve shared your recommendations below, which include productions spanning nearly half a century.

The Rockford Files” (1974), Los Angeles

“Rockford may have lived in a trailer on the beach in Malibu, but he spent most of his time in less rarefied parts of LA. As a kid in Aptos, Ventura Boulevard and downtown LA (long before lofts!) defined LA for me. Even now, when I’m in some of the more workaday sections of the Southland, something I see triggers the ‘Rockford Files’ theme music in my head.” — Ryan Ver Berkmoes, Monte Rio

Lou Grant” (1977), Los Angeles

“The show portrayed all sections of Los Angeles, from downtown, to the beach, to Bel-Air, to like, y’know, the Valley and stuff, and to the scruffier sections in the east and south. I first watched the show when I lived back east, and was thrilled to visit many of those locations after I moved to Southern California in the early ’80s.

“Recently, I picked up several DVD box-sets of ‘Lou Grant,’ and was amazed at how well the show holds up after all these years. One episode, first broadcast in 1979, dealt with undocumented immigrants. Forty-two years old, and it easily could have been written 42 minutes ago.” — Bob Haus, Oakland

Nash Bridges” (1996), San Francisco

“I used to watch ‘Nash Bridges’ in part as a scavenger hunt trying to determine exactly where in San Francisco the scenes were filmed. I even saw the crews in action around town. There’s something special about seeing the real places you know show up on screen.” — Mark Jones, Sacramento

Monk” (2002), San Francisco

“The opening of the show with Monk walking to his apartment at the top of one of San Francisco’s many steep hills is priceless!” — Chick Harrity, Calistoga

Terriers” (2010), San Diego

“Not only was it a very good show with intricate plotting, crackling dialogue and great acting, it also shone a light on a bit of a seedy underbelly of the San Diego beach towns. If I recall correctly it took place in Ocean Beach.

“I had never seen a show that took away the fun and sun of San Diego beach culture and instead replaced it with the scrappy day-to-day (or as was often the case on this show, night-to-night) living in a part of California most people consider idyllic.” — Dan Hess, Los Angeles

Bosch” (2014), Los Angeles

“My husband and I were huge fans of ‘Bosch.’ Sadly, my husband died in March, and months later I finally got around to watching the last season. In the last episode, Bosch’s daughter is sitting outside Du-Par’s.

“I have spent the past few months moving from Connecticut to Los Angeles. I now live a mile away from there — rounded the corner one day after first moving here and there it was.” — Marlene Cavagnuolo, Los Angeles

Lucifer” (2016), Los Angeles

“My favorite is ‘Lucifer’ because it shows the LA I remember most from 11 years lived there: the kind of morally amorphous city the devil would surely choose to live in.” — Ney M. Fonseca Jr., Teresópolis, Brazil

Big Little Lies” (2017), Monterey

“I was born and raised on Monterey Bay. I spent much of my adult life living and working there, though not since 2005. One of my family’s greatest joys was Sunday drives around the region.

“I adored ‘Big Little Lies’ for all the iconic Central Coast, Monterey peninsula and Big Sur locations that were beautifully showcased.” — Rhoda Flint, Bellingham, Wash.

The Rookie” (2018), Los Angeles

“The star of the show is Los Angeles. It’s a well-done police procedural with a good cast and excellent plot. It stays interesting episode to episode.

“Being a former Southern California girl, I have developed a love for SoCal that I didn’t have for the first 20 years of my life.

“I was blown away by the detailed street-to-street detail, and the different downtown LA neighborhoods. The cast are all very likable and tough. Plus the diversity of the cast is what it should be, with Black and Hispanic actors making up the main characters.” — Iris Buckley-Jacobson, Atascadero

City of Ghosts” (2021), Los Angeles

“‘City of Ghosts’ on Netflix is a little miracle of a show — humane portraits of LA neighborhoods outside the ones we’ve seen for years, naturalistic performances and a delightful art direction and animation style. Super great for adults AND kids! Hope you like it.” — Paul Kimball, Campbell

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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