Realism v. Reality

Posted: 27 September 2009 in geekery, media

I love Fringe. It’s got a great balance of cerebral and comedic element, and is more than a worthy successor to the X-Files.  The last episode, however, smacked me upside the head with something that really irks me.

Don’t get me wrong, the episode was great, but for this one detail.

It starts off in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, which happens to be quite close to me and was, for two years, my address.  So, I know a thing or two about what Lansdale looks like.  What I was seeing on the screen was not Lansdale.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that the film crew is going to jaunt off to every small town that they reference just to get the authentic shot, but this was completely different.  This wasn’t just not-Lansdale, it was not-even-close-to-Lansdale.

Our scene starts with miles and miles of corn fields intersected by a train line.  OK, maybe I can buy that this is somewhere just north of Lansdale.  But then, a frieght train of massive proportions bearing the logo of CANADIAN NATIONAL comes barrelling down the tracks.   This should be blatantly obvious that we’re not in Pennsylvania anymore, folks.  The train itself was completely inconsequential to the story, which was even more annoying.

Then, as the episode progresses, we see more of “Lansdale.” We meet the Sherriff of Lansdale, headquartered in his country shack.  We meet some of the townsfolk, living in their remote farmhouses.  Nowhere do we see anything that resembles the real Lansdale.  Nowhere.  Not even a hint

The worst part of this is that they could have picked any of hundreds of towns in Pennsylvania, many even a quick drive from Lansdale, to use this setup without being inaccurate.  But they didn’t.  They chose to represent suburban Philadelphia as a backwater hick-burg.  What’s more disturbing is that this is a fairly regular occurence.  If one’s only exposure to addresses in Southeastern Pennsylvania was this episode of Fringe, a few episodes of X-Files (one which mangles my hometown), and the movie Signs, one would think that Philadelphia ends at the Philadelphia County line and thus begins Kentucky.

But this isn’t just me kvetching about the treatment of my area, it’s a larger complaint.  What else are they getting wrong?  When I see a show taking place in some suburb of Atlanta, am I being fed a wildly inaccurate description of that place?  And if so, what was the point of naming it in the first place?  Couldn’t we have just gone with “Southeastern Pennsylvania” and created some fictional town that represents a hodgepodge of local possibilities?  If I’d been told that we were in Denfield, PA and clued in that it was an hour or two outside of Philly, I would have been satisfied that they were where they needed to be geographically and were representing a possible PA town.  They didn’t do that.  They chose to beat up my suspension of disbelief by attempting the appearance of reality without actually getting anywhere near it.  The effect was basically the same as holding up a red pen and referring to it as blue.  Sorry, but you lost me at CANADIAN NATIONAL.

  1. Leigh says:

    I would have probably spent the whole episode wondering how in the world they had heard of Lansdale in teh first place. Why not pick Perkasie? That’s kind of weird.
    Heh, farmhouses in Lansdale.

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