The TV industry may churn out shockingly real images of violence and nudity, but when it comes to exposing the true grit of living a city life on a teeny budget, even edgier channels (like HBO) get it all wrong. It’s an understandable legacy: part of why viewers watch television is to escape the drudgery of everyday life (including being broke-ass-broke). Even though big strides have been made to show more true-to-life characters on the small screen, the most modern and accurate depictions of young people are found on the web.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970 to 1977) was the first American TV show to revolve around a woman living city life and forging her own career instead of looking for a man to support her. The series and its intro, in which she twirls around on busy city sidewalks, while a cheerful theme song plays–“You can have this town, why don’t you take it? You’re going to make it after all”–was an inspiring feminist breakthrough, though many grim realities of how to make it after all weren’t exposed:

A few decades later, in the ’90s and 2000s, Sex and The City showed four women making it for themselves in the city. This time, the imagery dripped in fabulocity, as life in New York City was punctuated by glamorous parties, bottomless cocktails and a steady stream of designer shoes. Never mind that Carrie Bradshaw wrote but a scant weekly sex column in the alt paper for a living–a job that wouldn’t afford her the cute little one-bedroom apartment she rented, much less the enviable wardrobe she rocked. Audiences largely forgave these glaring inconsistencies because the show made good on its message of independence and power of female friendship.

When Girls hit HBO a few years ago, Hannah Horvath’s frequent nudity was a revelation in that actor Lena Dunham’s body was shaped differently than the standard boney body type–something that has helped create a new sort of freedom for women not previously shown on TV. But the show didn’t do much to address the harsh realities of what it costs to live in NYC as a young person starting her career.

Sure, the I-guess-I’ll-need-a-job-to-pay-the-rent storylines surfaced, but they were magically resolved by improbable circumstances. In season three, Hannah sheds her oppressive job at GQ (which she felt infringed upon her freedom to be a “truly authentic person,” even though the gig would have her at least 40K IRL) to take up as a barista. Unless Hannah was slinging dimebags while making macchiados, she would have been evicted long ago.

Finally, after decades yelling, “but how can she afford that?” at our TVs, we’re starting to see relatable and realistic portrayals of city life for young characters–not on the small screen, where characters continue to be created with delusions of grandeur, but on the web, where content can venture into very dark waters without risk of cancelation.

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Whatever This Is is one such show, which streams for free on Vimeo.  Its version of Four TwentySomething New Yorkers Trying To Make It In The City tackles the omnipresent questions real college grads in New Yorkers face every day, like: When it comes to money, what won’t I do in order to make the month’s rent; Why live in a cultural mecca when you don’t have time or money to take advantage of the art and cuisine it has to offer; In a city where everyone is hustling so damned hard, is it possible to build and retain a relationship? 

Yes, the outlook is often dark, but it’s also comfortingly relatable, and even inspiring; it reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggle and if we keep slugging away, as the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song jubilantly declared, we can make it after all.


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