12 TV Shows That Perfectly Capture Their Real-Life Settings

List Rules
Vote up the shows that best captured the spirit of their real-life settings.

In many television shows, the location can play as big of a role as the characters do. This is especially true when the series is set in a real place. The more details used about the lifestyle, culture, or favorite hangouts of the locals, the more accurate the show's setting is going to feel.

Many series are filmed in the actual location where the show is set. When that's the case, private homes and businesses in the area can be used not just as background scenery, but as ways to develop a character or act as the location for a key scene.

From the poverty- and crime-stricken area of The Wire's West Baltimore to the sunny beaches and substance-fueled club culture of White Lines's Ibiza, Spain, here are a dozen television shows that have done an excellent job of portraying the scenery and way of life in their real-life locales.

  • Many Of The Businesses In 'Breaking Bad' And 'Better Call Saul' Are Actual Albuquerque Hot Spots
    Photo: AMC

    Breaking Bad revolves around a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White, who learns he has terminal lung cancer and starts producing speed to provide financial security for his family. Better Call Saul is a prequel to Breaking Bad centering on character Saul Goodman, a former con artist turned shady lawyer who represents White and others involved in Albuquerque's underbelly.

    The majority of the scenes in both shows were filmed on location in Albuquerque and its surrounding area. In fact, many of the places featured are actual businesses and hot spots that locals will recognize and visitors now flock to. To assist them, Miguel S. Jaramillo runs @breakingbadlocations, an unofficial Instagram account for the two series that tracks all the locations used. In a 2020 interview with Vice, he explained he started the venture after being impressed with how accurately and realistically they represented the city. Of the local "Easter eggs," Jaramillo said:

    ...[W]hen you see props, like a takeout bag from Blake’s Lotaburger. Your average viewer probably thinks that’s a made-up restaurant with a strange name, but Lotaburger is very much an Albuquerque fast food institution. My understanding is that these products and places appear because that’s where the crew and writing staff would go and they’d discover these spots.

    As for how similar the real Albuquerque is to the on-screen version, Jaramillo said:

    Albuquerque’s drug problem is certainly an issue that we deal with on a daily basis. But so do other cities our size and larger...

    But Bad and Saul also present certain aspects of Albuquerque that surprise me, like how accurately and beautifully they capture New Mexico’s scenery. Or the fact that Bad depicts characters like Gretchen and Elliott - two billionaires who live in a mansion and drive around in a Bentley - living in Albuquerque.

    Not everyone is so pleased with the show's authenticity. Jaramillo explained its effect on real private residences:

    Especially the owners of the house that served as the setting for Walter White’s residence. The family that lives there has resorted to fencing off their property because of constant trespassing and pizza-throwing by “fans.” Which is ironic because, by the end of Breaking Bad, that house is fenced off in the show, too, because it has also become a tourist attraction.

    • Actors: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Dean Norris
    • Premiered: January 20, 2008

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  • 'The Sopranos' Cast Local Actors And Pulled Plotlines From Real New Jersey Headlines
    Photo: HBO

    The Sopranos is a highly regarded HBO drama series that focused on a crime syndicate headed by Tony Soprano. It was set primarily in the northern part of New Jersey, a setting that became inextricably linked to the show's identity.

    David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, grew up in that area. As he explained in an interview for The Sopranos Sessions:

    Part of [setting the show in northern New Jersey] was just the desire to do something different than any typical downtown New York gangster movie. Put it out there, with the trees and wind and all that stuff, in New Jersey.

    To add authenticity to the show, many of the plots were taken from headlines found in The (Newark) Star-Ledger, several of the cast members were local amateur actors, and even scenes not set in New Jersey were filmed in the state. One of the show's location managers was quoted in the book Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: "Everything in the known universe you can find in New Jersey."

    The show was widely praised by natives and residents of New Jersey for its accuracy, with one fan likening it to "a documentary." As Redditor u/Louis_Farizee recalled:

    My dad looked, sounded, and dressed just like Tony did at the time. I’m pretty sure they had a lot of the same shirts.

    Redditor u/BadDaddyAlger added:

    Growing up in North Jersey at the time the show was on, I can say it's like they just took our lives and put them on the TV.

    • Actors: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese
    • Premiered: January 10, 1999

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  • 'Veep' Showrunners Accidentally Made The Show Frighteningly Accurate To DC Politics
    Photo: HBO

    Veep is an Emmy Award-winning political satire that aired on HBO. Filmed in a documentary style, its protagonist is Selina Meyer, the fictional vice president of the United States. As the people behind the show discovered, fictional shows about politics can sometimes become eerily close to the truth.

    Long before Kamala Harris became the first real-life female VP of the United States, both Veep's creators and many of its actors complained about how quickly reality was catching up to the show's satirical storylines. Speaking at 2014's PaleyFest, series creator Armando Iannucci admitted:

    It’s been gratifying to hear people who are watching it say it’s accurate - frightening - but gratifying. I’ve been told by Obama’s press office that they’ve just come out of a meeting and there were two Jonahs and three Dans there...

    But the worst piece of feedback we’ll get is when we actually think that we’ve come up with the most ridiculous story... and we do it, and then we get a call from Washington where they’ll ask, "How did you find that out?"

    Writing for Nylon magazine, Samuel Ashworth argued that among the many shows set in the DC political sphere, Veep is one of the most accurate, particularly in the panic:

    ...[N]o show better portrays the sheer panic that engulfs people in the political world - the constant backstabbing among the underlings, the utter venality of Vice President... and, most of all, the way that the characters balance their hunger for power with their fear of getting caught. That’s one more reason that House of Cards is BS: Frank and Claire are almost never afraid of anything. But this is a town full of knives, and so it’s a town full of sh*t-scared people. And it should be. That’s the point of democracy: No one’s untouchable...

    • Actors: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Matt Walsh, Reid Scott, Tony Hale
    • Premiered: April 22, 2012

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  • 'Ozark' Creator Bill Dubuque Spent Summers As A Teen Working At Resorts In The Ozarks
    Photo: Netflix

    Ozark is a Netflix crime drama series that follows the Byrde family. Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) is a financial advisor who launders money for a cartel. Hoping to protect his family and evade the FBI, he moves them from Chicago to the Ozarks. The fictional Blue Cat Lodge, one of the main settings in the show, is based on a real resort in the area.

    While Ozark uses some exterior shots from its namesake, most of the series was filmed in the Atlanta, GA, area. But the show's creator, Bill Dubuque, worked hard to capture the spirit of the Ozarks. Dubuque spent some of his teenage years working at a family-owned resort (the Alhonna Resort) on Lake of the Ozarks. He wanted to come up with a show set in the area and told St. Louis Today he wanted to depict a realistic version of the location and the people who lived and worked there:

    The lake is both a real thing and a metaphor for capitalism. You can buy property right down to the water. It attracts all kinds of people and all kinds of boats, from bass boats to yachts. There's wealth, and there's poverty. You can see $4 million homes and in minutes see trailers.

    • Actors: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner
    • Premiered: July 21, 2017

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  • The 'Fargo' Series Accurately Portrays The Harsh Winters In North Dakota And Minnesota
    Photo: FX

    The black comedy crime drama television series Fargo was inspired by the Coen brothers' 1996 film of the same name. Although the fourth season took place in Kansas City, MO, the first three seasons all took place primarily in Minnesota, North Dakota, and/or South Dakota.

    When asked about the show's authenticity, natives and residents of the area generally praised the depictions of the often harsh winters and the residents' reaction to them. According to Redditor u/Force_Radish:

    ...I think they do a good job representing winter life. The snow, the cold air and such are pretty much like that here in Minnesota. I do like the way they show the actors go out into the cold. They have a quick start at the cold air and the look of resignation on their face. Very authentic in that portrayal. Winter is just winter. It's not too bad, but we all would rather it was summer.

    Some think the actors' accents tend to be at least slightly exaggerated, depending on what part of the area they're from. As Redditor u/autofry put it:

    I grew up in a tiny town in Northern Minnesota and I've lived in the Fargo-Moorhead (MN) for the past 20 years. In the Fargo area the accents aren't as noticeable but going back to visit my hometown is like visiting the TV show. It's pretty wild. I catch myself a lot hitting my O's really hard at times and [it's] jarring. The movie and TV show make me hyper aware of it now.

    • Actors: Chris Rock, Glynn Turman, Jeremie Harris, Corey Hendrix, Jason Schwartzman
    • Premiered: April 15, 2014

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  • Some Hawaii Resort Workers Found The Guests Of 'The White Lotus' To Be Alarmingly True To Life
    Photo: HBO

    The White Lotus is a satirical comedy-drama that premiered on HBO Max in 2021. The series follows several different guests who are vacationing for the week at the fictional White Lotus resort and how their lives intersect with each other and the people who work there.

    According to David Lukela, who used to work as a chef at a Hawaiian resort, the show is not reflective of Hawaiian culture or people who actually work at these resorts - although he admitted to SFGATE The White Lotus probably hadn't been aiming for accuracy in the portrayals: "When you work in hotels, there’s a lot more local people. It’s the community that the labor force comes from."

    However, a woman who worked as a massage therapist at a Hawaiian resort (and requested anonymity) stated the show was pretty on point with its depiction of how the guests act, especially in how they need to be catered to:

    They’ll complain about everything. And want everything for free. When they’re spending that much money, they’re going to complain... They need all the attention... They want to feel like they’re the only person there.

    While the behavior of guests on the show may seem over the top at times, she also recalled stories that sound even stranger - particularly a guest who took a number of laxatives and defecated on the table mid-massage. She also recounted guests becoming overly friendly, as seen on the series:

    When you work in a spa and you’re someone’s massage therapist, people attach themselves to you... Even when they leave there’s still this connection, whether it’s email or texting, they’ll come back every year and see the same person.

    So while this massage therapist thought The White Lotus did exaggerate what life at a Hawaiian resort hotel was like, she said there is still "a lot of truth" in the show. She also blamed the real resorts for enabling the guests' actions: "[The hotels] make you feel like the whole world revolves around you. [The guests'] reality is totally shifted."

    • Actors: F. Murray Abraham, Jennifer Coolidge, Adam DiMarco, Meghann Fahy, Beatrice Grannò
    • Premiered: July 11, 2021

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