Stay Tuned: Location, location, location

Melissa Crawley More Content Now

I have a confession to make. I didn’t watch much of this season of “Hawaii Five-O.” Don’t tell Hawaii. They might not let me in which would be a shame because the islands, of course, are known for their natural beauty and opportunities to have fun in the sun.

“Hawaii Five-O” knows this too. Every episode has a compilation of aerial shots showcasing white sand beaches, waterfalls and green cliff faces. It’s a signature feature of the series because Hawaii, the land, is as much a character as Five-O, the elite police force. So here’s my second confession. When I do watch the show, it’s for the former rather than the latter. Don’t get me wrong. The show is good for what it is—a safe, solid procedural that is likely to entertain but rarely surprise you. There is lots of exposition to help you along, a few car chases to keep things moving and somewhat engaging banter between attractive lead actors. (And those scenes where Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) takes off his shirt don’t hurt either). But I really watch for Hawaii. Hunting a murderer through the city streets can’t compare to searching through lush green jungle with a waterfall in the background.

It’s all about location which made me think about other shows that use place as a successful storytelling device. FX’s drama “Fargo,” a continuation of the Coen brother’s 1996 film, takes place in the small town of Fargo, Minnesota. The crime drama about a drifter who has an unsettling impact on the town’s residents uses the isolated, snowy landscapes of Fargo to enhance the mood and tone.

Chicago has had a good run in show titles. And for retro nostalgia, there’s “90210,” a series that used a wealthy zip code in California to set the stage for a story about the troubles of rich kids.

The series title is usually a dead giveaway but some shows are more subtle in their use of location. The first season of HBO’s “True Detective” achieves something similar to “Fargo.” The Louisiana detectives hunting a serial killer drive along flat stretches of road with little scenery, reflecting their inner despair and loneliness. Broken-down structures appear in yellow, brown fields of tall grass foreshadowing the eeriness and horror that lies within. “Game of Thrones,” while brilliant for plotting and characterization, also uses place to create story. The ‘game of thrones’ is to capture the seat of power which is inseparable from the taking and keeping of land. Multiple characters spend episodes or entire seasons traveling from one place to another sometimes conquering all that lies in between. The title sequence is a map!

A TV series will capture your attention with a great story or compelling characters. A really good one does both. But it’s the idea of place that’s often undervalued in a show. Like they say in real estate…


Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.