We’re not in Kansas any more

A lot of people’s first response to Azerbaijan winning the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest was along the lines of “where’s that?” or, possibly, “that’s not a real place!”, and then- upon googling- it was more of a, “well that’s not in Europe” kind of feel.

But win they did, nonetheless:

This general geographical confusion has created an urge in me to set y’all some homework: I suggest you try to complete the sporcle challenge to name all the countries of the world (in fifteen minutes).

It also got me thinking about some legitimately made up locations too.

I feel that a sense of place can add a lot to a story, especially an ongoing one- as in a television or book series. When a story’s set in a nebulous, loosely defined location it often seems to lack something. But a good location doesn’t necessarily need to be real.

Of course fantasy and science fiction might be set on another planet, or another world, or the bowels of hell- but I thought I’d focus on ten television shows set in real world, though fictitious, places.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Sunnydale

Originally described as a “one Starbucks town” where the bad part of town was about half a block from the good (due to lack of space), this fictional California town was revealed to include rather more amenities than seemed plausible- including a university- as the show developed. It functioned as anytown, California and, with its plethora of back alleys, graveyards and dodgy looking parks, fulfilled plenty of horror tropes too.

Dawson’s Creek – Capeside

This sleepy town was supposed to be on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, although the show was filmed in (and around) Wilmington, North Carolina. The coastal community bore similarities to the North Carolina town in which creator Kevin Williamson grew up. When the gang graduated from high school, a university (this time located in Boston) called Worthington University, was created for some of them to attend.

Weeds – Agrestic

This fictional suburb of Los Angeles served as the setting for Weeds‘ first few seasons of satirising suburbia. The show’s opening credits, coupled with the use of ‘Little Boxes’ as the theme, emphasised the idea of Stepford-esque families producing clones who would go on to perpetuate this lifestyle. Initially Nancy’s decision to deal drugs, which began to disrupt this, was motivated by her desire to maintain her family’s standard of living after her husband died.
After the town was burnt down Nancy and co went on the run, and the show has continued to re-invent itself with each season. I like the fact that Weeds is bold enough to do that, but I do sometimes miss the simpler times.
Veronica Mars – Neptune

Of course a family called Mars would have to live in a town called Neptune (another faux California location), and the gimmick was added to by having Veronica drive a car named after another planet, a Saturn, in season three. Despite not being a real place, the town was thoroughly fleshed out. The extreme gap between rich and poor- and attendant lack of a middle class- allowed the show to explore social issues that aren’t necessarily the staple of high school series on the CW. Even the made up zip codes were imbued with meaning- the wealthy folk were known as “09ers” because they hailed from the 90909 area.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch – Westbridge

This fun 90s television show set in Westbridge, Massachusetts (not a real place) was based on a comic book series set in Greendale, which was somewhere near the Riverdale where Archie and pals lived- and also not a real place. That’s a doubley tangled web! This was added to even further when Sabrina enrolled at Adams College in the fifth season which is, you guessed it, also completely made up. But then it was a show about a family of witches and their talking cat (who used to be a nefarious warlock), so I was pretty happy to extend my suspension of disbelief to the setting, as well as the supernatural elements.

Pushing Daisies – Papen County 

The bustling town in which the Pie Hole, and the gang, existed was never actually named in Pushing Daisies– but the fact that it was located in (unreal) Papen County was. This ‘verse also featured a Coeur d’Coeurs county (which is an abuse of the French language), where Ned and Chuck were both originally from. The quirky locations and saturated, Burton-esque colours of the show gave it a distinct feel, and really brought this world to life. And Ned’s awesome pie shop certainly made me want to visit- even if he did use dead fruit in his cooking.

Midsomer Murders – Midsomer

This fabricated English county is unlikely to be a popular tourist destination. In order to provide enough cases for the detectives in this ongoing show (which started in 1997) to solve each episode, a lot of locals had to be killed off horribly. Just in case horror films and Roald Dahl’s short stories haven’t put you off visiting the countryside- this show, with its representation of an obscenely high crime rate, should certainly be able to do the trick. Over the years they’ve racked up an impressive number of make-believe towns and villages in Midsomer, none of which it’d be worth visiting as there are murders going on all over the place.

True Blood – Bon Temps

This small Louisiana town (with a name that literally means ‘good times’) is imbued with history. The fact that Bill fought for the South in the American Civil War helped him to connect with some members of the community, despite being a vampire, and his opportunity to claim back his family’s home smacks of the continued importance of history for a community.

Perhaps Charlaine Harris, who wrote the books that the show is based on, was inspired by Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, or maybe everyone just has a magical view of Louisiana and its multicultural heritage.

The Vampire Diaries – Mystic Falls

Another vampire show based on a book series and set in an imaginary town- this time one in Virginia (although in the book series it’s called Fells’s Church). It’s a town beset by all kinds of supernatural beings, and it pretty much always has been, hence the Founders Council exists and aims to protect everyone from vampires. The Vampire Diaries often makes use of flashbacks to show the seventeenth century history of Mystic Falls, which  can add to the spookiness of the show’s atmosphere- as does the cryptic name.

Pretty Little Liars – Rosewood

Pretty Little Liars has become my new crack. Seriously, this show is so addictive!

It’s set in Rosewood, which is apparently a fictionalised version of Rosemont, Pennsylvania. Given that the author of the series of books that the show is based on (seriously, are there no original concepts any more?!) is from Pennsylvania, it seems like it’s loosely based on her experiences growing up. Rosewood is affluent and relatively conservative- and, ultimately, stifling. This atmosphere seems to breed sneaky behaviour, and forces the girls’ parents to attempt to hide potential scandals- whether its Hanna’s shoplifting or Emily’s girlfriend. And maybe that helps to explain how Alison’s murder was so well covered up too.

Got a favourite fictional location of your own? Love Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, or maybe a show set in a town with a ridiculous name like Stars Hollow or Tree Hill? Or do you have a passion for the kind of made up place- say, Smallville or Gotham City- a superhero could call home? Tell all in the comments!

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