TV Shows Filmed in L.A. Are Finally Starting to Look Familiar

On the small screen, Los Angeles is home to more than just the rich and famous.,


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Y’lan Noel and Issa Rae sharing some late-night chili fries at Brolly Hut in Inglewood in an episode of “Insecure.”Credit…HBO

If you’ve spent much time in Los Angeles, you’ve probably at some point been watching TV and realized, “Hey, I know that place!”

On “The West Wing,” Los Angeles City Hall doubled as the sprawling U.S. Capitol building. The streets of the San Fernando Valley stand in for Scranton, Pa., on “The Office.” Even “M*A*S*H,” the medical drama set in the Korean War, filmed in the Santa Monica Mountains.

But it wasn’t until fairly recently that the city that specializes in pretending to be anywhere else began to play itself.

We’ve long had portrayals of L.A.’s rich and famous — “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Entourage” — but those, with their limited view of who lives here, were themselves a kind of act.

I’m talking about shows that feel more true to reality: reflecting a majority-minority city with a median annual income below $30,000 where, for most people, life isn’t all that glamorous.

Some of the earliest in this genre were “East Los High,” a 2013 Hulu show with an all-Latino cast set in Boyle Heights, and “Transparent,” the Amazon Prime drama that filmed heavily in Los Feliz, Echo Park and Silver Lake. (I remember bouncing in my seat during that show’s 2014 pilot when it panned to a section of Griffith Park minutes from my apartment.)

Now there are dozens of L.A. shows set beyond the moneyed Westside, away from beaches and bikinis. The noncomprehensive list includes “Bosch,” “Gentefied,” “Never Have I Ever,” “You’re the Worst,” “Love,” “Snowfall,”Vida” and “Insecure.”

Lorraine Ali, a television critic for The Los Angeles Times, attributed this shift to an explosion of streaming platforms that created more space for new voices and neighborhoods on TV, from South L.A. to Sherman Oaks.

“The problem before was that the industry just kept pulling from within,” Ali told me. “A lot of these creators making these shows come from these areas because nobody can afford to live on those places on the Westside anymore.”

Other critics have chalked it up to the rise of single-camera TV shows, which better lend themselves to shooting on location, “so they can take place in L.A. instead of on a soundstage in L.A. that’s dressed to look like New York,” as Vulture put it. (The East Coast comedies “Cheers,” “Seinfeld” and “Friends” were all filmed in L.A.)

One of the most important shows in this more real L.A. movement is HBO’s “Insecure,” which begins airing its fifth and final season on Sunday. The show follows a 30-something Black woman who is living in South L.A. and navigating bad dates, career hiccups and turbulent friendships.

The show’s creator, Issa Rae, grew up in View Park, a posh part of South L.A. that had rarely been seen onscreen, my colleague Salamishah Tillet wrote in an article about the upcoming season.

“If South Los Angeles was portrayed at all, it tended to happen in movies like “Boyz ‘N the Hood” and “Menace II Society” that depicted predominantly Black communities like Watts and Inglewood (where Rae’s father had his dental practice) as plagued by gangs and gun violence,” Tillet writes. “Rae has said her goal was to make those neighborhoods feel as sexy as any other place in the city.”

Rae takes us beyond South L.A. too, traversing a version of the city that feels like my own. She hosts a birthday dinner in Little Ethiopia, drinks cocktails at Gracias Madre in West Hollywood and stops by Guisados downtown in search of a lost friend.

Ali, who has been tracking L.A.’s on-screen evolution for years, told me she thinks it’s undergirded by a move toward realism across television — less escapist and more relatable.

She marveled at a scene in an early season of “Insecure” in which two characters chat in a dingy lobby of a mechanic’s body shop.

“I’ve sat in that greasy chair waiting, and I don’t think I had ever seen that on TV,” she told me. “That seems incredible that they could capture something that’s part of your everyday life.”

It’s a moment that could take place anywhere, but on “Insecure,” it happens in L.A.

Tell us about your favorite TV shows set in California. Email me at

For more:

Ali on “Insecure” as a love letter to L.A., especially during the pandemic.

The actress Yvonne Orji reflects on the end of “Insecure,” and tells a joke.

The “Insecure” star Jay Ellis comes home to Harlem.


Construction crews replaced a section of the primary border wall separating San Diego, right, and Tijuana, Mexico, in 2019.Credit…Gregory Bull/Associated Press

The rest of the news

State contract is questioned: The contractor that the state hired to test and vaccinate migrants crossing the border is the same company that built large sections of a border wall, a CapRadio investigation found.

Oil drilling ban: California’s oil and gas regulator proposed on Thursday that the state prohibit new oil drilling within 3,200 feet of schools, homes and hospitals, The Associated Press reports.

Weather forecast: A series of strong storms is expected over the next several days, NPR reports.

Port backup: Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to alleviate cargo congestion at ports, CNN reports.

Budget surplus: Newsom predicts another “historic budget surplus” of $75 billion next year, The Sacramento Bee reports.


Homelessness crisis: The Los Angeles City Council approved a ban on homeless encampments at certain locations, KTLA reports.

School closures affecting students: Among L.A. students, elementary school reading scores have dropped seven percentage points during the pandemic, while gaps between Black and Latino students and white and Asian classmates grew to 26 percentage points or more, a Los Angeles Times analysis found.


Hiking family’s cause of death: Investigators have determined that a California couple, their 1-year-old daughter and their dog died from extreme heat and dehydration while hiking in the Sierra National Forest.


The Caldor fire: The fire that began in mid-August and destroyed hundreds of homes in El Dorado County is now fully contained, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Drug bust: Law enforcement seized more than 12 pounds of fentanyl, a deadly narcotic, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, The Associated Press reports.


Credit…Joyce Kim

What we’re eating

Tips for throwing a communal dinner party, from the artist and cook Julia Sherman.


Schooner Gulch State Beach on the Northern California Coast is famous for the large sandstone balls that are visible at low tide.Credit…Eric Foltz/Getty Images

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Jane Tillis, who recommends Bowling Ball Beach in Schooner Gulch State Beach:

“It is AMAZING! You can see the “bowling balls” in the water and on the beach. You can also see how they “fell” out of the hills above. A few are still sticking out, looking like they could drop at any point. Plus, they make an odd pattern in the sand: lines of what looks like asphalt!

It is truly the most unusually beautiful place I have ever visited.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

What we’re recommending

The long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, which recognizes many of those who worked behind the scenes.


Some vintners are using raptors like this Harris hawk, at a vineyard in Napa, to keep rodents under control.Credit…Eric Risberg/Associated Press

And before you go, some good news

Traditionally, California winemakers have used rodenticides to rid their crops of damaging pests.

But the super-toxic poisons can kill birds and other wildlife up the food chain, along with the intended targets (gophers, mice and voles).

So a growing number of vintners are turning to more natural pest control: owls.

The birds, drawn to vineyards by nest boxes that winemakers set out for them, are hungrily gobbling up rodents in the Napa Valley, Bay Nature reports. And that appears to be driving a reduction in pesticide use.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy some TV this weekend. I’ll be back on Monday. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “The kissing disease” (4 letters).

Briana Scalia, Shivani Gonzalez and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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