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Los Angeles plays itself (and the settings of The Office, Parks And Recreation, Its Always Sunny...)

By DMO Affiliate
Los Angeles has been very kind to Pop Pilgrims, but its a fickle sort of kindness. For all of the proximity the city affords to relics of old Hollywood, memorials to fallen musicians, and fictional whorehouses, it also has a tradition of pulling the rug out from under The A.V. Club. For the second season in a row, a planned Los Angeles-adjacent Pop Pilgrims shoot fell through; this time it was the Cabazon Dinosaurs from Pee-wees Big Adventure, kitschy icons of roadside Americana/symbols of scientific curiosity hijacked in the mid-1990s by a group of creationists who dont return emails. Undauntedand without Sean ONeals vast reserves of Doors trivia at our disposalthe crew turned toward another L.A. subject thats 75 percent artful faade: ordinary buildings transformed into local landmarks thanks to a few seconds of TV footage. The establishing shot is one of the least elegant elements of a TV shows visual vocabulary, a quick-and-dirty shorthand for establishing a scenes locationeven though that scene is, more often than not, actually playing out on a soundstage miles away. (Or, in the case of the former home of Onion Inc. and NBCs Sean Saves The World, several states away.) And yet theres a certain beauty in the establishing shot, the shooting location of which is often the only way a viewer can interact with the universe of their favorite show. Visit downtown Minneapolis and you can see where Mary Richards, Lou Grant, and Ted Baxter worked on The Mary Tyler Moore Show; in Chicagos Edgewater neighborhood, some lucky condo owner sleeps in the bedroom ostensibly shared by the Hartleys of The Bob Newhart Show. Similar sites are scattered across the United States, but the Los Angeles area is chockablock with themmany of which arent even standing in for fictional L.A. locations. And so began a trip spanning some 20 real-world miles and four TV-world states (Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, and California), encompassing a decade of sitcom history, one loony horror anthology, and a brief stop off at ABCs old TGIF lineup. With the exception of Pasadena City Hallwhich Parks And Recreation portrays as Pawnee City Hall through the photographic trick of never showing the massive heads of Jackie and Mack Robinsonand the American Horror Story “murder house,” none of the buildings we saw that day bore any significance beyond their brush with television stardom. And thats sort of the idea: The beige exterior of Chandler Valley Center Studios is anonymous enough to pass as a dull office park in Pennsylvania. And theres enough patina on the Nate Starkman Building to convince viewers that its actually the grimy exterior of a bar located just down I-476 from Dunder Mifflin Scranton. These buildings were chosen to play buildings in other places because nothing about them explicitly says “Los Angeles.” And though that versatility might read as facelessness to some, the L.A.-as-L.A. locations on The A.V. Clubs TV tour still speak to the character of the city. The Rosenheim Mansion featured in American Horror Storys first season was designed by Alfred Rosenheim, one of the citys leading architects at the turn of the 20th century. (Further bolstering its destination status: The mansion was the one stop on the tour at which The A.V. Club ran across any other sightseers.) The New Girl loft at 837 Traction Avenue is a mixed-use renovation calling to expat dreamers from within the citys Art Districts; its in one of those lofts that Incredibles director and one-time Simpsons hand Brad Bird reportedly created his short-lived cartoon Family Dog. (Though apartment listings like this one indicate that, even in Los Angeles, you still cant pay the rent in hopes and dreams.)  Across the decades, Los Angeles and the surrounding area have shaped themselves into a city thats willing and ready to be shaped into the image of multiple locations around the globe. Now if it could only shape itself into an area that cooperated with Pop Pilgrims 100 percent of the time, wed be all square.     
Los Angeles plays itself (and the settings of The Office, Parks And Recreation, Its Always Sunny...)

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