Are TV series right about small-town life?
The local diner, eccentric mayor, weekly town council meetings, bizarre traditions and friendly neighbours. Immediately a host of fictional towns come to mind: think Stars Hollow, Schitt’s Creek, Rosewood, Wellsbury, Mystic Falls, Riverdale, Wisteria Lane, Hawkins — the list is endless. And even though each series seems to reuse these same old tropes, we watch along every time. The reason being that even though these cliches might be predictable, they guarantee audiences a slice of both drama and comedy. But, the question remains, just how accurate are they? And as residents ourselves of a small town, do our experiences in St Andrews resemble what we see on Netflix?
For those with access to a subscription, Pret may be your very own Luke’s diner. It offers not only the opportunity for an essential pre-lecture coffee but a social experience — the latter being a key component of the ‘go-to hang out spot’ in any small town show. As you wait in the mosh pit-esque queue to collect your vanilla latte you are almost guaranteed to know at least one person standing besides you. In this way, TV series are accurate in their portrayals of the closeness of small town life. The only coffee shop parallel that doesn’t quite match up is the fact that I personally have not yet reached the point where the Pret baristas know me by name. However, I am sure that this more personal coffee shop experience can be found at independent coffee shops in town such as Taste or Combini, where it would be easier to recognise regulars due to the lower frequency of customers.
Another hallmark of small town TV series is the huge role and influence of the mayor and town council. Although officially this responsibility would fall under the jurisdiction of Fife Town Council, since St Andrews is a university town I would argue that the Union most resembles this figure of authority within students’ lives. However, for those of us living in halls, the hall committee truly does embody every element of this trope. Like the town councils on TV, the hall committee is essential to maintaining hall-life by proposing new ideas and organising events such as balls to unite the hall community. But also like the series on TV (at least in my experience) most hall committee meetings and elections feel like a fever dream: with big personalities and clashing opinions often sparking debate.
And, just as we see on screen, St Andrews too carries the wacky traditions of a small town community. If someone were to add on the Founder’s Day parade from the Vampire Diaries or the historical reenactment in Stars Hollow to our list of traditions in St Andrews I doubt that anyone would bat an eyelid. Red gowned pier walks, frantic shaving foam fights, bad academic luck for stepping over the ‘PH’ — adding a few more to that list would do no harm.
The most painful accuracy of these TV series however, is the lack of a buzzing nightlife: the barn bashes that the Roses endure in Schitt's Creek are just excruciatingly relatable. In spite of this, just how the characters on screen engage in other activities at night, we too have invented other alternatives. Why not forego clubbing and try out a ceilidh?
There may not be a flannel, baseball cap wearing hunk behind the Pret counter, but what TV series have got right about small town life is that it is far from boring. Although not every trope is one hundred percent accurate — and they may be slightly glamorised — at its core, TV series are successful in encompassing the sense of belonging that is at the heart of small town life. However, it must be said that you don’t have to live in a small town to experience any of these tropes. If small town life is a metaphor for community, you can bring an element of it to wherever you live.
Illustration: Sarah Knight