TV hates Sacramento

On the networks, Sactown is shorthand for lameness

I remember seeing Guy Fieri a couple years ago at the Sammies. It was weird.

The albino-haired celebrity chef was ushered in, VIP-style, to a beer garden beside the main stage, where he stood motionless until somebody noticed him. On the few occasions someone did, Fieri activated like a monkey with political aspirations. It was like his beefy, bowling-shirted body powered down in between each loutish fan encounter. As wonderfully creepy as this was to me at the time, it was also one of those rare occasions on which our second-banana town humbled pop culture, and not the other way around.

We don’t usually win those battles, as my television can attest.

This past month, a few network shows used Sacramento’s mere mention as a kind of cheeky shorthand for lameness. The November 20 episode of ABC’s Happy Endings was a predictably snarky Thanksgiving-themed installment in which a 1/16th-Navajo character experiences “an authentic Thanksgiving” when he is robbed by pilgrims on their way to a parade, gets hives from a contaminated (with cat hair) blanket and is arrested for scalping tickets to a Rock Bottom Remainders concert. (This band made up of celebrity authors, unfortunately, actually exists.)

But what really gave this episode its smarmy ’zazz were the made-up scenes from a never-aired season of MTV’s The Real World, set in Sacramento in 2002. Over an opening credit sequence in which a cast of dim narcissists is introduced, we see glamour shots of the Tower Bridge, the state Capitol building, the downtown skyline (are we really that short?) and, um, our transit system. (Yay, buses!)

It’s hard to take offense, because the parody gets so much right, from the spot-on portrayal of 2002 fashion trends (pink hair, goatees, coming out on national TV) to the “woo-hoo!” knavery of 21st-century 20-somethings.

While the fake show-within-a-show never aired because the roommates’ converted firehouse home burned down (damn Sac Metro firefighters), the better, unspoken gag is that MTV is scraping the bottom of the barrel by setting its aging, increasingly shrill franchise in Cowtown. I mean, what’s next, The Real World: Poughkeepsie?

Similarly, Fox’s screwball-siblings comedy Ben and Kate has sporadically name-checked Sacramento as the town Ben ditched so he could live with his sister and help raise his niece. No overt jokes have been made at our city’s expense (none that I’ve caught, at least), but the way the city’s name is evoked is enough to tell viewers in Middle America, “You don’t want to go there.” (I wonder if this is how the residents of Poughkeepsie feel any time the mainstream media mentions their town.)

And then there’s The Mentalist, yet another Sherlock Holmes retread featuring a brainy rogue helping inept law enforcement crack mysteries they’re otherwise too dumb to solve. This CBS procedural is also the most popular show that no one I know watches. Who knows? Maybe it gets a huge market share in Poughkeepsie. Anyway, as far as I can tell, the main character “consults” for something called the California Bureau of Investigation, which is supposedly based in Sacramento and probably gets teased by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But the show only shoots here when it absolutely has to, like when, say, producers need a walk-and-talk to feature the historic governor’s mansion in the background and a dollhouse isn’t available.

But maybe we should be thankful someone outside of Sacramento is mentioning Sacramento. Other than Mayor Kevin Johnson, who’s always outside Sacramento mentioning Sacramento. (Or so he says. Maybe he’s traveling to other cities talking about how great Poughkeepsie is.) As the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity. Even with the inference being that we’re from the Rodney Dangerfield of major cities. Well, semimajor cities. … OK, a city.

It could be worse. As a half-Iranian, I have to deal with Bravo’s Shahs of Sunset being on the air. The beyond-vapid reality series centers on a Los Angeles troupe of offensively wealthy Persians who “work” in real estate. But their true job seems to be giving America a real reason to impose tough Iranian sanctions.

Honestly, I’d rather have people just go back to thinking we’re all terrorists. At least then I’d have a better shot at being cast on the real The Real World: Sacramento. Fingers crossed.