The Wonder States- Using Deductive Reasoning to Determine the Setting of The Wonder Years, My Name is Earl, and The Simpsons

Where exactly is Anytown, USA?

Location, location, location. The setting of any movie or TV show is always important to me, as the culture of a place definitely shapes the people who live there. Some shows have made a point to specifically avoid stating the setting, classifying it as “Anytown, USA”.  That’s not good enough for me. Today I am directly targeting three shows I am a fan of, in order to properly “out” where they take place based on unique tips.

First is a flawless sitcom/drama, except for that weird last season and final episode. The original ‘70’s show: The Wonder Years.

Accent: flat/neutral. Therefore, this show does not take place in South East, Midwest, or New England.

Ethnicity: Dan Lauria, who plays Kevin Arnold’s dad, Jack, is full Italian. Though this is never addressed in the show, there is no denying that Kevin and his sister Karen (who actually was Italian, but British) could pass as Italians as well.

Therefore, The Wonder Years had to take place in a state that has a decent amount of Italians living it. Italians don’t just live anywhere.

Also, the state has to have a decent amount of Jews as well. Paul Pfeiffer, Michael (Karen’s boyfriend/husband played by Friends star David Schwimmer), and Mr. Cantwell (Kevin’s science teacher played by the legendary Ben Stein) are Jewish.

There is no ocean in sight. The climate is not especially cold or hot.

The result: Pennsylvania. Thirteen percent of its population is Italian, and Jews represent 4% of the religion there, which are both actually high percentages compared to most states. The Wonder Years takes place in Pennsylvania.

Next up is a show that for its four years on the air has received great reviews and ratings but suddenly was cancelled in May 2009: My Name is Earl.

Accent: Southern. When the show comes on, with title card displayed, there are palm trees visibly displayed in the background. It has been stated they are on Central Time.

The only state that fits this mold is the panhandle of Florida. Since the city isn’t specified as a “beach town”, I rule out Panama City.

The result: Pensacola, FL. Not far from the Alabama border, this would explain the small town feel and heavy accent. My Name is Earl takes place in Florida.

Lastly, everybody’s favorite show to try to figure out. A show that for 20 years specifically makes sure the location is vague. Yes, Springfield is the city. But Missouri is never listed as the state: The Simpsons.

Accent: flat/neutral.

I can rule out the states of Utah, Colorado, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Michigan, Florida, Hawaii and Alaska because on at least one occurrence a Simpson character has made a reference to these states regarding them as a different state from their own.

Geographical traits: Tall mountains, farmland, and a coastline.

The creator of the show, Matt Groening, is from Oregon. There is a Flanders, OR (which most likely Ned Flanders gets his name from).

The result: Oregon. The Simpsons takes place in Oregon.

With just a few clues, I can always crack the case of “The Missing Setting”. It’s easy, with a little help from Wikipedia and a 4th grade geography class.

And a little help from my friends…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CZRudxD-NQ

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Assigned Seats: Many Friendships We Have are “Forced”

It’s a little something I call “forced friendship”.

It was always a bittersweet moment when as an elementary school student, I would walk into the classroom Monday morning and realize that my desk was on the other side of the room.  I would now be sitting next to other kids that I hadn’t necessarily been around much before.  This also meant I would no longer be sitting close to the friends I had made while at my previously assigned seat.

Boy, this is just a life metaphor waiting to happen.  Don’t beat me to the punch…

Do we choose our friends?  Yes.  But so often, by default.  Whether because of proximity through work, school, church, current circles of friends, or even marrying into a family, we find ourselves in what I call “forced friendships”.

And I don’t say that like it’s a bad thing.  It’s good.

I use the word “forced” because the reality of friendship is that we don’t usually go out to places looking for friends.  Friends just happen.  We end up in the same place at the same place, often on a reoccurring basis.  And in each location, the people that have the most in common or whose personalities compliment each other the most, are naturally going to become friends.

It’s not typical for one person to walk up to another person that they barely know and say, “Let’s be friends.”  Because it’s much more natural to let the Assigned Seats of Destiny direct us in our human relationships.

The concept of forced friendship became apparent to me in 2008, the year that my sister got married in January, and I in July, just six months apart.  In the same year, I gained a brother-in-law (my sister’s husband) on one side of the family, then seven brothers-in-law (my wife’s brothers) and two sisters-in-law (my wife’s sisters).  Before 2008, I had no in-laws at all.  In a matter of six months, I acquired plenty of them.

And through that process, the ones I have spent the most time with became the ones I obviously know the best, and therefore, have the strongest friendships with.  We are family by marriage, but that doesn’t take away at all the friendship aspect of it.

Each one brings out different sides of my personality, hobbies, and interests.  As we reflect our similarities and common ties.

For example, my sister’s husband Andrew and I are just a few years apart, having grown up playing the same old school Nintendo games, both having grown up in Alabama, and both obsessed with LOST.  In fact, he’s the reason my sister started watching LOST, which is why I am now obsessed.  Throughout the week, we send each other stupid website links and YouTube videos.  The perfect combination of a brother and a good friend.

On the other end of the brother-in-law spectrum, there is Tom up in Pennsylvania, who is the husband of my wife’s 2nd oldest sister.  We only see each other about twice a year and there is about a 10 year age difference between us.  In fact, he and my wife’s sister got married when I was in Junior High and they had their first kid the year I graduated high school.

Yet we have a whole lot in common.  When our wives are together, we let them catch up.  And we just do our own thing.  Whether it’s playing cards, shooting pool, watching movies, or playing with the kids.  We live the laid-back life together.

Being around him is like that seeing my life ten years into the future.  What little recent experience I have being around kids is from his two daughters.  I watch carefully how he talks and interacts with them.  His calm-assertiveness gives them the direction they need while still keeping the environment positive and loving.

Having the ability to choose isn’t everything.  Sometimes it’s better for someone or something else to make our decisions and life plans for us.  The funny thing is, the friendships I have sought out after never seem to last, like a trend or a fad.  If anything, those friendships are the ones that actually ended up feeling forced.

Whereas the forced friendships have always seemed natural.  So there we have it, friendship is a force.  And with all there is to gain from forced friendships, I can’t help but be thankful for assigned seats.

Similar post from the same author: The Invisible Touch, Yeah (The 2nd Installment)

Why Everybody Loves Taylor Swift (Plus, Does Taylor Swift Have a Heart Tattoo on Her Foot?)

This is the year of Taylor Swift.  America loves her.  Not just 14 year-old girls twittering about New Moon.  What is so universally likeable about this 5’11” Pennsylvania native?  She’s truly different.  She’s herself.  And she’s kinda dorky.

She’s normal.  Down to Earth.  And most importantly, genuinely humble.  And for a mega-celebrity, that makes her stick out.  In a very good way.

I have so much respect for Taylor Swift.  Not because of her clever songs which she writes herself (which is extremely rare in Country music) or her superstar status.  But instead, her extreme maturity for her young age.  And her sincerity.

And while much of old school Nashville sourly balks at her success, there is a reason she has made it this far at age 19.  She has the ability to connect with other people.  No matter how well a song is written or performed, it’s the feeling that a listener can relate to the artist and/or the song that causes popularity.

Her character was epitomized during that pivotal Kanye West moment.  She didn’t defend herself.  She didn’t get angry.  She didn’t cry.  She didn’t run off stage.  She just stood there.

And while she has allowed the media around her to poke fun at Kanye’s actions in her presence (SNL and the CMA Awards, in particular) she hasn’t bitterly belittled Kanye West via television or Internet.

That’s not what we are used to seeing.  That’s different.  That’s unique.  That’s class.  She set her self apart from everything artificial we could assume about someone in the entertainment industry.

Last night I tuned in to watch The Office but instead of that being on, NBC had a special about the most intriguing people of 2009.  They saved Taylor Swift to the very end.  In her interview she explained that she has always been herself and how important that is to her.

She’s right.  That’s a lot of why so many people are drawn to her.  (She sold on Madison Square Gardens in literally one minute.)  She’s real.

Taylor Swift doesn’t have to sell her music by dancing in skimpy shorts while pretending an ice cream stand is a dance pole at a strip club.  Or kiss Madonna at an awards show.  Or try to be edgy in any way.  She doesn’t have to try to be anything.  She just is.  Herself.

She’s just Taylor Swift.  And despite her outward appearance and her talent, she has a dorky side that shows through.  That vulnerability and humbleness intrigues people.

Authenticity is hard to come by.

Bonus: Does Taylor Swift have a heart tattoo on her foot?

The answer is no.  It’s not real.  She explains in this interview that is was drawn on to entertain the idea of getting a real one.