Column: Dear ‘Parks and Recreation’ co-creator: Don’t screw this one up. Sincerely, a longtime San Diegan
Beautiful beaches and seedy streets. Skyscrapers and bungalows. Mountains and deserts. Dive bars and swanky eateries. And don’t get us started on the weather, or we’ll talk your sunburned ear off.
As any local would be happy to tell you, San Diego is always camera-ready. And now it looks like Hollywood could be turning its fickle eye our way again. Finally.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Parks and Recreation” co-creator Mike Schur is working on a new comedy that would be set in San Diego.
The show is “Abby’s,” which stars Natalie Morales of “Parks and Recreation” and “The Grinder” as a former Army staff sergeant who runs an open-air bar in her backyard. In San Diego.
To which we say, “Welcome back, Hollywood!” And, “Dudes, what took you so long?”
The Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie” and Freeform’s “The Fosters” are set in San Diego, but neither show is filmed here. In fact, it has been almost two years since the debut of “Pitch,” the short-lived Fox-TV show about a female pitcher playing for the Padres. It was the last major series to shoot in San Diego, and it’s about time we got back in the TV game.
(For a look at some of the shows shot in San Diego or set here, check out this list from my colleague Abby Hamblin.)
There is no telling if “Abby’s” will make it from the pilot stage to an on-air series. And if it does, there is no guarantee that it will actually be shot here.
But let’s hope for the best as we roll out the beach-towel carpet for Schur and his crew with these tips for making the best of America’s Most Overlooked Film Set. In the words of the best competitive cheerleading movie ever filmed here: Bring it on.
Tip No. 1: Beware the beach
The underdog hero of 2010’s “Terriers” was a disgraced former cop living in Ocean Beach. The beautiful people of 2008’s “The Ex List” also lived (and romped) in Ocean Beach. And the members of the dysfunctional family from 2007’s “John From Cincinnati” surfed and scrapped in Imperial Beach.
What did these locally shot shows have in common besides the sand in their shoes? The brevity of their San Diego stays.
While “Terriers” was a shaggy, atmospheric FX drama; “The Ex List” was a frothy CBS romantic comedy; and “John From Cincinnati” was a baffling HBO something-or-other, each of these beach-centric shows lasted just one season.
And while it is also true that San Diego’s beloved “Veronica Mars” stayed on the air for three seasons despite its heroine’s Point Loma pad, let’s play it safe, shall we?
Just to make sure the TV odds are in “Abby’s” favor, we suggest that she and her backyard watering hole take up residence in North Park. The beach is a safe distance away, and if the show meets an early demise, everyone can drown their sorrows in a river of craft beer.
Tip No. 2: Embrace the edge
When asked why San Diego was the perfect setting for the scruffy “Terriers,” series star Donal Logue quoted author W. Somerset Maugham’s thoughts on the French Riviera:
“(Maugham) said that Monaco was a sunny place for shady people, and that’s what we’re dealing with here,” Logue said in 2010, when he was in town to promote the show. “It’s powerful when you do a show like ours in a place like this.”
From the troubled private detectives of “Terriers” and “Veronica Mars” to the drug lords of the Oscar-nominated “Traffic” and the shadowy crime novels from Don Winslow, T. Jefferson Parker and Joseph Wambaugh, our sunny town has been home to some fabulously shadowy characters.
The most compelling San Diego stories have embraced the light and the dark, the beach and the back alleys, the McMansion-dwelling haves and off-the-grid have-nots. And since Schur is also the creator of NBC’s darkly daffy “The Good Place,” he and “Abby’s” are perfectly positioned to make the best of our split personality.
We may look like the good place, but as our crew of anti-heroes and heroines could tell you, we’ll break bad when we need to.
Tip No. 3: Case the joint
When “Terriers” needed to go ritzy, San Diego provided the Grand Del Mar resort and La Jolla’s Ascot Shop.
When “Veronica Mars” needed a funky spot for the Mars Detective Agency, Normal Heights ponied up. When the show needed to go to Cuba, Balboa Park stepped in. The Tijuana border crossing was re-created in the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot.
In “Pitch,” Petco Park played itself, with style.
As we hope the fine folks of “Abby’s” will find out, San Diego can be urban, suburban, rural and international. We can be anything we need to be, as long as you don’t need to be anywhere in a hurry during the morning or evening commutes.
But we do have one small request for Mr. Schur and his crew. In “Mr. Sunshine,” a 2011 ABC sitcom starring Matthew Perry, the San Diego Sports Arena was played by the Los Angeles Forum. Whatever you do, please don’t do that.
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