For four years, my mother begged me to watch a dramatic series on ABC. But I never did.
But now, for more than two months, I have been Netflixing DVDs of that show. The DVD arrives, I watch it, mail it back, and a new one comes in a few days.
The show concerns a large family in a large house surrounded by conversations, secrets, parties, and glowing rooms full of fireplaces, flowers, and piping hot mugs of coffee that the characters pass to each other.
It takes place primarily in Pasadena, and Los Angeles, and sometimes Ojai. This is my Southland, a place without poverty, where everyone is on their way up, forever getting promoted to CFO, President, Senator’s Wife, and Head Chef. You can bid on a mansion and win it and then hand it over to your mom. You can inherit two million dollars even after you find out that your father is not really your father. People on this show leave jobs and get job offers; they sleep with beautiful people who are never fat, Armenian, Latino or Asian. They jump into pools wearing clothes, jump into bed unclothed; beat addiction and beat themselves up. But they always persevere and move on.
And almost every male character is covered in facial stubble. It looks great on them, because it imparts an aura of earthiness and honesty, realness and virility. I need to stop shaving, just for one day, but I admit that the lure of warm cream and sharp razor, lather and rinsing is just too hard to resist.
They walk uninvited into offices or homes, driving, for example, from Bakersfield to Pasadena, without calling first. Or they drive from LA to Arizona on a whim. I will have to try this one day when I am bored in Van Nuys and get an urge to go to Portland.
And they drink. And drink. And drink. There are bubbles of champagne and big glasses of red wine, passed, of course, from character to character. When people fight, they pour a drink. When they celebrate, they pour a drink. When they are happy, they drink.
And they eat. A lot. Their enormous flower, appliance and armoire-filled kitchen is the size of a three-car garage and they have a special white porcelain sink that seems to be illuminated from within, radiating a glow that hits every character who takes a dish to the sink. There are plates of appetizers, bowls of salads, steaming roasts, and buckets of ice cream. The characters like to eat ice cream out of the bucket, but nobody, of course, has a waist wider than 3o inches.
The characters wear clothes color coordinated to the décor. Women in white go into red and blue spaces, while brown walls call for deep blue sweaters. And there are usually twinkling lights on any nighttime bush or tree.
Inexplicably, the very detailed set designers have put a panorama of NYC’s Madison Avenue into the steel framed window of the downtown LA office where a food exporting company is located. Perhaps the backdrops come from the same stagers who put a 1975 skyscraper into the 1962 office of “Mad Men’s” Roger Sterling.
But fantasy stories about real places are seductive. The viewer must ignore unreal views and keep his eye on the interior actors. They keep you watching and you become a believer in a clan better than the one you were born into.
I have driven around LA, and passed through Van Nuys, Reseda, Northridge and the Inland Empire. I have gone through Vernon and Bell, Pacoima and Pomona, El Monte and East Los Angeles, Compton, Carson, Downey, Huntington Park and Temple City.
And in these far flung and inhospitable and banal cities, where the air is as toxic as poison gas, and the sun shines through brown tinted clouds, I have not found anything that looks as good as the vision of California on Bubbles and Stubble.
There are lucky people who live a world where family members confide in each other, where illegitimate and cheating people inherit jobs, money, love, security and acceptance; where happenstance brings romance to the lonely, jobs to the unemployed; and no character wants for anything that his writer can provide.
I need to find this place, of community and brotherly love, but the guards at the studio will not let me in.