SAN JOSE, Calif. — In the early days of the pandemic, most of us probably couldn’t have predicted what a reliable quarantine companion TV would become.
But as the lockdowns wore on, there we were: Safely welded to the couch, binging and streaming to our hearts’ content as TV took us to places where we could find reprieve — including some places in the Bay Area.
Now that things are reopening, it’s a good time to get off the couch, get outside and rediscover some of the fun activities where shows like “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” “Silicon Valley,” “Big Little Lies” and others were filmed.
'Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist'
The whimsical San Francisco-set dramedy about a young woman (San Anselmo native Jane Levy) with offbeat musical powers is actually filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia. But at least its melodic pilot episode had roots in the Bay Area.
One of the show’s most memorable scenes, in fact, occurs in North Beach. It’s where random San Franciscans on Columbus Avenue suddenly break into a rousing flash mob set to the Beatles’ “Help!” Totally freaked out, Zoey attempts to escape via a cable car and later flees down one of the city’s steep streets (with the bay beautifully framed in the background).
Another key scene has Zoey and a co-worker (John Clarence Stewart) engaging in a heartfelt conversation while strolling the Embarcadero. At one point, the famous, 60-foot Cupid’s Span sculpture is featured prominently — a not-so-subtle clue that a romance may be in the air.
Re-create their stroll and be sure to stop at the Ferry Building, so you, too, can enjoy a Cheesequake.
Where to watch: Current episodes air on NBC. Catch up via Peacock.
This reboot of the 1970s David Carradine series features lots of gorgeous establishing shots of San Francisco, but — bummer — it’s filmed in Canada, too. (Note to clueless filmmakers: It’s time to realize that Vancouver is NOT San Francisco).
In a gender-switch, Olivia Liang plays the lead character, Nicky Shen — a woman who kicks criminal butt in and around Chinatown, where her family runs a restaurant called Harmony Dumplings.
Of course, viewers are mostly seeing Vancouver’s smaller Chinatown, but it’s enough to entice us into passing through Dragon’s Gate and exploring the historic streets and alleys of the largest and oldest Chinatown in North America.
Where to watch: The CW.
San Francisco (the actual one) and Marin County figure prominently in this sci-fi techno thriller with locations including Mission Dolores Park and Alpine Lake. But the real “star” of the show is the redwood-studded campus of UC Santa Cruz and the lovely paths that wind through it.
“Devs” follows a young software engineer (Sonoya Mizuno), who investigates the secret development division of her employer, a cutting-edge Silicon Valley company. She suspects this company is behind the murder of her boyfriend.
Filming took place at McHenry Library, Quarry Amphitheater, Science Hill and other UCSC locales. According to director-writer Alex Garland, the site “worked beautifully for the campus of the tech company. It had very interesting and beautiful — sometimes brutalist — architecture in a forest. So it provided a lovely juxtaposition of brutalist architecture and nature.”
Where to watch: Netflix.
While we’re focused on universities, let’s give equal time to UC Berkeley and this beloved, multigenerational family drama.
“Parenthood,” which ran for six tear-stained seasons on NBC, is the rare TV series to be set in Berkeley. But again, it was sadly filmed elsewhere. (The Bravermans actually resided on Universal Studios sound stages in Southern California).
Still, we were thrilled when that Drew Holt (Miles Heizer), the son of Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham), chose to attend Cal (Go Bears!). And the series did feature occasional exterior shots of the campus, including a lovely night-time shot of The Campanile (or Sather Tower) in its opening credits.
Where to watch: Peacock.
The dot.com satire, which ran for six hilarious seasons on HBO, is yet another series mostly filmed away from the Bay Area. To wit: The notorious Hacker Hostel, where Richard, Dinesh, Gilfoyle and Jian-Yang lived and worked, is supposed to be in Palo Alto, but actually is in Woodland Hills.
However, producers insisted the show convey a keen sense of place and cultural detail. To that end, they often trekked up north to capture specific images. Season two, for example, opens at the home of the San Francisco Giants — then AT&T Park — where the Pied Piper gang is wooed by fat-cat investors during a lavish bash.
If only those nerds appreciated it.
Dinesh: “We’re standing on the field of the World Series champions.”
Gilfoyle: “It’s totally lost on me.”
Despite their indifference, it’s a reminder that — after a dismal year of empty ballparks — we’re actually able to enjoy baseball in person again.
'Big Little Lies'
When writer David E. Kelley adapted Liane Moriarty’s scandalously addictive page-turner for TV, he shifted the narrative from Australia to Monterey, largely because of its “hypnotic beauty.” … “Aesthetically,” he said, “we were looking to draw the audience in and say, ‘I want to go there on vacation.’”
Mission accomplished. Viewers of seasons one and two not only fell in love with the show’s A-list cast (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, et al.), but with its picture-perfect images of Pacific Coast beaches and Big Sur’s towering Bixby Creek Bridge. (Heck, they had us with those dreamy opening credits).
Prime “Big Little Lies” locales include Old Fisherman’s Wharf, where the gals gathered to chat over coffee, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Lovers Point in Pacific Grove. The latter is a charming stretch of shoreline where Jane and her son Ziggy (Shailene Woodley, Iain Armitage) shared a picnic.
While on your “Big Little Lies” tour, don’t miss Garrapata State Beach Park just south of Carmel, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and Del Monte Beach (See Jane run!).
Where to watch: HBO Max.
Sarah Paulson stars as the scheming title character in this horror-filled “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” prequel. Produced by Ryan Murphy, the miniseries is so messy, nonsensical and luridly over-the-top that some may find it nearly unwatchable.
“Ratched,” however, is visually arresting, thanks in part to jaw-dropping ocean views and Big Sur-area scenery. Much of the show is set in the dinky village of Lucia, located along Highway 1 in Monterey County. That’s where nurse Ratched checks into the Lucia Lodge, a quaint and secluded family-run motel that clings to the coastal cliffs. Its owners claim that “no other Big Sur resort gets you this close to the sea.”
Take one look at the Lucia Lodge and you might want to check in and never leave.
Where to watch: Netflix.
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