Drug-riddled exurbia, corrupt capital cities, countries threatened by terrorism, societies divided by race and class — in order to be nominated for the Outstanding Drama Emmy, it seems, your show has got to be set in someplace pretty bleak. Whether it’s Game of Thrones’ Westeros or House of Cards’ Beltway, these all seem like terrible places in which to live, so of course they’re great hotbeds of juicy drama. While we wait for the Academy to decide which show is the best, we thought we’d ask you: Which show’s setting is the absolute worst? We’ll break it down for you, in our own descending order of terribleness. Then it’s your turn to vote!
6. Mad Men’s 1960s New York City
On the one hand, you’ve got amazing fashion and furniture, the excitement of a changing society and the allure of the advertising industry and its accompanying liquor cabinets. But also: Things really still suck for women, people of color and homosexuals. There’s the Vietnam War going on. If you’re Don Draper, you will never be happy, even as a self-made rich white man. If you’re Don Draper’s wife, daughter or mistress, you’re totally screwed.
5. House of Cards’ Washington, D.C.
The entire federal government — regardless of political party — is run by wheeling and dealing, self-serving, backstabbing men and women who care way more about personal gain than about public policy. The real question: Is this fiction?
4. Homeland’s Langley, Virginia (and present-day USA)
The country is under constant threat of radical Islamist terrorists, and the only thing protecting us from another 9/11 is a bipolar CIA operative who gets a little too emotionally involved in her cases. So, we’re really safe, right?
3. Downton Abbey’s Edwardian English Countryside
On the surface, it’s all fine silver, gigantic mansions and feathered hats. But if you’re the landed gentry, like the Crawley clan, your wealth is diminishing, you’re status is less certain than ever, and you’re watching the modern world destroy everything you ever took for granted. If you’re a woman, you have few options for a good life beyond marriage — heaven forbid you work! If you’re a servant, you can work seven days a week, live with a roommate in your workplace and sometimes be allowed to go to a carnival or to visit your dying parents. If you’re an unwed mother or gay, you’re screwed. Oh, and if you’re a person of color, you just started to exist.
2. Breaking Bad’s Albuquerque, NM
Walt’s whole drug experiment started because between his full-time job as a high school chemistry teacher and part-time gig at the car wash, he didn’t have enough money to cover his cancer treatment and leave anything behind for his family after his death. You get the feeling that a crappy economy is behind a lot of the drug use in this town, and the people willing to take advantage of it, no matter the cost in lives. And, it turns out, that’s a HUGE cost.
1. Game of Thrones’ Westeros and Essos
This is a doozy. First, you have the basic societal structure and ignorance of medieval Europe — as in, no plumbing, no modern medicine, no human rights (certainly no rights for women, slaves or the poor). Then you have unstable monarchies all over the damn place, causing major wars with plenty of civilian casualties, raping, pillaging, etc. Religious zealots are burning people left and right to honor the Red God. There’s some kind of ice age on the way. And on top of all that, humankind is being threatened by frozen zombies from the north, and possibly a trio of angry dragons from the east. We’re hoping Arya Stark grows up soon and saves everyone.
That’s not much of a choice, in our minds, but now it’s time for you to tell us.
[Photos: AMC, Netflix, Showtime, PBS, HBO]