Politics & Policy

Polishing Silver Lake

Home sweet home on UPN. (Well, sort of.)

You’re probably only going to have a few more weeks to visit “L.A.’s hippest neighborhood, TV’s hottest new address,” as the advertising for the new UPN soap Sex, Love and Secrets puts it. And that’s too bad. Because even though the show, starring Denise Richards and several other equally pretty but strangely repulsive twentysomethings, is quite dreadful, it’s set in my own hip, hot (and, lately, extremely overpriced) neighborhood of Silver Lake. So I had high hopes that Sex, Love and Secrets would do for me what The O.C. and Melrose Place did for people who live in Orange County or near Melrose Avenue.

Alas, it seems this is not to be. UPN just halted production on the show because of low ratings, although the network will air the half-dozen remaining episodes. The one-hour drama, which is a schlocky amalgam of The O.C. and Desperate Housewives, does have a certain curiosity value as a current pop-culture artifact. So tune in if you want to see (a) improbable characters cavorting in a locale that is, at least, beautifully and accurately art-directed; and (b) just how lazy yet desperate Big Media can be when it comes to trolling for younger audiences.

UPN certainly isn’t the only company flailing around at this lately. Take the Los Angeles Times (please!), which lately has noticed that, By Crickety, there seem to be these things called “blogs” that the young folk like. In a continuing effort to get a handle on the situation, the Times just promoted its deputy business and entertainment editor, Joel Sappell, to masthead status as overlord of the paper’s online editorial content. Good luck to him, but I’m skeptical that putting an old mainstream-media hand in charge of this is going to help. This summer, for instance, the Times had the not-so-bright idea of sending one of their coddled and creaky staff reviewers over to the TV press tour to file daily online reports about all the groovy goings-on.

The Times’s newly minted blogger-on-the-go Paul Brownfield went to the Sex, Love and Secrets news conference, among others. I never met him there, probably because he never raised his hand to ask a question but instead relied on everyone else’s. Brownfield noticed, for instance, that Sex is set in Silver Lake, and therefore wrote:

This immediately yields cynicism from a reporter who wonders how these twentysomethings (hairdresser, OBGYN, sneaky and sexy publicist, sexy lead singer of a punk band) can afford to live in houses in Silverlake. When co-creator Michael Gans talks about the young obgyn, the reporter says: “So she’s probably $100,000 in debt.” Well, somebody woke up on the wrong side of the real estate listings this morning…

No, somebody actually didn’t, because said “reporter,” as savvy readers may suspect, was me. Since I bought my Silver Lake house for $240,000 ten years ago, making the sellers kick back $4,000 before I’d close escrow, I always wake up on the right side of the real-estate listings. What Brownfield didn’t seem to realize was that needling people about the more ridiculous aspects of their new shows is a time-honored TV press-tour tradition. Or maybe he’s just not a needler. In which case I wonder if he’s really cut out for blogging?

I guess that’s mean of me, but that’s how we do it in the S.L., bitch! (Sorry, just thought I’d try to get in an O.C.-like Sex, Love and Secrets catchphrase before the show’s cancelled.)

Several traditional media papers made staff reporters blog the latest TV press tour, and the sad thing, judging from the almost complete lack of comments on all of them, is that no one seemed to be reading. Maybe the papers didn’t promote these blogs effectively to readers, maybe typical mainstream media subscribers aren’t attracted to blogs, or maybe traditional newspaper staffers just don’t quite get the blogosphere. Whatever it is, they didn’t seem to engage anyone.

But back to Silver Lake, which I often write about, and so one of my readers once asked: “Where the hell’s Silver Lake? Sounds like some place where bouncy college co-eds engage in morally questionable behavior before being chopped-up into fish bait by a half-rotted corpse…”

Now this got me thinking. Where the hell’s Silver Lake?!? What a question! It’s not on any chart, you must find it in your heart, but somewhere west of Dodger Stadium and east of the Hollywood sign is a bronco-busting, leather-wearing guy who knows what I’m talking about…

No bouncy college co-eds here–that would be Westwood, home of UCLA. And no half-rotted corpses chopped up into fish bait either–that would be Silver Lake-adjacent Echo Park, where I used to live and where Aimee Semple MacPherson used to preach. But she lived in Silver Lake, in a mansion on a hill I walk by almost every day.

Silver Lake is where some guys open a dog-grooming parlor named Doggy Style across the street from an elementary school, where a 400-pound principal whistles a happy tune as he puts up new priscilla curtains his first day on the job.

In the morning at Trader Joe’s, you used to be able to hear the foul, peculiar mating call of author Jerry Stahl (before he moved away), trying to Permanent Midnightishly impress some girl by loudly describing how he’s “getting f***ing built, man” with all his f***ing weight-lifting at the f***ing gym…while I shop for potstickers and consider telling him to f***ing shut-up with that kind of language at 9:30 in the morning already.

And if you’re very quiet, you might hear the ghost of Judy Garland–who lived on my street when she was a teenager–declaring, “I don’t care if you do think he’s ‘that way,’ Mother! I’m marrying him!”

Silver Lake is where bossy Silver Lake moms guide their progeny down fabulously decorated streets every Halloween, followed by passively helpful Silver Lake dads, who sometimes carry coolers full of gin and tonics. A couple of jolly pirates–set decorators in real life, not that there’s anything wrong with that–hand out candy at the most festively spooky house.

Silver Lake is right next door to Los Feliz, where James M. Cain wrote of the murderess’s mansion in Double Indemnity: “It didn’t look like a House of Death when I saw it. It was just a Spanish house, like all the rest of them in California, with white walls, red tile roof, and a patio out to one side. It was built cock-eyed. The garage was under the house, the first floor was over that, and the rest of it was spilled up the hill any way they could get it in.”

Lots of houses look like that in Silver Lake too, although we have an especially high concentration of Neutras. Get a good guidebook about L.A. architecture and you’ll see.

Or just take the second star to the right and straight on till morning!

Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.

Catherine SeippCatherine Seipp had been a frequent contributor to National Review Online prior to her death in 2007.


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