8 Iconic TV Shows Where the Setting Feels Like a Character

Across genres, there are TV shows that feature settings so fleshed out and substantial that they feel like characters unto themselves.
8 Iconic TV Shows Where the Setting Feels Like a Character

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When a TV show revolves around one or two primary settings, it's easy to grow attached to them—as if they were their own characters.

Whether it's the family living room, the local bar, or a mysterious island that seems to have a mind of its own, these settings can make a lasting impression. Permanently changing locations would feel akin to one of the main characters dying!

This tends to happen a lot in television—particularly sitcoms—as they run for years while anchored to a handful of recurring sets. But the effect is a lot stronger in certain series over others.

Here are our favorite television shows where the central setting is so iconic that it feels like its own character.

8. The Big Bang Theory (2007)

Officially located at 2311 North Los Robles Avenue in California, The Big Bang Theory's Apartment 4A has homed several characters.

Originally, it was Sheldon—senior theoretical physicist and OCD-ridden narcissist—who lived there. However, in the tenth season of this geek's TV dream, Leonard and his wife Penny took over.

Based on the real Brookmore Apartments, Apartment 4A is your typical living room setting (alongside the show's secondary unit, Apartment 4B, to which Sheldon moves). But it's the characters and their antics that make it into something more.

Sheldon and Leonard are socially awkward scientists, meaning they spend more time here than in the outside world. It also means it's where most of their wacky experiments take place!

7. Lost (2004)

Lost might look like your average disaster story—a plane crashes, strangers are stranded on an island, they need to survive and figure out how to get back home. But what if The Island was more than just sand and trees?

Filmed in Hawaii, the pilot episode of Lost was one of the most expensive TV pilot episodes ever made. By sheer luck, the show became a smash hit with its own cult following of "Losties."

The six-season ABC series won a boatload of awards over its run, primarily because there's so much more than meets the eye.

Conspiracies and supernatural elements are woven through synchronicities, paradoxes, and unexplained phenomena. Fans have even created their own Lost mythology, with some speculating that they're in the Bermuda Triangle.

On the island, time doesn't flow as it normally does. The survivors are surrounded by electromagnetic anomalies, and some have even had their illnesses healed after arriving on shore.

All of these coincidences and oddities have one survivor, Locke (Terry O'Quinn), firmly believing that "The Island brought us here." And by the show's end, The Island might have indeed.

6. Twin Peaks (1990)

David Lynch has a whole canon of weird and wonderful characters, and we could even argue that Twin Peaks is one of them.

Set in a wooded and misty Washington town, Twin Peaks is vividly captured with pastel hues and surreal imagery. Lynch stepped away from his film career to produce Twin Peaks—and as expected of Lynch, this show is unlike any other show you've seen.

Twin Peaks blends the detective and horror genres together, nestling all kinds of uncanny, dream-like sequences in between offbeat soap opera satire. Following an eccentric city detective as he investigates the murder of a teenage girl, things get melodramatic and strange.

Twin Peaks has one of the biggest cult followings in TV, with the town's entrance frequently screen-grabbed and referenced all over media. Lodge houses and American diners feel eerily normal in such a spooky show, making it a truly one-of-a-kind setting.

5. Sex and the City (1998)

Sex and the City couldn't take place in just any city—it had to be New York City itself. The romantic comedy series centered on four city girls as they navigate their young adult lives together.

New York City is what enabled the cast to live out their dynamic modern lives, balancing their social, sexual, and home lives with their careers. Some have suggested Sex and the City even helped New York recover from 9/11 by bringing back tourists and business.

For example, The Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street now has tons of customers thanks to its cameo in season three, and that's not the only filming location you can visit!

Academics have debated the show's stance on feminism, but what can't be denied is its popularity. Three of the gang's four returned for the 2021 sequel series And Just Like That... (Kim Cattrall stayed out of it because of her feud with Sarah Jessica Parker).

4. The Simpsons (1989)

As of this writing, there are close to 250 hours of yellow cartoon fun that take place in the fictional town of Springfield.

This is where all the familiar characters go about their day, from Apu's Kwik-E-Mart and Moe's Tavern to Krusty Burger and the Duff Brewery. Zoom in even more and you'll find that 742 Evergreen Terrace is where we spend most of our time.

In the Simpson household, Marge is a housewife and Homer is too lazy to work more than he needs to. The brown sofa is where the whole family gathers for every opening credits scene, which is now a touchstone of pop culture.

Sure, it's fun to give the Simpsons a new location to wreck from time to time—like a haunted house or a Japanese game show—but it would never be the same if they left their home for good.

3. Downton Abbey (2010)

If you're ever in need of some good old British heritage, look no further than Downton Abbey. And you don't have to be English to enjoy it—Downton Abbey was a ratings machine in the US, too!

Of course, why wouldn't it be? It has such lovable characters caught up in scandalous period drama, and the beautiful Yorkshire country estate is the literal title of the show, so it must be pretty important.

Keenly split between the rich "upstairs" and the serving "downstairs" worlds, Downton Abbey takes place in the post-Edwardian era when class divides were shifting. Wars, pandemics, and political scandals affect every room of the vast country house.

But it's the characters who make this show, and it's their home they're always fighting for—both physically and metaphorically.

2. Shameless (2011)

Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum) runs a tight ship at her family home in South Side, Chicago. And it's not even hers!

Between her flighty bipolar mother and her alcoholic father, Fiona has been stuck raising her five siblings since she was fifteen. Not an easy job, given that the Gallaghers are one super hectic TV family.

The eleven seasons of the US version of Shameless are mainly split between the Gallagher home and The Alibi Room bar. Despite all the crimes, drugs, and schemes flying about the place, we're always rooting for the kids to dodge social services.

But no matter what, their home is always stressful. It's where everything happens—good or bad—and where everyone reunites after each crisis, of which there are many.

1. Friends (1994)

Ah, Friends. The sitcom to rule them all. To this day, you can turn on Comedy Central at any time and there's a good chance you'll spot Monica (Courteney Cox) cooking in the kitchen or Joey (Matt LeBlanc) watching himself on television.

Friends was primarily spread across two neighboring apartments that housed most of the gang, as well as the Central Perk coffeehouse where they often met up to hang out. These sets remain iconic after all these years, so important were they to 90s pop culture.

The final episode of Friends sees an empty, lavender-painted room, devoid of all its cozy and mismatched furniture. Now in their thirties, the gang say goodbye to the symbol of their crazy, funny, hectic young lives... We're not crying, you are!