TV shows and movies should do a better job of portraying people living within the realistic means of their income or wealth level.
As a real estate investor and personal finance educator, I think that many shows do viewers a disservice by showing characters spending money they wouldn’t have from their jobs or other explained income or wealth.
Television and movies create expectations for viewers on how they should be able to live their own lives. If we want – collectively – to be practical about our financial lives, we should be able to see more examples in our media of people behaving responsibly.
There are several shows famous for doing this – like the oft-discussed NYC apartments in the TV show Friends. But many other shows fail to consider the financial ramifications of lifestyle choices including elaborate group trips, crazy wedding spending and brushing off car or medical bills.
I am developing a new test – the Shoval Test – for determining if shows and movies stay true to the realistic financial lives of their characters. To pass, characters must only be shown spending money they have from their jobs or other explained income (investments, book residuals, etc.) or wealth (family money, divorce settlements, etc).
I have begun analysis of specific programs and will, for the time being, focus on contemporary or recently set shows (1990s-present).
Factors that I’ve considered so far:
Eating habits – cooking vs eating out and take out, types of places (fancy vs casual), types of food consumed (e.g. hamburger vs steak)
Drinking habits – bars vs at home, fancy places vs dives, types of drinks (cocktail vs beer), times a week
Travel – frequency, style
Transportation – public vs private, type of car
Living situation – price of home, whether they share, how nice it is, location
Check out the analysis of these shows:
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a currently airing program about police officers in Brooklyn, NY.
Modern Family (2009 to 2020), a mockumentary-style show focused on three related families living in Los Angeles.
How I Met Your Mother (2005 to 2014) featured characters in their late 20s and early 30s living in New York City.
New Girl (2011-2018) is an offbeat show about friends in their early 30s living in modern LA with a focus around a large loft apartment that many characters share.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-present) is a sitcom about five terrible people who run a bar in Philly.
I am looking for suggestions of factors to consider for analysis, as well as shows and movies to review. Please reach out with suggestions or comments here.