New York In The '00s: A Condensed Review (Part 2)

by BILLY GRAY · January 3, 2010

New York had a rough decade. The '00s were bookended by calamities in the Financial District that had global ramifications. Far less tragically, the city's cultural scene saw some major shakeups. Here's another look at those transitions, and verdicts on what will endure in the '10s. (Part 1's Here.)

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Art: Chelsea vs. Lower East Side as Gallery Central

Starbucks aside, there might not be a better harbinger of gentrification in New York than an onslaught of art galleries. Soho is the classic example. An oversimplified history: artists put the post-industrial neighborhood on the map. Galleries that showed their work attracted the well-heeled uptowners, whose presence brought on the precious restaurants, pricey boutiques and, somehow, Hollister. Real estate prices soared. The artists were forced out. And all but the bluest of blue chip galleries followed. West Chelsea, with its large warehouse spaces, long-ass schlep from the subway and subsequent cheap-ish rents, positioned itself as the next neighborhood to endure the cycle.

But that’s not to say the cycle is complete. For now, Chelsea is still the center of gravity in the New York art scene. Oneartworld.com lists a staggering 355 galleries in the neighborhood, compared to 63 on the Lower East Side. (Once-mighty Soho has a meager 28!) But the LES has swiped a lot of the buzz, especially in 2007 when the New Museum unveiled its new home on Bowery. And even though that building’s architecture is often greeted more enthusiastically than the art contained within, the ripple effect is clear. The lingering recession has also given the area’s scruffy, relatively cheap upstarts a boost over Chelsea’s more established white boxes, with their intimidating price points and even more imposing gallerinas.

Most Likely To Succeed: The Lower East Side

Television: Sex and the City's Jewelry vs. Flight of the Conchords' Foolery

Sex And The CityWhen every other TV series is set in New York, it’s tough to say which ones really qualify as “New York shows.” Narrowing the list down to series that are actually shot in the city helps, as does (sometimes inexplicable) cultural impact. So we’ve got to consider Sex And The City, the HBO juggernaut that spawned a dozen regrettable fashion trends, hellacious lines at Magnolia and a blockbuster movie. (The whole cast also appears in a trailer for what looks like Cocoon 3.) SATC had $500 shoes, interminable brunch gabfests and a pathologically pun-happy narrator (Carrie Bradshaw as played by Sarah Jessica Parker). The show had its moments and captured the go-go years in their ridiculous, grating glory. Plus, it gave us John Slattery (now Roger Sterling) as a politician with a piss fetish.

Flight of the ConchordsAlso on HBO but on the opposite end of the glam spectrum was Flight of the Conchords. The comedy followed Bret and Jermaine, former New Zealand shepherds who moved to New York to pursue fame and fortune with their band (“New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo”). In a depressingly accurate depiction of NYC living, the friends shared a cramped Chinatown bedroom. (Here I’ll take the fantasy of freelance writer Carrie affording a West Village townhouse.) Anyway, the interplay between Conchords’ two leads was classic, the humor was droll, and the abrupt musical-fantasy interludes wonderfully bizarre.

It’s probably safe to say that preferences here fall along gender lines, or at least on whether your closet contains more than five pairs of shoes.

HBO’s upcoming How To Make It In America should help us determine which brand of New York television will endure. Its plot concerns underdog downtown strivers. But it’s brought to us by Mark Wahlberg, the man behind Entourage (essentially Sex and the City with a penis and LA sunshine). Maybe the answer lies in a happy, snappy medium after all.

Most Likely To Succeed: To Be Determined