Nothing is more potentially hazardous to a city’s reputation than its portrayal on television. Just look at the cautionary tale of Seaside Heights, N.J., which become infamous as the home of big-haired “guidos” who frequent tanning salons and punch women in the face. It will never recover.
Portland is not immune to these dangers. Granted, the two TV shows currently featuring the Rose City are more obscure: Leverage airs on the basic-cable channel TNT, while Life Unexpected is on the CW—which, let’s face it, is a notch below basic cable. And both promise boons: Leverage, which is filmed here but not set here, offers acting gigs (local agency Lana Veenker Casting is hosting a $300 “Thug Camp” for burly men who want to audition for roles as security guards and villainous muscle), while Life Unexpected, which is set here but not filmed here, offers…well, another advertisement for jobless young people to move in. But we are ever vigilant against the threat of free publicity, and so have undertaken a close analysis of each series.
Life Unexpected: Vancouver, B.C.
Life Unexpected: Portland
Leverage: A cadre of ex-cons, led by Timothy Hutton, use their heist skills to wrest justice from the rich and unscrupulous on behalf of the poor and noble. This is of dubious legality.
Life Unexpected: Two hipsters, a radio host and a bar owner, are awarded joint custody of the 15-year-old girl they conceived in the back of a station wagon in high school. This is of dubious legality.
Important Lessons Learned
Leverage: Sometimes to uphold the law, you have to break the law. Friends are important. Rich people are assholes.
Life Unexpected: You can’t run from your past. Family is important, even if it forgets about you for 15 years. Don’t use old condoms.
Leverage: Boston’s armored car drivers are distracted by radio discussions of the New England Patriots’ defense.
Life Unexpected: You cannot walk through the streets of Portland without literally tripping over a street kid in a sleeping bag.
Things That Aren’t True, But Should Be
Leverage: Portland Art Museum is guarded by laser beams.
Life Unexpected: The bars in Portland offer beer pong until dawn.
How Hard It Tries To Look Like The city It Is Ostensibly Located In
Leverage: Not very. There are the obligatory shots of the Boston skyline, but Portland landmarks like the Fremont and Burnside bridges are prominently displayed. The crew is clearly giving hometown shout-outs. On the other hand, a lot of the time it doesn’t really look like anywhere.
Life Unexpected: Pretty hard. The “Made in Oregon” sign is shown constantly, Voodoo Doughnut and Nob Hill are name-dropped, and one of the actors was brought down for shots in Chinatown. On the other hand, a lot of the time it looks kind of like Alaska.
Line That Is Very Portland
Leverage: “Catherine and I have known each other forever. Almost two years.”
Life Unexpected:“My dad said to do what I love, and I love to drink for free.”
Is It Any Good?
Leverage: Kinda. It’s gotten much better than when we last reviewed it in July, and cast member Aldis Hodge is genuinely funny, especially when he feigns what might be a British accent.
Life Unexpected: Yeah. It’s sappy but cleverly written in an almost Gilmore Girls way, and cast member Kerr Smith was the gay kid on Dawson’s Creek, and that is oddly fascinating.
Horrible Image It Could Give Portland
Leverage: If you live here, you could find a motion-triggered bomb in your kitchen. This is bad, but fixable.
Life Unexpected: If you live here, you might discover at age 31 that you have a teenage child. This is the worst thing that could ever happen.
SEE THEM: Life Unexpected airs 9 pm Wednesdays on the CW. Leverage airs 10 pm Wednesdays on TNT.