The Miracle of the Nearby TV College

I’m sure TV Tropes already has a long entry on this subject, but I couldn’t help but say something when I noticed that tonight’s Cougar Town will tackle that beloved television question: “Should I go to college far away, or right here in my home town where the producers won’t have to build as many new sets?”

Frequently, though not always, the far-away college is a real one while the at-home college is fictional. (Oddly, the few shows that are set in college towns — like Mork and Mindy, which took place in Boulder, Colorado — don’t use the college setting as much as shows that aren’t set in college towns. You’d think a show might plan ahead for this stuff by taking place in a real town with a real college, but not usually.) And the show will, of course, always find some reason for the character to go to school at home, even if he or she has a choice between a full scholarship to Harvard and playing his/her way at the fictional Noname Memorial Community College.

None of this is bad, mind you. No, it’s not realistic that everyone in a TV high school winds up going to the same college, but it’s a convention that sensible viewers accept, like the convention that people tend to discuss their problems in their office or their friend’s living room, or that there aren’t any nights when the kids don’t hang out at the Peach Pit, or that people can combine full-time jobs with seemingly infinite leisure time. But I can accept the convention and still point it out.

Bill Lawrence, creator of Scrubs and Cougar Town, is a guy who uses standard TV plots while wanting us to be aware that he’s using them. So it’ll be interesting to see if the show throws in any twists on the way to the inevitable ending, or at least acknowledges that we know (or think we know) a major character can’t actually go to college in another city.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.