Given how many people use public transportation on a daily basis, the whole system is oddly absent from television. Even tv shows that take place in New York, a city that has more or less perfected public transportation and the best defensive driving courses online, seem to show all the characters taking cabs everywhere, while those characters complain about how tight money has been lately. However, there are some standout shows that shine a spotlight on public transportation, even if only occasionally.
5. How I Met Your Mother (Season 6, Episode 4: “Subway Wars”)
How I Met Your Mother is one show that is very guilty of having characters that don’t make enough money to be living their lives. The disparity between their jobs and the cash they spend isn’t quite as outlandish as the show’s spiritual predecessor, Friends, but still, the characters of HIMYM often ride in a taxi and sometimes even a limo. While it is almost always driven by their friend Ranjit, that doesn’t entirely explain away the cost, as Ranjit needs to make money too.
But there is one episode which deals with public transportation in a fun and lighthearted way, while highlighting the many options New Yorkers have to get where they’re going. In the season 6 episode “Subway Wars,” the five main characters argue the best way to get downtown the fastest and decide to make a race of it. What follows is a mad dash through the city via bus, subway, taxi, and even pedicab, including a very accurate joke about how hard it is to understand subway conductors.
4. Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy has changed a lot since it started so many years ago, but one of the things that held the show together in early seasons was the relationship between the main character, Meredith Grey, and the love of her life, Derek Shepherd, also known as Dr. McDreamy. One of the first things we learn about Derek, aside from his being ridiculously charming, is that he has “a thing for ferry boats.” We see him and other characters riding the ferry occasionally in the early seasons, though the season 3 episodes involving a horrifying ferry boat crash mostly put a stop to that. Still, even after that, Derek frequently wore his ferry boat scrub cap, and when he was considering selling his land in season 4, another character pointed out, “This land and ferry boats are who you are!”
3. The Good Place
The Good Place is one of our favorite tv shows about a woman named Eleanor who dies and wakes up somewhere the neighborhood’s architect will only refer to as, you guessed it, “the Good Place.” Eleanor is self-aware enough, however, to quickly realize she probably doesn’t belong in the Good Place and should instead be in either the Bad Place or maybe even the Medium Place. She discovers that the only way to get to those other places, or to any other neighborhood in the afterlife, is to use The Trans-Eternal Railway, also known as The Train. The Train looks like an old steam train, and the show has many enjoyable moments on The Train, or in a new place after riding The Train. It makes one long for the trains of old, instead of the more efficient but less stylish trains we have today.
2. The Magic School Bus
This might be a stretch, but The Magic School Bus paints public transportation in a light that no other show ever has. The animated series ran for four seasons in the mid-90s, and it featured a teacher named Ms. Frizzle, her class of third graders, and a bus capable of flying, shrinking, expanding, and traveling to places no other bus has ever gone. In each episode, the bus took the students somewhere new and educational, allowing the fictional students and the children watching the show to learn something new, usually about science. The most anyone can expect to learn on most bus rides is how to spot the crazy person.
1. The Netflix Marvel Shows
In addition to the superhero blockbusters Marvel presents us with two or three times a year, Netflix has grown the brand even further with its series of shows about street-level heroes in New York City. The individual shows, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, eventually came together in a team-up series called The Defenders, before each character returned to his or her own show, though crossovers between the shows are still frequent. Many of these shows take some joy in displaying the moments of downtime the heroes have in between fighting the bad guys and saving the city.
The characters ride the subway enough to let viewers know it’s their preferred mode of transportation, and one entertaining moment of The Defenders even featured Jessica Jones, in a bad mood, stealing a beer from a sleeping homeless man. If that’s not representative of the New York subway, I don’t know what is.