2009's Best References to Westchester in Pop Culture

Since a blogger can’t start a new year without processing the pervious through some kind of twelve-month-encapsulating, sum-it-all-up list, as the local pop-culture blogger I present to you my top eight references to Westchester in popular culture in 2009.

8. The Office‘s Big Downsize
In a May episode of The Office, all of the branches of Dunder Mifflin gather for a company-wide picnic (and volleyball tournament that gets a little too competitive). Yet the picnic didn’t seem as well attended as the previous year—possibly because, as an HR rep explains, the company had to close its Yonkers branch due to the economic downturn. Ouch. I guess there goes our chances of ever hosting an Office convention.

7. Lady Gaga’s Big Denial.
It just isn’t a great year for Yonkers. First, The Office closes its Dunder Mifflin branch, then Lady Gaga goes and denies she ever lived there. When Jay Leno asks Gaga what the worst rumor she’d ever heard about herself was, she says the worst rumor is that she’s from Yonkers. “I love the Bronx but I’m just not from Yonkers,” she says. “There are lots of rumors about me but that’s my least favorite.” Poor Yonkers gets no respect. (Watch the video.)

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6. John Oliver’s Amazing Assignment
You know our county’s real-estate situation is dire when even The Daily Show reports on it. In this case, correspondent John Oliver does a pointed take-down of Timothy Geithner’s inability to sell his Larchmont home. Later, on his weekly podcast for the Times, he talks about how, for a bit that ultimately never made it into the piece, he dressed in drag—and one of the Larchmont neighbors called the police. He talks about how the neighborhood just didn’t appreciate an Englishman in a blue dress “getting in the way of all their huge cars.” (Watch the video, or download the podcast (No. 80).)

5. Top Chef’s Field Trip
Is it just me, or did Top Chef start getting really good this year? It’s finally reached the threshold where true industry veterans know they won’t be humiliated or embarrassed by appearing on the show, so they’re all agreeing to make appearances. Take, for instance, one of our favorites: Dan Barber. For an episode that aired this January, Barber and his crew showed the contestants around the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, then challenged them to use Blue Hill’s kitchen to create a meal from ingredients they harvested, making Westchester the Eat Local ambassador to popular culture.

4. Sasha Grey’s Weekend Away
Indie director Steven Soderbergh raised some eyebrows this year when he cast Sasha Grey, a real-life porn star, in The Girlfriend Experience, his May movie about an upscale call girl. When “Chelsea,” the alias of Grey’s character, starts to fall for one of her clients, he promises to take her on a romantic weekend away in the Hudson Valley. And, though they never call it by name, the restaurant/hotel/B&B she’s taken to would be familiar to any of us: It’s Monteverde at Oldstone Manor! When the client inevitably stands her up, there are many gorgeous shots of Grey wondering the grounds, looking melancholy, and gazing at Westchester’s scenery.

3. 30 Rock‘s Best Catch Phrase
In a January episode of 30 Rock, perma-underdog Liz Lemon, hero of the show and my personal role model, is invited to her boss’ GE corporate retreat (which just so happens to take place in Westchester). She goes grudgingly, only to find everyone—even fellow outcasts like herself—behaving in a manner that’s unbecoming of professionals. When she acts surprised, one of the fellow attendees mutters the best catch-phrase ever as a means of telling her to lighten up: “What happens in Croton-on-Hudson stays in Croton-on-Hudson.” I think the town should adopt that as its new motto.

2. Precious’s Upwardly Mobile Dream
At the beginning of the movie Precious, in a voiceover, the title character explains her bigger life aspirations: stardom, fame, stability, and suburbia. She dreams of starting a new life with her preppy-looking math teacher—and here. “Hey Precious,” she imagines his yearbook photo saying to her, “Wanna live in Westchester?” Yes, we are still the cinematic symbol of upward mobility.

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1. Mad Men‘s, Well, Everything
There’s no doubt that Mad Men has put Ossining on the pop-cultural map. Who could imagine the show without the Drapers’s constant references to our county: decorating the local maypole, antiquing in Tarrytown, fretting over the prisoners in Sing Sing. In fact, we even devoted an entire column to the show in our print magazine. (Read it here.) It’s only a matter of time before gin-soaked Mad Men reality tours start popping up. (And, when they do, I want in.)

Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments.

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