Ross and Rachel Are Dead

The one where they discover their telegenic careers in retail and academia land them in an urban shame spiral of disappointment, longing, and financial ruin.

Like many of you, I was raised by my television: Freddie Silverman (fmr head of NBC) and Aaron Spelling did more parenting than my actual parents. And the thing about spending thousands of hours in front of the television: you start to believe the stories it tells.  I imagined that I could afford a luxury home in Connecticut on a mere account manager’s salary, or perhaps become a doctor and buy a big ol’ brownstone in NYC.

Alas, now that I’m a grown up, I realize that television characters live some of the most financially unrealistic lives in any fictional universe (except Facebook). After a trip down memory lane, I came up with a rogue’s gallery of characters that set the poorest financial example for viewers. Please take a look at the list below and tell me if you recognize a few familiar faces:

Every “Friend”: I’ll start with the obvious: all of the “friends” lived in cavernous apartments, all while toiling in minimum/erratic wage jobs such as message therapist, waitress, etc. Yes, the press has had a field day with this curious discrepancy. But I’ll point out another inconsistency: with retail dying, today’s Rachel would be tasked with laying off as many sweater folders at Ralph Lauren as possible… and Ross would use his nerdy science degree to develop AI that would spew out convincing fake news stories for his politician clients at Cambridge Analytica. So, despite Netflix’s massive recent spend for exclusive streaming rights, the Friend’s financial lives are not only unrealistic but also a little dated…

Angela Bower from Who’s The Boss: account execs at ad agencies are notoriously underpaid; Ms. Bower must have been pretty impressive to afford a sprawling Connecticut manse along with a full time, live in housekeeper.

The Bradys: a custom designed home on a large lot in the heart of Studio City… on an architect’s salary? Plus a maid? With her own room? Ummm…. No.

The Cosbys: I don’t care if one is a doctor and the other is a lawyer. You still can’t afford your very own brownstone in NYC. Only Jeffrey Epstein and Vladimir Putin can afford a whole house in NYC. And even they would probably have to take out a 5 year adjustable rate mortgage to do so.

Fun with Zillow and Payscale:

Fortunately, now we have Google to open the kimono on these highly unlikely scenarios. Just for fun, I compared each character’s likely salary to the cost of their housing:

Character Salary Residence Likely Cost
Cliff Huxtable (physician); Clair Huxtable (Lawyer) $400,000 10 Leroy St, New York, NY $12.6m (zestimate)
Angela Bower (account supervisor) $78,000 13 Onandage Street, Rye, NY $1.7m
Mike Brady (architect) $82,500 11222 Dilling Street, Studio City, CA $1.9m (asking price, does not include $1.6m premium HGTV paid)
Rachel  Green (waitress) $25,000 90 Bedford St. New York, NY $2250/month (based on $4500 estimate, Coinage.com )

As you can see, with the exception of Rachel the waitress (whose rent exceeds her monthly gross take-home pay), these characters all live in homes costing approx. 20-30x their annual salary. So they too, would hold mortgages requiring payments exceeding their monthly gross salary. I especially hope the Huxtables had generous cash advance limits on their credit cards, as (by my calculations), their monthly mortgage exceeds their take home pay by approx. $30k/month.

And things haven’t gotten much better. Today’s TV characters live equally financially ludicrous lives… take anyone (and I mean anyone) who renovates a home on HGTV. The money they spend to convert an old barn to a sleek country manor wouldn’t even cover my bathroom renovation. Cops live in sexy downtown lofts. Waiters in perfectly located quirky urban one bedrooms.

So the message is this: there are many sources to help you understand what various professions earn (Payscale, Glassdoor, etc). Your television set (or streaming device) is not one of them.

Who is your favorite fiscally absurd TV or streaming character? Please tell me in the comments below!

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