"Without a doubt, the combined forces of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda have been more devastating to life in New York than anything dreamed up by Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay. As a cable series, Sex turned New York's way of life upside down — convincing millions of Midwest dreamers that they could afford a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment by writing a single newspaper column every four months, that they could subsist entirely on Cosmos and pastries, and that they would magically have enough free time and disposable income to lunch with the girls in between Manolo Blahnik shopping sprees. Utterly devastating."
— Premiere.com, "20 Movies That Destroy New York"
Your cast of good-looking single hangarounds live in a fancy apartment in the middle of the town. None of them seems to work, or if they do, they're usually actors, columnists or whatever leaves them with a lot of leisure time to have drama in their clean, well-furnished flats. How can they afford it? They have Friends Rent Control, named after Friends, where the cast handwaved their situation by saying they had rent control.
Besides appealing to audience fantasy, this is usually done because large sets are easier to film in. If Monica or Chandler's apartment on Friends had been realistic for their income and New York City's high cost of living, it'd be a single room with maybe a kitchenette and a bathroom. Doing a scene with all six main characters would have been a total nightmare for the cast and crew. Also, especially in sitcoms, indoor sets usually have one completely blank "wall" where the crew and studio audience are, requiring the rest of the set to take up a lot more space than is needed to fit in all the requisite furniture and appliances.
To emphasize, this isn't just about having a large or open plane home for the characters. It is about the correlation between typical price of living, financial stability of the characters, the quality of the place and its surrounding neighborhood, and then the actual size. Having a large home wouldn't be too expensive if it's in a "quaint" neighborhood, Suburbia, and/or a traditionally blue-collar city like Pittsburgh or Milwaukee where the rent would be relatively low, and a steady day-job tends to be more lucrative than a wish-fulfillment career.
The size of a home relative to budget varies round the world, as well. On average, Americans have the largest homes in the world at every income level, so to viewers elsewhere (especially the British, who have the western world's smallest average homes) the homes on American TV almost always look too big for the characters' supposed income, even when they're actually realistic.
See also Living in a Furniture Store, Standardized Sitcom Housing, and Pretty Freeloaders. The folks living in such an apartment may or may not have an Improbable Food Budget. Usually not an issue for Big Fancy House-dwellers, as they tend to be fantastically wealthy to start with. Related to Informed Poverty, where characters who are supposed to be suffering financially seem to live very well.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Arguably omnipresent in this category given that Japan has higher housing costs than almost anywhere else. Just about every anime has an unspoken district in Tokyo where decently sized apartments or full-fledged houses can be bought cheaply. A few acknowledge it with even a line about it being an old family home or something, once... maybe. The breadwinner in Light Yagami's household is a policeman (Though he is Chief of Japan's National Police Agency which is comparable to say the FBI). There are a number of notable aversions though:
Mikado in Durarara!! lives in a tiny one-room apartment that's only furnished with a futon and a table for his computer. Anri's place isn't much bigger but it at least doesn't look like she's living in a condemned building.
Satou's place in Welcome to the NHK is exactly as cramped as you'd expect an hikikomori's apartment to be.
The whole plot of Papa no Iukoto o Kikinasai! involves three orphans living with their uncle in a one room apartment. Said uncle suggested this living arrangement without considering things like, "How are the girls going to change clothes." If there's a second season, though, the trope will be played straight.
Among the DVD Extras for Azumanga Daioh are set designs and layouts. Relevant is 'Nyamo's One Room Efficiency', the tiny apartment one of the teachers lives in [which is roughly the size of a single room, just subdivided into more, tinier rooms]. The other teacher character still lives with her parents.
In Sailor Moon's household (in the particularly expensive Tokyo district of Juubangai), it's a news photographer (although later it seems he's been promoted to editor, and in the Manga and live-action television series he's instead highly respected and well-known photojournalist).
Another baffling example from Sailor Moon is the case of Makoto Kino/Jupiter, who is orphaned and does not have a job but owns and maintains her own apartment. Fanon tends to say that her parents left her a very large inheritance. The same is also true of Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Mask, however in the anime he is seen working at various jobs and it is explicitly stated that his parents left him a very large trust fund
In Tantei Gakuen Q, it's not clear if Kyu's mom actually has a job, but she can afford a house in Tokyo.
In Pokémon, one has to wonder how Delia Ketchum affords her house, considering that she doesn't seem to work and she has no husband. While it's not alluded to in the show, additional material reveals that she runs the only restaurant in town.
Averted in the Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart where the main character Shizuku lives in a realistically cramped apartment with her parents and shares a small room with her twenty-something sister until the older sibling moves out. Nishi's antique shop plays it straight however.
Averted in Ah! My Goddess. When Keiichi's sister Megumi goes looking for an apartment for her to stay while in college, he points out that she can't possibly afford the large apartment that she wants. A quick trip to a bunch of real estate agents drives this point home. When she does find an apartment that meets her specifications, it turns out that it's so cheap because it's haunted by a disgruntled spirit.
Played with in case of Keiichi himself, who lives with all three goddesses in a ridiculously large mansion that no college student could realistically afford. In reality, however, it's a rundown and abandoned shrine that was refurbished by Belldandy's magic.
The three sisters in Minami-ke are all students, with the oldest being in High School, and they live by themselves in a fairly big four-room apartment, despite having no apparent income. It's implied once that their father isn't around, either living elsewhere or dead, and the mother isn't referred to at all.
Played with in various continuities of Tenchi Muyo!. A frequent cause of disbelief is the size of Tenchi's house, that's apparently too large for the incomes of a single architect (Tenchi's father Nobuyuki) and a retired Shinto priest (his grandfather Katsuhito) to maintain, let alone acquire a land for, especially with the frequent Broke Episodes in TV Series, bringing the accusations of Masakis being the Land Poor. On the other hand, at least in the OVA continuity it's justified by the fact that it sits in countryside on the grounds of a family shrine, of which Katsuhito is the priest, and that their original house in the city was much smaller.
Furthermore, at least in the OVA continuity the Jurai Empire has serious covert influence on Earth, and Katsuhito has basically infinite funds, if he ever chose to use them.
Possibly averted in My Lovely Ghost Kana, because the apartment building where Daikichi lives is described as "nearly abandoned" and he may actually be squatting. Neither is it entirely clear what he actually does for a living
Puella Magi Madoka Magica seems to enjoy toying with this. It helps that the characters who live alone don't require things like food or heat to survive. Mami, Homura and Kyoko are 15-year old girls who live alone in a fairly large Japanese city with no income, yet they can each afford their own homes. Homura owns a large apartment in a European-styled building with modern furniture and holographic displays. Kyoko is shown in nice rooms, but she's homeless, and the nice rooms are hotel rooms she gets into. Only Sayaka, who lives with her parents, has a home bordering on possible.
Mami's apartment is, at first, an aversion. It is rather large, yet barren and spartan, with cheap furnishings that reasonably fit with her means. However, this realism was a byproduct of the animation budget running out. The Blu-Ray version fills her house with all sorts of things that she could never afford, planting it firmly into this trope.
Heck, the main character's no exception! Madoka's dad is a househusband, she has a baby brother and her mom is a realistically alcoholic business woman. Even if she makes a ton, it can't be enough to afford the Kanames' large, custom-built, ultramodern house in the Mitakihara suburbs.
Averted in Noir, where the 19-20 year old Mireille's Parisian apartment may be fairly large, but it's also only one room and has a divider between the sleeping and living areas. Additionally, it's heavily implied that in addition to her income as a high priced assassin she receives assistance from her uncle Claude (who lives in a mansion) and that she inherited her family's considerable wealth after their deaths 10 years prior to the start of the show.
Digimon Tamers is notable for avoiding this trope most of the time. Chiaki Konaka mentioned that there was field research in the commercial areas of Shinjuku to see how the building-space relations worked, and it shows; both Takato's and Juri/Jeri's houses are actually the second floor of their families' business (a bakery and a restaurant/bar, respectively), and look reasonably cramped. Ruki/Rika's house is enormous, but her mother is a famous (and busy) supermodel, so it's justified (also, it's an old-style house, so it was probably inherited from relatives). Jenrya/Henry's house is a little harder to justify; he has a bunch of siblings and his father's job (never explicitly explained) doesn't seem like it would be able to afford the enormous apartment he lives in. Maybe Janyu's research on artificial life wasn't that fruitless, after all...
Both played straight and averted in Toradora! — the apartment that Ryuuji shares with his mother is small and dingy, while Taiga lives in a luxury condo paid for by her estranged father. Over the course of the series, Taiga ends up spending more and more time at Ryuuji's place since she finds it more comfortable than her huge, empty condo.
Averted in the Knights Of The Dinner Table comics. The main character have the free time and wherewithal to participate in a once-a-week Hackmaster campaign and many other events in the local gaming community. But despite the unusual amount of time devoted to this hobby, most characters in the comic do have fairly realistic jobs and home situations that tend to suffer when neglected.
Donald Duck lives in a free-standing two-floor house, despite not being able to hold a job for very long, or living on his uncle's slave labor wages. Handwaved by claiming Scrooge rents him the house, but that just raises more questions.
Mostly averted in The Devil Wears Prada. Andy and Nate's apartment is only slightly bigger and nicer than what two recent college graduates could reasonably afford. Very tellingly, their apartment is in Greenwich Village, where housing is typically geared (both size and price wise) towards the local college students.
The heroes of Lakeview Terrace buy a large, beautiful house with an in-ground pool in a wealthy district of Los Angeles, an area with very high housing costs. They refer to this as a "starter home".
Parodied in Election, where at the end Matthew Broderick's character moves to an apartment in Manhattan so small that he can't have the bathroom door and front door open at the same time, while the subtitles inform us that he's paying over $1,500 a month plus utilities for it.
Guy Woodhouse in Rosemary's Baby is a struggling actor, and his wife Rosemary is a stay-at-home housewife, and yet they are able to afford a spacious prewar apartment in a stately building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Even in the 1960s, expensive and sought-after real estate.
Sleeping With The Enemy: Laura is able to rent, fix up, and maintain a HUGE, beautiful home, despite only having a part-time job at a library before fleeing her abusive husband and initially not working at all when she does get away. And when she does finally start working, she's still in a job that doesn't pay much. Even for Iowa in the early 90's that's quite a stretch. As well as that she's able to afford plenty of luxuries like brand name products. This is Adaptation Decay as in the book she had to live on oatmeal and water for months when she first ran away.
Averted in Marley and Me (no doubt because it's based on a true story), as the Grogan's increasingly nicer homes coincide with a better paycheck for each of them.
The two main characters in the fourth Final Destination film, an unmarried couple in college, live together in a very nice house with no mention of them having jobs or parents helping them out.
In The Craft Nancy lives in a trailer with her mother and stepfather, implied to have little to no money at all. Yet she's always shown wearing nice enough clothes (before she gets rich) and jewellery that don't seem to add up if her stepfather can't afford to pay the electricity bill. While it's implied she shoplifts from the occult shop, it's a bit of a stretch for her to have shoplifted all those clothes and jewellery that she seems to have a sizeable wardrobe of.
The family in Soul Surfer live in a very nice house, with no mention of what either parent's job is. And if the mother is homeschooling the children, she might very well not be working at all.
Nobody's sure how the two male leads of Bio Dome are able to afford their nice house, despite being a) terminally lazy, b) terminally stupid, and c) the #1 cause of damage to any structure unfortunate enough to contain them.
The Dresden Files has the Carpenter family, which consists of seven children, their stay-at-home mother, and a father who works part-time as the fist of God and part-time as the owner/foreman of a small construction company. (It's explicitly stated in one of the short stories that Michael Carpenter refuses to cut corners and doesn't build large, lucrative homes.) They live in a large house in Chicago that is always in perfect repair, since Michael apparently has enough spare time between fighting evil and building middle-class houses to keep his own home and yard in fantastic shape, including upgraded doors, a panic room, new extensions as needed for a growing family, and a treehouse that's probably at least studio-apartment size. (It's possible that divine grace (or the Church) drops baskets full of money on a Knight of the Cross, though that doesn't explain why teenage runaway Molly Carpenter could afford a place to stay, along with several hundreds of dollars worth of tattoos and piercings, without access to her parent's money.)
Somewhat averted in the same series, as the main character lives in a cramped basement apartment, rents a small office for his business, and spends a few books worrying about how he'll pay rent.
And later inverted, since even in later books, when it's implied business is doing a lot better, and he's getting a second paycheck after a certain point, but still lives in the same apartment. Justified in that he also engages in very expensive projects during that time, plus the second paycheck comes from a group that hasn't raised their pay rate since the 50s. Plus, Harry's very set in his ways, so it probably never even occurred to him to look for a better place.
Karrin Murphy lives in a rather nice house in the city, well above what she should be able to afford on a cop's salary. This is justified by explaining that the house was Murphy's grandmother's, and it was left to her in the will.
Live Action TV
Friends, the Trope Namer. Hand Waved by Monica claiming that her place actually belongs to her grandmother: Monica is illegally subletting it. The superintendent is actually aware that Monica is breaking the law, and one episode centered on Joey trying to persuade him not to blow the whistle after his patience runs out. Chandler and Joey's apartment directly across the hall is an aversion, as Chandler has what is implied to be a high-paying white collar job which would allow him to support both himself and the frequently unemployed Joey, and yet their apartment is roughly a quarter the size of Monica's and is sparsely furnished. By the end of the series, most of the characters ended up with jobs that would have allowed them to afford the apartments outright.
This was Lampshaded by Chandler in the Grand Finale, by telling his newborn children of the apartment: "because of rent control, it was a friggin' steal."
Played straight with Phoebe though, whose apartment was larger and nice than Joey and Chandler's. Justified in early seasons as she was sharing it with her grandmother but is later living alone on a massuse's salary.
Rent control aside, as the years wore on, there were a few hints thrown in that the building wasn't the nicest in the world. There were the thin floors that let Mr. Heckles constantly hear their footsteps and the crummy wiring that made a switch in Chandler and Joey's apartment turn on Monica's TV.
In Becker, Linda the brain dead bimbo nurse of Dr. Becker lives in a spacious apartment that Becker is completely envious of. Though this is because her parents, who are extremely rich, pay for it. Becker himself has told her that he has the desire to murder her and live there, played for laughs.
Married... with Children. Al Bundy made minimum wage and was the only working member of the family, yet they lived in a decent-sized house in what appears to be in a fairly nice neighborhood in Chicago. It's also clean and tastefully decorated, making it a stretch for us to believe that the place is a dump. This being said, their neighbors tended to be obscenely rich.
One episode lampshaded the trope. Carrie remarks to her screenwriter boyfriend-of-the-season that his TV script about a bunch of young actors living in a Manhattan penthouse is hardly realistic.
Another directly addresses this, apparently it was rent control. When Aidan buys her building and gives her the option of either buying the apartment or leaving, she starts to look at more believably-priced buildings (including one which apparently reeks because it's right above an Indian restaurant.) Apparently, the building was rent-controlled, she got the apartment, and the rents just kind of exploded around her.
Her apartment is stated to have sold for over 9.6 million.
Richie and Eddie from Bottom definitely are not Living in a Furniture Store: their residence is a gradually decaying first-floor walkup flat over a corner shop. And yet, although we occasionally meet the landlord, making the rent never seems to be an issue, despite the fact that our protagonists haven't held a steady job since 1979. They attempt to Hand Wave this away in an early episode by mentioning an aunt of Richie's who is the actual owner of the flat; said aunt, however, is never spoken of again.
The West Wing has perhaps the strangest variation on this. The show's sets include vast, opulently furnished rooms such as the Lobby, the Roosevelt Room, and the Mural Room. The real-life West Wing either doesn't have these at all, or has much smaller, shabbier versions, as you'd expect given that it's essentially a government office building. Part of what causes this dissonance is the desire to create a sense of constant activity within the White House, resulting in the TV version being more active than the real thing (as well as having many more pretty glass doors and windows to exhibit this activity).
Mostly averted on Community. Jeff loses his apartment in Season One and has to live in his car, Annie lives in a dingy one-room apartment in a terrible neighborhood because it's all she can afford, and Britta is shown working a string of low-paying jobs and discusses having money problems and being on the verge of eviction. However, the Troy/Abed/Annie apartment in Season Three plays the trope relatively straight... although Annie is a penny-pincher and both Troy and Abed are probably getting support from their parents, their means of paying for the apartment is never explicitly stated. However, being in Colorado and not New York, this is not too much of a stretch.
Seemingly played straight, then Justified and Averted in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Dennis and Mac live in a nice two-bedroom apartment with a leather couch, despite making less than they would on unemployment. Dee lives alone in a very nice apartment despite making even less than the bar owners. Dennis and Dee come from a wealthy family, however, and a season 5 episode explicitly mentions that Frank pays Dee's rent (and presumably at least helping with Dennis'). Meanwhile, Charlie lives in abject squalor, averting the trope entirely.
The Big Bang Theory looks like it follows this trope — until you remember that it's set in the Los Angeles area instead of the Big Applesauce, and space is relatively easy to come by. In any event, Sheldon and Leonard could realistically afford their apartment with their combined income, and while Penny doesn't make as much as a full-time waitress and struggling "actress," she could probably afford her smaller apartment if she scrounges like she's shown doing on the show (plus her apartment is explicitly smaller). The building is also poorly maintained, and the elevator has been broken since the first episode.
It's definitely averted by now for Penny. She once had to borrow rent money from Sheldon who gave her the amount easily with no worries about how long she'd need to pay him back because he has plenty...and her red armchair was actually retrieved from a dump, she just cleaned it up. Leonard also once mentions lending her money for her rent, she once hid in Sheldon and Leonard's apartment to avoid the building manager, and her cable and electricity are both cut for not being paid. She also frequently mooches on her friend's food by inviting herself over when they are eating and joining them. She also steals Leonard and Sheldon's Wi-Fi, not that Leonard doesn't let her.
They really draw attention to it in Peter's case: he gets a job as a nurse, throws a huge party in his new apartment, and everyone acts like it's tiny. Sure, his family's rich and they live in a mansion, but it's still a huge apartment by New York standards.
D.L. and Niki's house also qualifies. Their entire plot is kicked off by the fact that they can't afford the rent. But they live in a two-story house in the suburbs which is a little too big for three people, has a pool in the backyard and reflective surfaces on pretty much everything, and a PS3 inside. If only they'd moved into an apartment or sold something, they wouldn't have had to borrow money from the mob.
The Bennetts "go underground" by living in a massive house in a very wealthy neighborhood in Southern California. Noah's cover job is an entry-level position at a copy shop. Presumably he has a great deal of money from working with Primatech and Claire's biological family is absurdly wealthy but using it to live beyond his obvious means kind of defeats the purpose of going into hiding.
The apartment where Ted, Marshall, and Lily live has an abnormally large main room but is otherwise not that big. Both the kitchen and the bedrooms are fairly small (Ted's drafting table is in the main room cause it won't fit anywhere else) and it's implied the building itself isn't that great. Ted has always been employed as an architect and Marshall lives off his student loans. Averted when Lily moves out and ends up living in a one room apartment so small that its Murphy bed can't even come down all the way.
Robin's original apartment in the first few seasons is also pretty spacious considering she worked for a low-end news job at the worst station in New York and had five dogs. It is possible Robin had help with her rent from her apparently wealthy father, or she may still have had money saved from her stint as a Canadian pop star.
Averted with Marshall and Lily's new apartment. While it is large, it has one major flaw, it's actually built with a slight incline. More importantly, it's in the neighborhood Dowisetrepla: Downwind of the sewage treatment plant. It is also explicitly out of their price range, and they take out a huge mortgage to pay for it.
Averted with Barney, who has a huge, beautiful, spacy apartement in New York. But is very rich. Like, VERY rich, even though nobody knows what's his job.
"What do you do again?"
Lampshaded after Marshall and Lily spend some time in a spacious suburban home, and when they return to their apartment, it suddenly appears cramped and tiny in comparison. (This sets up a trope subversion for the rest of the show: We can now assume that all of the apartments are small, and only look big to people used to New York apartments.)
Subverted in Scrubs. At first, Elliot lives in a quality apartment despite her low salary. It is later revealed that her rich father pays for all her expenses, and when she refuses to let him make decisions on her life, he cuts her off, forcing her to bunk with her friends or live in a U-Haul truck for an extended period. We do see the effects of this trope, however, when Carla thinks of JD and Turk's normal-sized apartment as "tiny."
Inverted in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, where the twins and their mother occupy a dwelling that looks more like an incredibly-cramped one bedroom apartment than a suite in a five-star hotel.
In Reaper, the guys move into a massive three bedroom apartment which cost them only $1,200 a month in rent. Despite Sock trying to Hand Wave it away by saying that he "got a great deal" and it "used to be a meth lab," it's obviously way over the minimum-wage group's income bracket. Especially considering the established gay couple living next door, who have obviously been there for ages, and the wonderful state of repair it is in. This is later justified when it is revealed that the Devil, Satan, Father of Lies, He Who Is Legion, the Beast Whose Number Is 666, happened to sign their lease as part of an Evil Plan to put down a demonic rebellion.
Explained in Flight of the Conchords: the landlord realises they've been paying rent in New Zealand dollars, not American dollars, and evicts them. The flat is dingy and also quite small: bathroom, living room and twin bedroom.
A non Sitcom example: Burn Notice generally avoids the trope, as it's a plot point how Michael's apartment is horrible despite the fact he could get a better one. It's not bad size-wise, but it's not actually rated as being a legitimate apartment as it has bare floors, a small kitchen area, a steel frame "second floor" and no room partitions (it seemed to have been mildly renovated from a storage site). It's also over a nightclub. Michael also apparently does "favors" for his landlord, further driving the price down. While Fiona might follow this trope with a waterside bungalow in Miami and no job (strictly speaking), her gun running and occasional bounty hunting jobs can help suspend disbelief. Sam, by contrast, has a series of well-off sugar mamas.
Averting this trope sets the Backstory for Weeds. When Nancy's husband dies, forcing her back into the workforce, she realizes she can't possibly earn enough to keep her McMansion and the lifestyle it symbolizes. This provides Nancy's primary motivation to get into the marijuana trade.
In season 7 they move to New York and get a loft apartment even though everyone is unemployed. They are charged very little rent since the landlord cannot afford to finish remodeling the building and with the recession he can't sell the property. They can live there on the cheap as long they agree that the landlord takes no responsibility for any defects or broken utilities. A few episodes later they make enough money through illegal activities that it stops being an issue.
iCarly: The living room and dining room are somewhat realistic, but how many condos do you know that have a second and third floor and an elevator? It's also decked out with the latest technology.
That elevator might go a long way toward justifying it. It's frequently implied that the building they live in is a re-purposed warehouse or factory. If the elevator only opens up to those three floors and the lobby, the developers might have lumped together those three floors to avoid having someone hitting a wrong button and spilling out into a total stranger's apartment. As far as the fact that it has to be ridiculously expensive, if you combine their father's military salary, Spencer selling sculptures, and iCarly, being ad-supported (as ridiculously popular as it is in-universe, it's not implausible) it could be stretched to just this side of believable.
The Grand Finale confirmed that the elevator opened up to more floors than just the three the Shays used, which might explain why they can afford the apartment - Anyone can enter their apartment at anytime, without their permission.
Speaking specifically of rent control, during the first season of Angel, Cordelia finds herself a sweet, roomy apartment that she can afford on a receptionist's salary. It's haunted. One of the ghosts tries to kill her, but the other is nice and is thus not exorcised. Phantom Dennis is referenced occasionally in future seasons.
It was also never explained how Angel could afford to live and keep an office in the building that he used for Season 1. The hotel used for Season 2 onwards however received two Handwaves on the subject: first a wealthy client who owed Angel Investigations a favour handled all of the paperwork on the matter, then Lilah (in order to piss off a co-worker) fabricated even more paperwork.
The Humphreys on Gossip Girl keep griping about how they are poor (at least in comparison to the rest of the cast) and how times are rough, which makes sense given that Rufus is the sole breadmaker and he owns a low key art gallery. Their loft, however, suggests that they are considerably more wealthy than Rufus' job would make them, and that they are far from as poor as they keep saying that they are.
Rufus is a hasbeen musician who probably makes money from royalties. They're definitely middle-lower upper class.
In Seinfeld, Jerry and Elaine have steady jobs, and Jerry's apartment is based heavily on his actual former apartment in the Upper West Side. George's living arrangements depend on his employment status, sometimes resulting in him having to live with his parents. As far as Kramer is concerned, no one has any idea how he can afford his apartment with no obvious source of income, but this was kind of a Running Gag throughout the series. It was shown in an episode of Mad About You that Kramer sublets from Paul and that Paul doesn't want to let go of the apartment; as such he may be subletting at under market value as Kramer is a "good" tenet.
Which goes straight into Mind Screw territory, after George and Susan spend one episode's stinger watching an episode of Mad About You.
Subverted in an episode of Two and a Half Men where Charlie, who does make a lot of money in royalties from the nationally broadcast jingles and theme songs he writes, still gets in financial trouble by living beyond his means.
The trope was handwaved in the first episode, when Charlie flat-out says "I get paid a lot of money for doing very little work".
Averted in The Honeymooners. Ralph is a bus driver and Alice is a housewife. They live in a small, walk-up, cold-water apartment, and don't have a TV, a phone, a vacuum cleaner or a fridge. Some of this can be chalked down to the era in which they lived — appliances could be expensive back then.
Averted in The Drew Carey Show where the set was modeled after the real house Drew's mother had in Cleveland. In-universe, meanwhile, it was explained by saying Drew bought the house from his parents when they moved out of state. Drew also may not have a particularly lucrative job, but it is middle-management of a department store (sort of, he's the Assistent to the non-existent Director of Personel, meaning he does all the work without getting the money).
This is easier to believe in Cleveland, as Midwestern cities have a much lower cost of living than the coasts.
Averted (mostly) in The Cosby Show. Supposedly the show was originally supposed to be about a working class family, but when someone saw the set they said that the Huxtable family would have to have better jobs to afford a house like that.
On Charmed, three twenty-something women (only two of whom have jobs) own a large three-story Victorian manor with a yard in San Francisco, a very dense urban area with some of the most expensive real estate in the country. The issue is supposedly handwaved that it has been in the family for generations and has been inherited, but the Halliwells would likely not be able to even afford the property tax on a home that would likely sell for at least $5 million, assuming it's not in wealthy or desirable part of town. Also bear in mind the place belonged to their Grandmother first and Prue and Piper only moved back in just a few months before they became witches. When Penny died she likely had some form of inheritance and before that Prue was a museum curator, then a prominent job at an auction house. In season 2 she also becomes a photographer for a magazine and she seems to have no trouble finding work. Piper was previously a bank teller, then the head chef in a posh restaurant before setting up her own club that always seems to have a decent amount of people in there. When Paige moved into the house she was a social worker though quit her job and never worked full-time after that. Phoebe seemed to go in and out of various jobs in the early seasons before becoming a very successful advice columnist (successful enough to be given talk show appearances, billboards and plenty of interviews). This is acknowledged as she does not gain a car until season 5 where she's been at her job for a good few months. While their house is always under threat from demons, some episodes do show them using magic to repair damages.
In Drake & Josh, the family lives in a beautiful dwelling. But the father is only a weather man on the local news. And he does a lousy job of predicting the weather. As for the mother, we never even see her working.
Averted on The Wayans Bros.: Shawn and Marlon live in a one bedroom apartment. Marlon sleeps on the couch while Shawn has the bedroom. It frequently looks messy, although the exterior shots show that they live in a decent-looking brownstone. They also constantly complain about rats and roaches.
Xander averted this in season four, living in his parents' basement and being charged rent while he went through a number of scut jobs. Then in season five he moves into an absurdly spacious apartment, with the Hand Wave that he had earlier been given a permanent job with a decent level of responsibility. Justified by season seven when he's in charge of a major project and frequently in suits to talk to clients.
However in seasons 1-3 Joyce has a job in a gallery and yet Buffy is always shown wearing the latest fashions in every episode without working on her own. While one could argue that Buffy's father might send money their way it's still a huge stretch that Joyce's gallery job pays for their nice house, all their luxuries and Buffy's designer wardrobe.
Sunnydale is stated to have insanely low property values. This fact serves two purposes: it explains how a single mom, and later, a group of twentysomethings who are either college students or working in fast food can afford such a nice home, and it explains why people even live in a town that is ravaged by demons on a near-weekly basis.
The Young Ones: Four unemployed college students are renting a house in London. Averted partly by the implication that Mike is blackmailing their landlord into discounting their rent, partly by the fact that said house is falling to pieces (their first house is condemned and demolished at the end of the first episode), and almost entirely by the fact that all UK higher education students at the time got a generous means-tested grant to cover their living expenses, Housing Benefit to top up any shortfall, unemployment benefit during vacations and paid no tuition fees. Part of the joke was the needless squalor in which they lived, given how relatively well-off students could be.
Gilmore Girls is a borderline example. Lorelai and Rory live in a lavishly furnished two-story house in rural Connecticut, far larger than is practical for a single mother and her teenage daughter. She lives there on the salary of a bed-and-breakfast manager, a job she earned working up from being a maid after being a teenage mother at sixteen. It's a plot point that Lorelai saved up for years to afford the house, which isn't in the best condition. For the bulk of Rory's childhood, they lived rent-free in a converted shack behind the inn.
Averted when Rory moves in with Paris and Doyle. They live in a somewhat spacious apartment, but the only reason they can afford it is because it's in a terrible neighborhood, complete with a comical amount of locks on the door.
Bunheads veers wildly back and forth on this trope: one of the arcs of the first season was dedicated to the financial intricacies of the main characters' home ownership situation, which, however, never made much sense and never seemed to actually imperil their ownership of a house that they explicitly could not afford. Played utterly straight when Sasha, a sixteen-year-old girl without a paying job, whose parents have both moved to different cities, leaving her to live on her own, rents and furnishes a gigantic apartment in impeccable taste. Although her resourcefulness in dealing with the logistics of all this at 16 is highlighted, there's not so much as a Hand Wave towards who is paying for all this.
It would probably be easier to list the German TV shows where this isn't the case. Apparently, even struggling freelancers and single mothers can afford six-room-apartments in renovated old buildings. Changed only in recent years in that nowadays, they often live in ex-factory lofts instead (which tend to be even bigger). Yes, in former East Germany rents are lower, but not that low.
Then again rent is not nearly as much an expense in, say, Hamburg as it is in New York and Germany is almost a socialist country by American ultra-capitalist standards so the state will sometimes chip-in on rent if you are entitled to it.
But not on a six-bedroom-apartment - if you want support from the state, you'll have to move to a home acceptable to the welfare officials.
In The Brady Bunch, even if he did design their house himself, it's hard to grasp how Mike Brady could've single-handedly supported a stay-at-home wife, six kids, a full-time housekeeper, and (at times) a dog, cat, and/or stray nephew as well as he did, all on a staff architect's salary.
The early 1970s was the tail end of the era single-income family, and "staff architect" was considered a well-paying Upper Middle Class job. The Bradys' lifestyle wasn't out of bounds for the era, and the Brady homestead was a fairly typical Southern California Suburban Tract Home of the time. It should also be noted that those six kids shared two bedrooms and a single bath between them, which was hardly luxurious in that time and place.
On The Secret Life of the American Teenager, everyone's houses and apartments are very nice and wonderfully decorated, despite everyone having various jobs that should create economic differences between them. Ricky's apartment gets a pass because it used to belong to Leo's wealthy parents. A few headscratchers in particular are Adrian and her mom having an upscale apartment in season one , even though they were supposed to be kinda poor. Daniel and his friends also manage to have lavish apartments, despite being college students.
With the latter, it's been implied that the apartments are owned by the college, which could mean a lower, affordable rate. Still, college apartments in general are usually nowhere near as nice as Daniel's place.
Averted in 7th Heaven. In the pilot episode, it's stated that the house was left to the church by a wealthy parishoner in her will, with the condition that it was for the purpose of housing the church's pastor and his family.
The King of Queens. Doug is a package delivery man and Carrie is a legal secretary, yet they can afford a detached, two-story house in Queens while supporting Carrie's elderly father and paying for a car, big-screen television, daily dog walker and other luxuries. Granted, Doug's job is unionized, big-firm legal secretaries do pretty well, and Queens is not Manhattan. Still, it is New York City with the related real estate prices, taxes and insurance rates.
Long-running Australian soap Home and Away has many examples, mostly teen characters set up in their own living spaces but with no job or income to support them.
Degrassi: The apartment that Ellie, Marco, Paige, and Alex (replaced with Griffin later on) shared looked a little more spacious than what four college students could realistically afford.
Subverted in El Chavo del ocho. Don Ramon and La Chilindrina live in a one-bedroom apartment in a low-rent neighborhood. However, given that Don Ramon does not work often, he should still not be able to afford it. Senor Barriga forgives his rent often.
On That Girl, Ann Marie is a struggling actress, auditioning for bit parts and taking various one-off temp jobs on the side, and yet she can afford a spacious, groovily decorated bachelorette pad inhe middle of Manhattan.
In Castle, averted and played straight. Castle, being a famous bestselling author of over 20 novels as well as being well-known in New York's elite and upper-class circles, can easily afford his spacious penthouse. On the other hand, Beckett's apartment would break the wallet of a police detective, and this was before it got blown up. Her new place as of Season 4 is even more extravagant.
August: We could move to New York and rent a loft in the Village with a view of the river. It'll probably cost about... three hundred bucks a month. But, you know, that's okay — we'll find jobs in book stores.
Averted entirely by the cramped attic rented by the four protagonists throughout the run of the series. Harry's "bedroom" is essentially a closet under the stairs, much like that of a later Harry.
Harry's "bedroom" was actually him just sleeping on top of the washer and dryer behind the kitchen.
Perfect Strangers: A photographer, a mailroom clerk/cartoonist, and two flight attendants couldn't possibly have afforded a big Victorian house in Chicago's Old Town neighbourhood.
The IT Crowd avoids the trope entirely with Roy's hilariously tiny flat. It's so small that Roy and Moss cannot sit further than three feet away from the flatscreen television they are watching. Moss, meanwhile, lives with his mother. Roy does get a much nicer flat later on though.
The newer Bionic Woman is a struggling bartender raising her teenage sister by herself. She also lives in a San Francisco apartment that would strain the resources of anyone making less then seven figures, much less five.
The Vampire Diaries. Matt Donovan seems to be able to keep himself afloat despite his only source of income being a part time job at the Mystic Grill. One could also wonder how Alaric Saltzman is able to live in such a swanky apartment on a teacher's salary. Or how Elena and Jeremy manage to live comfortably despite all of their caretakers being dead
Though to be fair, Elena and Jeremy are friends with the mayor, so she probably has something to do with it and there's also life insurance.
Averted with Max and Caroline of 2 Broke Girls. It is stated that Max and Caroline should not be able to afford a place that large in Brooklyn, even with both their income going toward rent. However, in the first episode, Max explains that she is living there illegally. She is also stated to be avoiding the landlord. It's even used as blackmail in one episode.
Played with on New Girl. The three guys live in an extremely spacious apartment even though Nick works as a bartender and has almost no money and Winston is unemployed. Schmidt, however, makes a lot of money at his job and is implied to cover the bulk of rent, while Jess likely covers some Rent as well and the apartment has quite a few defects and a landlord who isn't entirely sane. It also bears mentioning that it is in Los Angeles, not NYC, where property is more affordable.
And the neighborhood doesn't look too classy from the outside.
Averted naturally on The Wire. Mc Nulty lives in a very small, one room apartment in a working class neighborhood that a Baltimore Detective paying alimony could realistically afford.
Subverted in My Name Is Earl. Even with his lottery winnings, Earl and Randy still live in a cheap, rundown motel. Before that, They lived in a trailer which Joy and Darnell now own. When Earl gets job, He and Randy have fairly modest apartment (One that a salesmen with pre-existing funds could afford in a non-competitive property market).
Initially averted in CHiPs when Ponch lived at a mobile home in a trailer park. Later played straight when he moved into a fancy apartment by the marina. It makes you wonder if he was on the take.
Full House: Some found it unrealistic that Danny could have afforded what was obviously a very nice, very big town house in a presumably equally very nice section of San Francisco on a TV morning show host's salary, as well as support three young children. There's never any mention of Joey or Jesse paying him rent (not that they could have, given how sporadic their employment was for the first few seasons of the show). Then again, given that Danny was a widower, maybe his late wife's life insurance helped some.
Depictions of the late mother indicate they had the house before she died though.
Near the end of the first season of Person of Interest, Reese moves into a huge apartment overlooking a park that probably has a monthly rent greater than the monthly mortgage payment of most suburban houses, which he never could have afforded back when he was an Army NCO or a CIA agent (The pay scale for his current job - vigilante working on behalf of reclusive billionaire - never being mentioned). Fortunately, the apartment was provided by his boss, who could easily afford to pay the rent for him (Assuming Finch doesn't own the building outright).
Taxi did fairly well with this; the various cabbies' apartments weren't overly lavish. In one episode Louie considers moving into a large apartment which is explicitly described as being monstrously expensive. At the other extreme, Jim squats in a condemned building.
Home Improvement: The Taylors' house is borderline unrealistic in its size, especially given the fact that Tim is the only one bringing in a paycheck for 90% of the show. Jill works on and off for the first two seasons in low-key office jobs but then spends the remainder of the series in college. Tim is quoted many times as working on a "low-rated cable show" (which he only seems to work at for a few hours a day), yet he can afford a two-story house with two (sometimes three) bathrooms, three bedrooms you could host a football team in almost comfortably, an enormous living room and kitchen, an oversized basement, and a not-too-shabby attic. About the only part of their home that isn't unrealistically huge is the back yard.
The house is fairly realistic when viewed from outside; just the living room is clearly bigger than the entire house. It's also established that Tim was so successful as a salesman that the show is a working retirement for all practical purposes (they made the next-best salesman CEO).
Averted on Glee. When Kurt and Rachel move to New York, they rent a large loft in Brooklyn, but it's relatively-low $1800 a month is due to its bad location and distance from the city center. However, while Kurt is a paid intern, it is not clear how Rachel pays her part of the rent.
Averted in Smash: the huge apartment Broadway hopeful/waitress Karen lives in is subsidised by her rich (and very employed) partner Dev, while perennial chorus girl Ivy's studio apartment is realistically tiny, with only a few steps needed to take her from kitchen to sleeping area. Though how Derek affords his exceedingly expansive place remains a mystery...
In Grey's Anatomy, medical intern Meredith lives in her mother's house (while her mother is in a nursing home and later dies), so she doesn't have to pay. George and Izzie, and eventually Alex, are invited to stay with her. Christina is the only intern with her own apartment, but later lives with her boyfriend who is an attending, and then with Callie who is a resident then becomes an attending. Callie was supported by her wealthy family and temporarily lived in a hotel room with George. When Izzie and Alex marry, Derek gives them his trailer. The later seasons have April, Jackson, Alex, and Lexi living at Meredith's house while Meredith moves in with Derek. It's never stated how many rooms she has, but one person was in the attic or basement. Meredith recently sold her mother's house to Alex, who is renting a room to Christina.
In Spaced, trying to avert this sets up the entire series - Tim and Daisy have to pose as a couple in order to afford a flat. It's still a very nice flat for Ł90 a week, but then again the landlord is pretty desperate for company.
Mostly averted in Caroline In The City. Caroline's very large Manhattan apartment is more or less appropriate for a nationally syndicated cartoonist. Richard, on the other hand, lives in a studio apartment that came available when it's last tenants were murdered.
Indigo Prophecy has several examples, being set in New York City and featuring many elegant apartments, but Lucas Kane's is the most egregious. He has an almost ludicrously-sized apartment in the middle of Manhattan, made even more ridiculous by the tiny, run-down appearance of the access hallway inside his building. Either Lucas has the only penthouse apartment in the building, or parts of his kitchen and bedroom reside in alternate dimensions, because the doors in the hallway are set far too close together to accommodate Lucas' luxurious living room. All this, on a mid-level IT manager's salary.
Spiritual SequelHeavy Rain has the same problem with the apartments that are owned by Ethan (who's supposed to be a divorce dad falling on hard times) and Madison (a reporter who doesn't even seem to be working for one particular newspaper)—they're both absurdly spacious, though at least Ethan's apartment is bare. On the other hand, there was also Ethan's Pre-Tragedy Idyllic IKEA House...
Ethan lives in a house even after he's divorced. Except in his happier endings, when he's living on the aforementioned Lucas Kane's apartment.
All of the safehouses used by Mike in Alpha Protocol are fairly expansive penthouses, save for the one in Taipei, which is a tiny, crappy apartment - until Mike uses the shower, which takes him downstairs into an Elaborate Underground Base that looks more like an intelligence command center than a safehouse, complete with a secret tunnel leading aboveground for his motorcycle. This is explained as part of the Alpha Protocol program, where agents establish safehouses using their own money and established bank accounts (and most of the resources used are not actually known by the agency to avoid tracing it back to Alpha Protocol - yay compartmentalizing!) Mike tends to lampshade this, pointing out in Moscow how he appreciates where government spending is going while chilling in his massive, chic and ultramodern penthouse.
Averted in Neurotically Yours where Germaine mentions in one episode that her apartment costs over $6000 a month to rent, which explains why she became a hooker in order to pay the rent.
Occurs (but is Lampshaded at least once) in Questionable Content — Martin, Dora, and Faye live in an enormous and gorgeous apartment, despite the fact that Marten works at a library for a small college, Dora owns a coffee shop she continuously has trouble keeping afloat, and Faye works for Dora as a barista at the coffee shop.
-Marten: No, because then she'd fire you and I'd have to pay the rent on this place all on my own.
Housing in Western Massachusetts is rather less expensive than in urban East Coast areas like Boston or New York, even if it still comes across as expensive compared to the South, Midwest or Western part of the country. Three people working, even at low-wage jobs, and budgeting carefully or scoring lots of their stuff for free off what college kids throw away (easy to do in Amherst or Northampton) can and have afforded pretty decent apartments there before.
Subverted in Rhapsodies. Kate, Paul and Brian live in an apartment across the street from a popular park, owned by Brian's parents. However, the three units surrounding Brian's apartment are almost unrentable so his parents are virtually giving them away at slum rates.
Justified in S.S.D.D as Richard is actually the landlord and willing to give his friends a lot of leeway when it comes to rent (Norman helps him shake up the tenants in his other properties, Kingston often pays in dope, and Anne sleeps with him). Neither is he above threatening to chuck Kingston or even Norman out if they really try his patience.
Deconstructed by The Nostalgia Critic (with a guest appearance from '90s Kid), in his Bio Dome review, which he points out was one of numerous movies from the '90s featuring stupid young people with no steady jobs but had decent places to live.
'90s Kid: Oh, that's probably my land lord with another eviction note [Crashing sound] And a battering ram. [Dramatic Gun Cock] And a sawed-off shotgun...
The Simpsons live in a very large, four or five bedroom house despite Homer being the only breadwinner (and being somewhat, ahem, unreliable when it comes to spending money), though it was once explained by Grandpa Simpson selling his house to help Homer and Marge buy theirs. Some episodes draw attention to it though.
Lampshaded in "Homer's Enemy":
Frank Grimes: [in awe] Good Heavens! This is a palace! H-How can, how in the world can you afford to live in a house like this, Simpson?
Homer: I dunno. Don't ask me how the economy works.
Further lampshaded in "Kill Gil: Volumes 1 and 2", where Homer says, "I make six [thousand dollars] a year"; and in "Father Knows Worst," where he says, "[One thousand dollars is] how much my house is worth!"
Of course, an engineer at a Real Life nuclear power plant working for someone other than Montgomery Burns would be earning serious money.
The creators have also been known to state that they've deliberately kept the precise layout of the Simpsons' home vague and inconsistent, so it's hard to tell how big it really is.
Parodied in Futurama. Leela is watching "Real World: The Sun" (which apparently consists of footage of people screaming as they immolate), and is disgusted by how expensive the set would be.
"Do you know how much an apartment that big would cost on the sun?"
Also averted when Fry and Bender briefly move into a massive apartment, which is mentioned as being rent controlled and belonging to a late friend of the professor's.
In Family Guy, Peter is the only one employed in the family, as a below management level employee at a toy factory, yet they live in a nice house. In addition he manages to spend all kinds of money on stuff, which was lampshaded in Peter's use of the "Peter-Copter" and the "Hindenpeter" which damage Joe's house and property, prompting Joe to wail incredulously, "How can you afford these things?!!" The episode "Emission Impossible" explained how: Lois and Peter won a lawsuit against a condom company after Lois' pregnancy with Chris due to a broken condom. That lawsuit allowed the Griffins to buy their lovable, size-changing house on Spooner Street. Lois is also not above the occasional Five Finger Discount or accepting money from her obscenely rich father.
It is also revealed how in The Cleveland Show when Junior offhandedly mentions all of the random jobs Peter had to get to pay for the incident that killed his mother. So he pretty much stated that all of the Manatee Gags shown in the series is how he pays off for all the damages his stupid actions cause.
Darkwing Duck lived in a two story home despite not even having any sort of job outside of his crime fighting. This was finally explained in the 2010 comics, where it's revealed that SHUSH paid him for his services.
Likewise, the eponymous character on Jimmy Two-Shoes lives on his own without a job. One episode centered around him having to take a job to pay for some frivolous purchases, but he never has problems basic living.
Parodied in The Critic. Doris owns a huge, spartan apartment in New York City - and only pays $150 thanks to rent control. She tells Jay - without turning around - to put the candlestick down, knowing he wanted to club her to take over her rent controlled apartment.
Truth in Television: There are some apartments in Mannhattan with ridiculously low rents, even as low as $150, thanks to rent control. A good chunk of them are in upper Manhattan, though, and often date back to the 1940's.
Dexters Laboratory: The Justice Friends (Major Glory, Val Hallen and Krunk) live at an apartment they rent. It's revealed in one episode that Val Hallen got the largest room (well, less "room" and more "pocket dimension containing the full glory and splendour of VALHALLA ITSELF") and pays a bigger share of the rent than the others because of this (which isn't a problem for him as he is not only a superhero and "Norse god of rock," but also the world's most famous rock star). It's never stated how much each Justice Friend pays (although Major Glory probably has a cushy government contract).
Played with by Mission Hill early on, then averted. Andy is working at a water mattress store at (presumably) just above minimum wage, Posey is just...there, and no one knew what Jim did for a living until Kevin came along, yet they live in a very spacious apartment (with a second floor!) in a decent building with neighbours they like, in a part of town that doesn't seem run down or depressed. Then Jim is revealed to be a highly paid corperate executive with tons of clout for basically being computer whiz. This isn't revealed until Andy loses his job and a tooth, and Jim lets him use his health insurance to have it fixed, because Andy never asked - even though he's Jim's best and oldest friend.