Follow TV Tropes


Informed Small Town

Go To

Apart from Everytown, America, another semi-common setting in fiction is a small town. A small town itself, generally, is defined as having a population of around 10,000 people — not quite a city, but not quite a village either.note  Usually in these settings (and in real-life small towns), Everyone Went to School Together, and everyone knows each other.


But sometimes in fiction, small towns are portrayed as having a lot more going on for them than would be realistic, especially as crime is concerned, to the point the viewer is left wondering if this really is a small town.

The most common setting for Geographic Flexibility. May relate to a Crapsack World setting, especially if (as is sometimes Truth in Television) the town lacks a lot of job potential. Can be a locational equivalent of Your Size May Vary, as the small-town setting is occasionally depicted as larger (at times even referred to interchangeably as a town and/or a city) depending on the episode.



    open/close all folders 

    Live-Action TV 
  • The eponymous town of Haven has quite a few amenities for being a supposedly small town. Highlights include an aquatic center, an athletic center, a psychiatric hospital, a separate regular hospital, its own ambulance and taxi services, and a fertility clinic. Plus a thriving harbor. The population is also stated as being 25,000, which would make Haven the fifth-largest city in Maine.
  • In Parks and Recreation, the town of Pawnee is said to be a small Indiana town, yet it has the headquarters of a major candy corporation, its own news stations and periodicals, a zoo, an annual beauty pageant, decent nightlife, and by season 7 the headquarters of both the Midwest branch of the National Parks Service and one of the country's largest internet companies.
  • Riverdale is established by the first season to be set in a small town, which is at odds with many of its features and the events that take place there. To wit:
    • The amount of major crime is absurdly high for a small population. A murder like that of Jason Blossom is still bound to happen, but everything else? We have a murder, a serial killer, a big criminal gang (and then several gangs), a mafioso taking over the town, a sinister cult, illegal drug trade networks, children burning down their homes, etc.
      • Note that in the first season, Jason Blossom's death was meant to be so shocking because it was a small town unused to such a grim event. However, with the later addition of the multiple crime families, gangs, vigilante groups, killersnote , cults, etc. Its status as a wholesome small town unused to violence now seems like Early-Installment Weirdness.
    • In small towns, everyone knows everyone, and anything that happens to someone is bound to be known by everyone (more sooner than later). How could the Blossom and Cooper families keep their big secret under wraps? At one point it was public knowledge. It's unlikely that people would "forget" after a time, as the Blossoms and Coopers were still around everyday (with the Blossom as Riverdale's premier family, no less).
  • Twin Peaks is apparently a small town where everybody knows everybody else, but the "Welcome to Twin Peaks" sign claims a population of 51,201. The original population was supposed to be 5120, but ABC executives insisted on adding a 1 on the end.
  • Sunnydale is described as a small town, with the first episode stating that the bad part of town is half a block from the good part as "we don't have a lot of town here." At various points in the series, Sunnydale is shown to have multiple large malls, a major army base, a reasonably well-respected university, an international airport , international docks, and over a dozen churches (though that last is suggested to be a reaction to the atmosphere of evil).
  • Zigzagged and occasionally lampshaded with Storybrooke, Maine, in Once Upon a Time. Ostensibly a sleepy, small coastal town, it has just about as many amenities one would plasuibly expect from a place that size: a single B&B and diner, a (currently closed down) public library, an elementary school, a harbour with docks and a cannery, a pharmacy, a pet shelter, a florist, a couple of bars, a few parks, a nunnery, a sheriff station... and yet, John Does can go missing and turn up in a coma at the local hospital with their spouses being none the wiser for, apparently, years. That's a first indicator that something's not quite right about Storybrooke.
    Regina Mills: Well, this town is bigger than you know. It's entirely possible to get lost here. It's entirely possible for bad things to happen.
    • While the town itself remains plasuibly sized for most of the series, it's the area surrounding it that keeps getting weirder and richer as the plot demands. Apparently, the Storybrooke County is big enough to host vast forests where characters can get lost, arable fields where to grow magic beans, caves that tend to pop up according to convenience, a rope bridge over a river in a deep chasm (the previously seen Toll bridge was a few meters tall at most), railway tracks, several huge mansions, a large farmhouse, not to mention the untold miles of coal mine tunnels running deep underneath the city, not far from the shoreline...

  • Welcome to Night Vale sometimes has this issue. Night Vale is small enough that almost all of the named characters know each other well, and the narrator expects that his in-universe audience has a similarly close relationship with everyone he mentions. Characters also tend to act suspicious of outsiders, and gossip travels fast. At the same time, though, the town has its own airport, mall, university, opera house, zoo, hospital, and stadium, as well as multiple museums, at least eight separate neighborhoods, and a subway system. Granted, at least some of the weirdness could be chalked up to the town's status as an Eldritch Location, but the excessive amount of infrastructure in such an empty, low-population place still doesn't make much sense.

  • Adventures in Odyssey takes place in the small town of Odyssey, with a neighboring town of Connellsville, the county seat of Campbell County. Odyssey, however, apparently has going for it several radio stations, a busy airport, two colleges, several academies, and several hospitals.

  • Laguna Creek is slated to be a small town of around 9,000 people, but despite all of this it has its own radio station, crime museum, multiple serial killers, two highly respected universities, and the headquarters of one of the most revered fashion design companies in the world.

  • Hatchetfield
    • The text repeatedly refers to "the tiny town of Hatchetfield" and says that Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here, but each story has added institutions and establishments to Hatchetfield for plot convenience that, if all of them were canon, would make Hatchetfield quite a large city. Note that Hatchetfield is supposed to be a community on an island in the Great Lakes, and the largest such island in Real Life Michigan is Grosse Ile, which has a population of about 10,000 and, although highly affluent, isn't nearly large enough to have any of the above.
    • Black Friday added to this, with Hatchetfield having a large shopping mall (the Lakeside Mall) within its city limits, with an independent toy store (Toy Zone) that's important enough to receive a direct shipment of Tickle-Me Wiggly toys at the height of their popularity on Black Friday. Of course, in this case, we're directly told this is intentionally arranged by Wiggly because Hatchetfield is an Eldritch Location.
      • Black Friday also reveals Hatchetfield has enough of a population of wealthy millionaires to support its own boating society, although this much is Truth in Television — boating is Serious Business in the island communities of the Great Lakes and Grosse Ile has multiple boating/yachting clubs.
    • Nightmare Time Episode 1 gives us what may be a Retcon that Hatchetfield is in fact a well-known tourist destination, and is the kind of "tiny town" that's only "tiny" because the permanent population is greatly outnumbered by transients. (We hear the pejorative word "townies" for permanent residents of such a town used a couple of times for Hatchetfielders later in the series.) "The Hatchetfield Ape-Man" reveals that the Duchess of Stockworth's family used to travel all the way from the UK to take their holidays in Hatchetfield for the beaches and the wildlife, and "Watcher World" reveals that Hatchetfield Island is home to the eponymous Amusement Park of Doom, which seems to be a major regional attraction akin to Cedar Point (with "the tallest rollercoaster in the Midwest"). This is Truth in Television for a Michigan island community — Mackinac Island in Lake Huron is known as the most popular tourist destination in the state, where the Michigan Governor's official summer residence is located — but most of these towns are way too small to be a Real Life version of Hatchetfield. (Mackinac Island has a permanent population of less than 500.)

    Video Games 
  • In Nancy Drew: Alibi in Ashes, Deirdre bemoans how the last interesting thing to happen in River Heights was a dead guy's will being found, and Brenda's career is stalling because she can't find any big local news to report on. But the town map shows an airport, a hospital, and at least three schools in this supposedly sleepy, white-bread town.
  • The town of Silent Hill, Maine/WestVirginia is all over the place. We're repeatedly told it's a small town, and the map size of the earlier games definitely supports that, but even in the first game the town's intricate drug trade is a major part of the story. And then there's the sheer number of hospitals: Alchemilla, Brookhaven and Cedar Grove Sanitarium, and there's a possibility that St Jerome's hospital is also in the town. And Never Recycle a Building seems to be in full effect, as a freaking water treatment plant can stay abandoned long enough for the nearby Orphanage of Fear to use it as a Hellhole Prison for misbehaving children without anyone bothering to check. And did we mention there's a monastery within town limits that ALSO operates as a nightmare orphanage? Although, if there is one town that needs two mental institutions and two orphanages, it's probably Silent Hill.
    • The weirdest part is that all of the inconsistencies are somehow reasonably justified: Silent Hill went from a coal mining town to an unpopular vacation town, which means the town expanding and declining throughout the years makes some sense (vacation towns tend not to house as many people as they can accommodate, see the Real Life folder below, and Silent Hill's primary attractions are things like an amusement park, a lakeside resort area and a deep canyon).
    • Not to mention it's home to a nasty Apocalypse Cult who have a lot of influence over the town, and due to their waxing and waning over the years they have been periodically successful at disrupting the tourist trade and keeping the population on the low side. And considering the implications that they pretty much control the police department and the mayor's office and the fact that the deranged murderer they raised killed the last journalist who dared to write about the mysterious happenings in the area, it's perfectly plausible for the disappearances and deaths to not get any attention.
    • And let's not forget that this charming little lake town is an Eldritch Location with a consciousness of its own whose powers have been known to many of its residents since the native Times, and where ghosts and memories manifest ridiculously often. Any glimpse we have had at Silent Hill has been Through the Eyes of Madness, which means that if the spirits want a character to walk all over a small town, a small town is what they can see. If they need to be put through a specific ringer in a place crawling with sexualized nurses to learn a certain lesson, Brookhaven hospital will present itself.
    • Subverted with Shepherd's Glen which actually is as small as we're told. As a town built at the end of a dead end road by cultists who only wanted to get from Silent Hill, it makes sense that Shepherd's Glen never expanded that much. The founding families still own most of the place, and the people are incredibly isolated.

    Visual Novels 
  • The town where Melody mainly takes place seems more like a city: a good number of apartments, lots of things to do, and not everybody seems to know everyone else.

    Western Animation 
  • Justified in Family Guy. While Quahog does have a lot more going on in it than a typical small town, this can be explained by the fact it is probably a suburb of Rhode Island's capital Providence (the Providence skyline can be seen behind the Griffins' house). For instance, the airport Quagmire works at is likely T. F. Green Airport.
  • Gravity Falls: While the town is a genuinely small town as everyone knows each other, there’s very low crime and it’s far from the interstate, it’s also big enough for a mall, thriving downtown area, and a large concert venue that’s able to get a popular boy band. Then again, it’s a Weirdness Magnet so it’s a good thing that it’s still under the radar.
  • The town of Lone Moose, Alaska in The Great North is supposed to be a tiny town (albeit with a mall) where everyone knows everyone. However, new characters and businesses are introduced on the regular (with Remember the New Guy? in full effect) to the point where Lone Moose has a large population and an amusement park.
  • Ponyville from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is small enough to have a one-room school, but has aspects more appropriate for a medium to large city such as having a hydro-electric dam and being a viable venue for a large pop concert. It's also, despite its supposed small size, politically important enough to get semi-regular visits from royalty and post-season 3 to be the seat of power for one of the Princesses. The dam is at least explainable because they're highly dependent on having the correct geological features and it's possible that it's part of a larger power grid. Everything else seems to be the result of Ponyville suddenly gaining in importance as a result of the Mane Six living there.
  • While its status as a city or a town varies depending on the episode, Springfield in The Simpsons is sometimes stated to be a "typical American small town"... with an international airport, major TV studio, nuclear power plant, baseball and football teams, and several radio stations. In S13E22, Springfield is stated to have a population of 30,720, which while enough to qualify it as a city, is still kind of a stretch, mostly because of the airport.
  • The eponymous location in South Park, besieged by all kinds of supernatural events in the earlier episodes note , was described as a small town in the original episodes, but has been portrayed as considerably larger in the show's later years. Most notably, it went from Officer Barbrady policing the whole town by himself to having a police department that took up a whole office building (this was justified as those cops being from Park County PD, and their jurisdiction simply being expanded to South Park, which is in Park County). Rule of Funny is probably the best explanation, but still worth noting. Later seasons actually call attention to this and justify it as South Park being gentrified by new residents looking for real estate (something that is very much Truth in Television for the greater Denver metropolitan area). For example, they establish a new upscale shopping district (SoDoSoPa) where there used to be basically nothing.

    Real Life 
  • Vacation towns can be this. For example: Jackson, Wyoming is estimated to have just over ten thousand permanent residents and it certainly looks like a small town when you walk its streets. However, it's serviced by the largest airport in the whole state and has conveniences such as multiple ski resorts, spas, and an indoor heated water park. There will also be well in excess of those ten thousand people in town at any given time thanks to all the vacationers and "adventure workers" who aren't counted as permanent population.
  • As far as the town/city distinction is concerned, the difference is often less a matter of population and more a matter of legal status and local governance. A community may have only a few thousand people (what one may consider a small town) yet meet the legal requirements of a city, whereas another may have tens of thousands of residents but lack the legal status of a city.