Getting to the Airport and Other Actions That TV Completely Misrepresents

If only life were as easy and carefree as it is on TV. If only we all looked like Kit Harington and Thandie Newton. If only every time we went to the airport it was as carefree as those on screen get to experience it. Not only do the characters in our favourite sitcoms and dramas get to race through security willy nilly, but they also get a whole host of preferential treatment that Muggles like us can merely dream of. It’s like they’re living in a fictional world or something…

Kidding aside, we don’t often watch TV to be reminded of the blindingly boring events of everyday existence, like waiting in line at the ATM or moving through security checks. But when we are watching something and it completely misrepresents those things to the point that we’re taken out of the story, it matters. The following items are other such areas and happenings which TV regularly gets wrong, and even though I don’t think this article will prove to put a stop to said monstrosities occurring on screen, it’s kind of nice to know you’re not alone in noticing them, right? And it certainly feels good to vent regardless.

Being at The Airport

Starting with the eponymous issue at hand: the airport. A place in real life which has as many rules and regulations as Game of Thrones has viewers, but in TV land it’s an altogether more palatable space to inhabit. The rush to the airport is something most people have done in real life but when compared to to its televisual counterpart, it’s an entirely different proposition. Rushing to the airport in real life means you miscalculated your journey to the airport, woke up late, or watched one too many episodes of Deal or No Deal. When a character rushes to the airport on TV, it is almost certainly to pursue the one they love who is leaving on a jet-plane, most probably not knowing when they’ll be back again. This gesture, although super romantic in theory, isn’t really feasible for us everyday beings as it’s a nightmare to park, legitimately impossible to pass through security and, actually, no. It’s impossible to get through security so there’s no point listing a third reason.

Ross from Friends being dead romantic at the airport

But apparently to counteract that very clear obstacle, you can just buy a ticket and skate on through, like Ross chasing after Rachel in Friends. Some say you can’t put a price on love, but Ross put down a healthy deposit at least. And while we’re on the subject of tickets, money seems to be no obstacle for our beloved sitcom characters when it comes to flights either. As for when they make the far too common mistake of missing their flight (jeez guys get Google Maps) they just demand a ticket for the next plane with little to no thought. Because despite having seemingly normal jobs like bartenders, teachers and police officers, they have an unlimited fund for buying airline tickets minutes before the flight, when prices are sure to have rocketed up. Have they never heard of SkyScanner? And don’t even get me started on the scene where the eponymous New Girl, Jess sweet-talks an airline ticket agent to get her friends on a flight, because if we pretend for a second that those agents have that power, we all know that they don’t have the human ability for compassion.

Jess with a ticket agent in New Girl

Ordering Food and Drink

Meeting friends in bars and restaurants is one of the working week’s few delights, an event that is sure to enlighten the most terrible of days at your workplace. They present a good opportunity to catch up with friends, as you reminisce over some great food, drinks and a memory or two. This delightful meet-up is just as common on television, and a lot of the time, downright essential to the TV show itself, try and imagine an episode of Seinfeld without the gang meeting up at Monk’s Café. So while this trope is not inexplicable or hard to understand in the slightest when done right, there are a number of times where it gets it oh so wrong.

A character turns up to meet their friend, who has specifically requested they meet them at that time and place. They’ve probably had a bit of an ordeal getting there; maybe a couple of buses, had trouble finding parking, or god forbid, even had to scramble around for a babysitter! But just as they finish sitting down and ordering a delicious offering from the sparkling menu, your so-called friend has finished regaling you with the nugget of wisdom they were so desperate to share, and then they stand up and leave, approximately 2 minutes into your supposed catch-up. Oh, they’re not being completely rude by stiffing you with the bill or anything, they’ll leave money. They just don’t want to wait for what they’ve ordered. Meaning when the poor waiter or waitress returns with the just-ordered food, there will be no one there. And while that sounds like a good old deal for the waiter at the start, imagine if everyone in this televisual universe did that, which by copious examples, they apparently do.

“Could you not have just told me this on the phone? Ahh I guess, this location does look better than the same room as the last scene, you’re right. Well, good to see you for literally 97 seconds, bye best friend. Thanks for the plot development.”
– Every character ever, all TV shows

The Modern Family gang refusing to let friends leave after two minutes

Having Clean Spectacles

Now for a slightly more niche example but one that all glasses wearers are sure to have spotted on their favourite characters, clean spectacles. Having worn corrective lenses since I was the tender age of 13, I have a bit of history with cleaning my glasses. And by history I mean, not doing it nearly as much as I should. The little goggles are very easy to sully and get dirty very quickly, but in my working day I can honestly say that cleaning them to the extent in which they appear on TV is something I only do when it is legitimately hampering my vision. Sure I’ll give them a wipe throughout the day, but the deep clean which results in the spotless specs on TV is a very rare occurrence throughout the day. So unless the glasses-wearer is seen first thing in the morning, when we’re more likely to add it into the getting ready ritual, a pair of flawless spectacles are a surefire way to be taken out of the believability of the scene. Sometimes shows get around this by simply having a character wear lensless glasses, which is obviously a much more normal happening and doesn’t bother viewers at all…

Worlds cleanest glasses, no wonder he’s a Hero

Drinking Coffee

Now this one seems fairly obvious but, when I usually drink coffee (other hot beverages available) I tend to enjoy having actual real-life coffee in my cup, rather than the televisual alternative of air. Now, I’m yet to try this creative take on the hot drink, but I can’t imagine it tasting anywhere near as good. Though this happening is completely understandable as the actors’ can only take in so much liquid in one sitting as they do multiple takes, the fact that we can almost always see into their mugs just makes the annoyance of noticing it unavoidable. A problem not usually had with beer as we need to see the progression of it being drunk. This problem with coffee is something that can be avoided a number of ways; from putting lids on the take-away mugs, simply not going for coffee, and my personal favourite of having the actors spit the exact amount back into the cup each time.

They even make a joke about it on Silicon Valley


In direct opposition to my earlier example of possessing perhaps the world’s dirtiest glasses™, this example is one I have no personal knowledge of, but somehow it still strikes me as infuriatingly unrealistic. You’d think that considering we are now more than 20 years from the technological marvel of 1995’s Hackers, filmmakers would learn to taper their creative urges when portraying hacking on screen. With the exception of Mr. Robot, most TV shows display hacking as being about one degree from Minority Report. A recent offender in this respect is season two of House of Cards where the hacker is seen to have a gazillion screens open as he breaks through the system, typing away furiously as if his life depends on it. When realistically he’d be moving at his own pace in a piece of work that likely takes far longer than it appears on screen. While the results garnered would almost always be underwhelming text files and possess no exciting graphics, but that doesn’t stop TV going for the money shot anyway.

Super realistic hacking sequence in House of Cards

While ultimately we don’t watch television for complete and utter realism, and rarely does full realism really enhance our viewings, the complete flouting and disregard of it can do the opposite. If we see someone go to the Post Office and not have a useless person ask what they want to do within five seconds of entry, we question their reality. If we see someone wake up with perfectly coiffed hair, and not double Wolverine tufts on each side, then we start to see the characters as actors. And if we see a 6 month baby be passed around a hospital room directly after giving birth, we lose any semblance of engagement within that universe. We just want to escape our mundane lives for an hour or two and forget that we have to wake up at an ungodly hour tomorrow. Instead, these egregious examples leave viewers sitting there and begrudging the beautifully maintained stars in front of us, wishing we had their impeccable hairlines and bottomless disposable income. Well, for a few seconds anyway, before we put on the next episode. Regardless of how many times our favourite shows have made mistakes like these, and no matter how many times more they do, we’re still going to watch them, right? I mean, it’s not like we’re going to go outside or something.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. The biggest threat to realism on television are the way that coffee cups are supposedly full of coffee are plainly empty.

    • Well… then there’s the health aspect. Do you think they clean all the cups and dishes and stuff between each take? That “cup of water/coffee” may have been there all day. Or all week. Put water in a cardboard cup and leave it out for a while. Odds are, the water will start to deform the cup after a day or so. Yes, they can empty them out after the shoot, but what if they forget? Just one more thing to worry about (or not worry about, if you take the easy route and just don’t fill the cup).

    • I think the biggest reason for this is retakes. On most occasions, a single take isn’t enough to get the right shot. They do a lot of takes, even from varying angles or with changes in dialogues and action. it would be alright to drink at least some water to bring some authenticity if there aren’t many takes. But if there are, it might be very difficult for the actor to keep on drinking over and over again. it gets uneasy advert a while. This is why they use empty cups while filming. Or at least one of the major reasons.

  2. I can appreciate that these gimmicks are often plot devices to move things along, but I find it insulting. But there are so many other bad Hollywood tropes. Like how people in crime dramas continue going about their business while they’re being interrogated by the cops. Or how people face away from each other during arguments.

    For all the fun people poke at the silly shows of the 70s and 80s, most shows today are every bit as vapid and formulaic. They’ve just gotten better about the packaging.

  3. Bravo. As a tech certified in UNIX, and System and Network Security, and spent time troubleshooting Proxy servers, I am always sure of a laugh at TV/movie hackers. Particularly the Die Hard one with the kid.

    “We need to get into the CIA database.”


    “We’re in.”

    • For me, i still think my favorite hacking scenes were from the original tron. it actually showed him typing some code, but then showed an imaginative side of what that hacking could do, physically.

      • Also, the very name of the movie even implied a level of realism.

        If you wanted to debug a machine back in the day you used the TRON command (short for trace on). So when Flynn creates a “Tron” program to figure out what Master Control was up to, he was debugging the code. We just got to see the over the top visual metaphors of it.

        • JamesBKelley

          These days wouldn’t hacking mostly look like this:

          Okay, I’ve sent the email. Someone on the inside just has to click on the link. So now… we wait.

  4. A G Macdonald

    It’s amazing how many of these tropes we’ve come to accept: every working class sitcom character has a huge house or an apartment in New York; everybody can get anywhere in any amount of time (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones).

    I don’t know if we started believing that to be a true depiction of reality or whether people accept that the plot needs to more forward and overlook the glaring inaccuracies.

  5. Munjeera

    I think TV has gotten much better over the last couple of decades. I never watched TV as a kid and adult. I just recently started to enjoy TV in the last two years. A big improvement on shows like Three’s Company. Sitcoms in the 70s and 80s were brutal.

  6. Thandie Newton’s ugly as hell.

  7. Why not film the actual hacker and focus on dialog and acting instead the screen full of pretty twinkling lights? That can be made interesting and full of tension. Voila! You’re welcome, Hollywood.

    • Hillary

      Because then you have to make it ABOUT the hacking. Like, it’s possible to have realistic hacking scenes if you really focus on it, but if the show is about something else and the hacking part is just secondary, it’s probably not worth it to put in that effort and make things more difficult.

  8. So basically TV writers are trolls.

  9. I’m a software engineer and movie/TV hacking generally doesn’t bother me. It’s all fiction, anyway.

    Code is generally really boring (and in reality time spent thinking, testing, and debugging far exceeds time spent writing code), what makes it exciting is the feeling you get, after hours/days/weeks/months, it comes together and works.

    • Corazon Oh

      I feel the same. I am just impressed when Hollywood occasionally gets it right.

      The only thing that bugs me is the exaggerated abilities of hackers and computer viruses. Things like a computer virus that can take over every computer system in the world are just lazy writing. If you want to make hacking a central role in a plot, at least put some thought to make it interesting.

  10. iKeating

    It is generally very hard to make a movie or TV show that looks completely real in every way. As a result, filmmakers put their money where they think it’ll do the most good, and if they think something is unlikely to be noticed, it’s a potential short cut.

  11. “I’ll have a half double decaffeinated half-calf with a twist of lemon.”
    – People ordering drinks on TV.

    • Alia Pickett

      In the TV series M*A*S*H, there are many funny scenes when they order drinks in the Officers’ club. There’s one where Hawkeye describes how he wants his martini: “so dry, it should have dust on it,” or something like that.

  12. The coffee part didn’t cross my mind. And I feel that if it weren’t for all that glorified fake computer hacking, and those designed just for movies UI’s, I’d have never gotten into computers.

    It is basically that concept, the romanticizing of such things as the army, computers, car racing, even robbery, that often inspires people to go into a certain field.

  13. I was told in a Media class that I took years ago, that TV doesn’t portray everyday, boring, mundane actions and topics, because that would be unwatchable. A 30 minute sitcom is actually about 22 minutes long. Who wants to spend that time watching a character brush their teeth, use the bathroom, and park the car? No one. I think we say we want realism, but not really. For realism the news and documentaries work well. Many people do not like documentaries because they are too real & boring. Most people watch TV shows for escapism and reality doesn’t really fit into that mold.

    • JamesBKelley

      That sounds absolutely right to me. Even documentaries are more than uninterrupted filming of some animal or event. Documentaries are also edited for dramatic effect. We don’t want reality on our TVs.

  14. I always felt like on tv shows, the middle-class characters still have money to buy coffee everyday or buy take-out regularly. Their clothes will also be really good, stylish with perfect hair. When in real life, you try to save every bit not buying outside food or wearing the same clothes more than once.

  15. This article made me feel old. Back when Ross confessed to Rachel at the airport, viewers couldn’t imagine having to pay today’ prices, fight parking, and deal with the “security” system we have today. Shows don’t magically change to match cultural shifts that happen years later, so of course that looks different than what we deal with now.

    Calling to catch up instead of meeting your friends for a few minutes in person wasn’t as convenient back when few people carried cellphones, transportation was cheaper, and most everyone paid for their landline by the minute.

    I can’t think of a single time a diner meetup pulled me out of a show, anyway.

    Most of the other examples involve moral or reference issues for studios that couldn’t/can’t CGI realistic newborns or get a decent consensus about how to portray hackers, so I wonder if those are reasonable issues to complain about, considering the article overall. No show can look exactly like real life, at least with our current technology.

    Actors waving around coffee in an obviously empty cup does bug me. Studios can sacrifice the $0.xx for each cup and put water in it if actors don’t know how to pretend an empty one actually contains coffee.

  16. I think verisimilitude is important – and yes, that includes characters waving around heavy cups (hint: just pretend to drink but have liquid in there!!)

    There is a cost to NEVER showing characters doing realistic things like brushing their teeth or having smutty glasses. Having characters always well dressed will eventually have an insidious effect of alienating the viewer. When I do see a show (usually foreign) where a character has a stain or a rip or wears the same clothes consecutively, I feel like I’m watching something that is better quality.

    This eye for detail does not take more money – it’s more of an aesthetic than anything else. In Hollywood, few believe in the aesthetic of realism – and they lose out on creating really cool atmospheres. I think it is only SciFi movies that bother to create really good atmospheres anymore – where every object in the room has been considered.

    I do not know who is to blame really (directors, set designers, producers) but not bothering with details means you shouldn’t be bothering at all, imo. There’s a Victorian woman wearing mascara and lip gloss? Sorry, I’m outta here!

  17. The glasses, the hacking, the romantic airport scenes, everything was perfect, I was screaming at my screen through the whole article.

  18. Stephanie M.

    Yes, yes, yes, so much. The clean spectacles thing in particular is a sore spot for me, considering I wear spectacles. But the rest of the examples are just as annoying/funny/unrealistic/what have you. I could probably name a dozen more situations if you ever wanted to do a follow-up. Also, kudos for writing a genuinely lighthearted, humorous article that nevertheless delves into critical thinking when it comes to the sitcom.

  19. There’s something glorious in an unbelievably bad fake hacking scene, particularly when the actor is clearly not actually touching the keyboard

  20. Gabby

    I’ve always noticed the discrepancies in those airport scenes. These days, you can’t even go through security without a security guard checking your ticket and passport, so how come all these TV characters get a free pass?Also, the fact that TV seems to sometimes forget that some airports are absolutely huge, and it’s quite rare that someone can walk from security to their gate in less than a minute.

  21. One thing that always annoys me is people getting out of bed and in the next scene are all showered, dressed, breakfasted and out the door looking utterly fabulous. It takes me a minimum half an hour even when I’m in a hurry in the morning to stagger out of the house looking even half human. Even if it slows the movie to a crawl I’d just once like to see what is a painful daily process for probably 99.9% of the human race fairly represented, I’d pay to see a movie that does that.

  22. Joseph Cernik
    Joseph Cernik

    Good. Looking at a TV show and wondering what I see as wrong because it doesn’t fit reality is a good way to insulate oneself from believing what is not true. I always like how quickly people on TV or even in a movie flag down a cab. You don’t see people walking for a few blocks to find a cab, it just magically happens.

  23. Joseph Cernik

    Very good. Yes, I have often seen things that seem to have no relationship to real life. The one I always love is the driver spending more time looking at the passenger in the seat next to them, than they are looking at the road. I think there was one movie where I remember that it led to an accident, otherwise it is as if you might as well have the TV version of a driver wear a blindfold.

  24. To be fair to the airport trope, this seems to have come into being decades ago when airport security was more lax (which would make things more realistic). Depending on when the airport trope started, it seems not so much completely unrealistic (except insofar as it feeds into the following), but dated.

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