Binghamton. It’s a weird, lonely place.
I started watching the TV show “Alphas” recently. It’s a Skiffy series, another X-Men ripoff like “Heroes.” I’m a sucker for anything remotely sci-fi. I enjoy the escapism of getting into alternate worlds. Which is why I appreciate convincing, realistic world-building. In the series, our heroes operate out of their office in NYC most of the time. But of course there are other people with superpowers, who aren’t interested in using them for good, and what happens to them? They get sent to Binghamton. So, most episodes contain a derogatory reference to the city I’m living in now. “You better shape up or we’re going to send you do Binghamton!” There was even a moment in one episode where one of the non-superpowered government agents complains that he was led to believe that accepting this assignment would lead to a cushy job and a nice house in the suburbs of DC, but nooo. He’s still stuck in upstate New York.
Well, it’s appropriate. Some quick googling reveals that the show’s pilot was filmed in Toronto, New York’s most popular understudy, so I would be surprised if a film crew actually made it out to Binghamton. Not only that, but I mentioned it to a few people who have been living here longer than I have and they hadn’t heard of it, and a film crew for a TV show in a tiny city like this one would definitely be remembered. But they really ought to. As the photo above reveals, Binghamton is a spooky place. Full of abandoned buildings, overgrown railroads, defunct factories, and empty warehouses with smashed-in and boarded-up windows (though, give credit where it’s due, the City’s housing and planning staff have actually been making a dent in the neighborhood blight around here).
From a Seriable interview that predates the second season, producer Zak Penn explains how he and Ira Steven Behr arrived at the decision.
“Both Ira and I grew up in New York, and we didn’t want the location of this facility to be somewhere that seemed obvious or nefarious, We wanted to avoid the traditional tropes of the underground lair or being housed on a prison barge in New York Harbor.
I don’t know if it’s clear in the mythology of the show, but there’s a whole research and scientific aspect to the facility up there, so Binghamton was partly chosen because it’s connected to the university. I can’t tell you it was years of research for why it was Binghamton and not SUNY Purchase or somewhere else.”
Ah, so, it’s Binghamton University’s fault! Actually, BU is one of the better SUNY schools, or so I hear, so many that’s why it’s not SUNY Purchase.
I appreciate the producers’ cleverness in substituting “remote, economically depressed upstate city no one has heard of” for the more typical secret government facility in the tunnels under Manhattan. Having people threaten each other with being sent to Binghamton–having characters try desperately to escape Binghamton–it rings all too true to me. At least I can be sure that if/when I do get out of here, no superpowered government agents will be tracking me down.
Mr. Penn promised to “destroy all of Binghamton” in the following season, which just concluded, without the total destruction of Binghamton, but a girl can always hope.
Hey, I kid, I kid. I don’t actually want to see Binghamton destroyed. Transformed? Yes, definitely. And do I want to stay here forever? Not hardly, but it’s not really Binghamton’s fault–I’m a traveler at heart. But the fact that the only major pop culture reference to the city I’m living in is a top-secret prison for freaks and weirdos does capture a small piece of what it’s like to grow up in New York’s rust belt, in the rural boondocks just a couple hours away from the Greatest City in the World.