The way the East End is portrayed on television almost always bothers me.
Hollywood producers, many of whom have undoubtedly spent some time out here in the summer months— but not enough — are apt to over-simplify its people.
As Alison Lockhart, the female protagonist in Showtime’s new Montauk-set drama “The Affair” tells character Noah Solloway, portrayed by Dominic West:
“I think you have a fantasy of what life is like out here.”
But there are some exceptions. Take episode three of the The Affair’s inaugural season. Lockhart and her husband, Cole, attend an East Hampton Town Hall meeting where Alison’s boss, Oscar Hodges, the fictional owner of The Lobster Roll, floats plans to build a bowling alley and entertainment center east of Amagansett.
If you have ever been to a government meeting on the East End you will surely recognize the tension between those pushing for economic development and natives and newcomers alike looking to preserve a long-held way of life.
And so too did The Affair’s writers and producers.
This particular episode captures a nuanced component of life on the East End through a throwaway line by Cole Lockhart, whose declaration that those looking to go bowling should “go to Riverhead.” The reference exemplifies the superiority complex many East Enders have when talking about Riverhead.
Lockhart stands up as Hodges has the podium and decries the plan.
“I’m creating jobs, who the hell have you hired lately?” Hodges exclaims.
“I grew up here,” Cole Lockhart responds.
“So did I.”
“Then I’m asking you. As a local. As a fellow native son. Don’t turn this into the Jersey Shore,” Lockhart says. “If people want to bowl, let them go to Riverhead.”
Lockhart, a lifelong Montauk resident, is not even bothering to hide his disdain for the big box store capital of the East End. He thinks something as unsophisticated as bowling belongs in a blue collar town.
It’s a common attitude evident in the way those who rarely leave the land east of the Shinnecock Canal refer to Riverhead as “up-Island,” a place you travel to only out of necessity.
Think the DMV, or court.
Don’t believe me that this mindset is pervasive?
I recall my friend dating dating an East Hampton Springs man who didn’t want her to go to Riverhead, ever, lest she be abducted. We at the paper also receive fairly frequent phone calls from readers admonishing us for considering Riverhead part the North Fork.
To those who hold these beliefs, I am going to take this opportunity to remind you that Hempstead, Riverhead is not.
There are farming and fishing families that go back generations in the town along the Peconic River, not just Montauk. And it doesn’t get much more rural than the Sound Avenue corridor.
Plus it strikes a nice balance among its proximity to farms, beaches, shopping, wineries and the Long Island Expressway.
So, people, get over any antiquated Riverhead biases you’re harboring.
“The Affair” gets the prejudice against Riverhead right — and right out on the table — but the list of things the show gets wrong is much longer.
For one, nobody drinks bottles of Dos Equis at East End town hall meetings, and the gatherings are rarely held at a local firehouse. And we’re supposed to believe Alison and her working class husband live in a beautiful beach house by the sea? Give me a break. Trailers go for more than a million dollars in Montauk.
It’s also not clear if Cole Lockhart is referring to The All Star in Riverhead proper or Wildwood Lanes in nearby Northampton, widely considered to be Riverhead by people who aren’t from here. The show also makes no reference of the South Fork’s two former bowling alleys, East Hampton Bowl which closed in 2013 and Westhampton Bowl which closed in 2008.
Whether or not the show “gets” the East End is ultimately a subjective manner, open to interpretation.
Watch the clip and decide for yourself.