Type keyword(s) to search

Quick Hits

A Cultural History of The Hamptons on TV

Television has long appreciated the allure of New York's most luxurious vacation destination.
  • Photos: ABC, Showtime, HBO, Sony Pictures Television, Bravo
    Photos: ABC, Showtime, HBO, Sony Pictures Television, Bravo

    The Hamptons, that stretch of beach towns on the eastern end of Long Island, New York, have been standing in for a particular kind of east coast American opulence for decades, and from The Great Gatsby to Summer House, they've been the signifier of wealth, beauty, and the kind of life of leisure that everybody else can only envy.

    Debuting today on BET+, the new four-part miniseries Carl Weber's Black Hamptons joins a long and rich history of TV shows set either entirely on the Hamptons or taking little field trips to the Hamptons. Where will the new show rank among those which came before it? To get a better sense, let's take a tour through Hamptons history on TV.


    Perhaps the quintessential TV show about the Hamptons, this ABC drama which ran from 2011 to 2015 featured the juiciest of setups, as Emily Thorne (Emily Vancamp) returned to the Hamptons to seek revenge against the people who sent her father to prison. The wealthy beachside environs made for the perfect setting, as rich jerk after rich jerk got singled out and subsequently destroyed by Emily's meticulous plotting. The wealth of the Hamptons was to be envied, and indeed Emily returned to her childhood home in part to take that old life of hers back. But that wealth is also corrupting — as corrupting an influence as a lifelong revenge plot can be. "When seeking revenge, you should seek two graves" is a quote attributed to Confucius, but when it came to Revenge the TV show, seeking revenge in the Hamptons meant digging two graves down on the beach in the middle of an expensive fundraising dinner being thrown by your arch-enemy in the house up the dune.

    The Affair

    Showtime's drama series ran for five seasons and was predicated on the titular affair between two married people, Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson), an affair that begins when they meet as Noah and his family are vacationing in the Hamptons town of Montauk. Alison is a waitress at a local lobster place, greeting Noah and his family with "Welcome to the end of the world," as Montauk is, in fact, at the far, far, far east end of the Hamptons. This kind of geographical isolation played into Noah and Alison's clandestine affair. The wealth of the Hamptons also played into Noah's marital dissatisfaction, as he chafed at his existence under the thumb of his wife Helen's (Maura Tierney) wealthy father, at whose Montauk vacation home they were staying.

    Sex and the City

    In perhaps the most pivotal episode of Sex and the City's second season, Charlotte coaxes Carrie, Miranda, and Samantha into going in on a summer house in the Hamptons, where they're all confronted by the chasm that now exists between them, as thirtysomething women, and the twentysomething girls tanning, frolicking, boozing, and puking all over the beaches and house parties in New York's toniest vacation spot. Charlotte embraces her inner twentysomething and nabs a man (and a case of crabs), while Carrie gets whalloped by running into Big, who's back from Paris and with a new twentysomething girlfriend, Natasha. For a show that was so defined by its New York City location, a trip to the Hamptons was inevitable, and while it's somewhat maddening to see how much arm-twisting Carrie, Miranda, and Samantha needed to go vacation by the beach in the middle of one of Manhattan's typically unbearable Augusts, the show does the work to show why a summer vacation among New York's young and fabulous might be a chore.


    Speaking of shows that were defined by their New York City location taking an obligatory trip to the Hamptons, Seinfeld made the trek out for the weekend to (finally) see their friends' new baby in the season five episode "The Hamptons." As was typical for a Seinfeld episode, a lot went on, including Jerry and Elaine recoiling at the site of a tremendously ugly baby, George's girlfriend Jane going topless on the beach, and Jerry's girlfriend Rachel walking in on George with his swim trunks off ("I was in the pool!"). The subsequent discussion of male "shrinkage" was one of those Seinfeldian additions to the lexicon that the show became so notorious for, and it's what the episode is best known for, although there are plenty of Hamptons-specific touches, including Kramer poaching lobsters and Elaine's extravagant sun hat ("And then there's Maude!").


    If Seinfeld was going to take a trip to the Hamptons, you can bet the six Friends were going to eventually follow suit. For the finale of the show's third season, the gang went out to Montauk so Phoebe could meet the woman who might know something about her late mother and wayward dad (the woman, played by Teri Garr, ended up being Phoebe's actual mother). This episode — which wraps around to the season four premiere — is a big one in Friends lore, as it's the one where Rachel and Ross get back together, but in doing so Ross unwittingly takes responsibility for cheating on Rachel while they were on a break. Though some might say it's equally important for providing the shot that would stay in the opening credits for a whole season where Joey wakes up to find he's been buried in sand and given a pair of shapely sand breasts.

    Gossip Girl

    Once again, the rule is that if you're a TV show defined by your New York-iness, you must head out to the Hamptons at some point. Gossip Girl took the first opportunity to do so, returning for its second-season premiere still lingering in a Hamptons summer. For a show that reveled in the wealth and status of its main characters, you could have set this episode in stone. Serena and Nate spent the summer pretending to be dating in order to provide cover for each other (she was reeling from breaking up with Dan, he was busy sneaking around with a married Madchen Amick). Chuck Bass spent the summer pretending to be a womanizer, all the while pining for an absent Blair. Blair, for her part, returned from Europe on the arm of a secret prince. And Jenny Humphrey got to meet Tinsley Mortimer at the episode's climactic White Party.

    Royal Pains

    USA's Aughts run of highly watchable, in no way necessary light dramas found its way to the Hamptons in 2009 with Royal Pains, which ran for a typically improbable eight seasons following the adventures of Dr. Hank Lawson (Mark Fuerstein), a "concierge doctor" to the wealthy and elite on the Hamptons' pristine shores. The tension of the series was in Lawson's desire to help people who really needed it while keeping his business afloat tending to his rich clients. As incredulous as it seems that a show like this lasted in relative anonymity for eight seasons, that's just how the USA series tended to roll, and you can't really deny the low-stakes pleasure of watching a handsome doctor do his thing in such a gorgeous and luxurious locale.

    The Real Housewives of New York City

    As you might expect, the wealthy women of The Real Housewives of New York City have returned to the Hamptons again and again. Ramona and Jill's tension-filled tennis match happened out Hamptons way. Bethenny and Ramona feuded over what Hamptons locations were sufficiently high-class. LuAnn basically retreated to the Hamptons full-time for a while after her divorce from the Count. Cindy Barshop's lone season as a cast member was spent trying to entice a resentful Ramona to schlep out to Quogue. And most recently, Leah McSweeney's naked tiki-torch-throwing escapade naturally happened in New York's most high-class beach destination.

    Summer House

    If The Real Housewives of New York City have used the Hamptons as a vessel through which to show off their extravagant wealth, the youthful freeloaders of Summer House have managed to take advantage, again and again, of living off Bravo's dime in a fabulous vacation home in Montauk every summer. These are the little ways life tends to reward you when you're young, hot, and willing to air out your interpersonal dramas on cable TV. For all its dramatics, Summer House has established itself as premier wish-fulfillment TV for anyone who wishes they could have played out their college partying days in fabulously wealthy environs and with an unlimited supply of Amazon deliveries on your doorstep every Friday.

    Barefoot Contessa

    If Summer House is the epitome of the Hamptons as a playground for the young and gorgeous, Barefoot Contessa brings the Hamptons back down to what is its most ideal form: a warm, breezy setting for you to throw tasteful dinner parties and show off the coq au vin and strawberry tart you spent all day preparing in your fabulously appointed kitchen. Ina Garten's East Hampton home is the envy of anyone who's ever wanted to live a life of leisure out by the sea without the pressures of hookups, sitcom strife, or elaborate revenge plots. Ina is content to patiently stir her bechamel sauce and roll out flaky pastry crust while smiling knowingly at the camera like that extra glug of white wine is our little secret. Great food, chill vibes, gleaming countertops, and a garden party with your closest friends: Ina Garten is living the Hamptons fantasy.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Serving the Hamptons, The Affair, The Barefoot Contessa, Friends, Gossip Girl (2007 Series), Real Housewives of New York City, Revenge, Seinfeld, Sex and the City, Summer House