As the NBC-TV show The Blacklist winds down its 10th season, which will culminate in the series’ finale, it might be time for a retrospective assessment of how the program has mysteriously alluded to South Jersey/Philadelphia locations and landmarks that certainly would be lost on viewers outside this region.
For those who don’t know, The Blacklist is a drama about the fictional criminal Raymond Reddington, who tops the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Working with a federal task force to apprehend unknown threats, Reddington, played with ruthless charm by James Spader, usually has his own clandestine motives and reaps his own rewards when giving the FBI names from his infamous blacklist. Spader’s dialogue is sharp and eloquent, much like the writing for his character in David E. Kelley’s Boston Legal, and the actor’s command of the language written for Reddington is enough reason to sample the series.
Filmed largely in and around New York City, the show’s fictional world is primarily set in Washington, D.C. and NYC, with references to, and stopovers at, quite a few points in between, including New Jersey and Philadelphia. But not all the names of cities that we might recognize are the ones located here. For instance, one episode’s reference to Cherry Hill makes it tempting to believe it’s the one in South Jersey, but if we follow the agents’ agenda, it turns out to be somewhere in the Washington suburbs.
But then there are the intentional homages. In the first season, a brief scene is set at what is identified as Millville Airport. It doesn’t resemble the real one, but sometimes just the mention has to be honor enough.
The third season contains the series’ most direct reference to a South Jersey site. Reddington, grieving over a loss, looks for solace and solitude at a beachfront home in Cape May, New Jersey, where a presumed past and an undeniable present play out simultaneously as we encounter Reddington’s memories and current demons. It’s a pivotal episode in the series, filled with what has already happened, what might have been and what is yet in store, and it all takes place on the beach in Cape May, or rather East Atlantic Beach in Long Island, which serves as the Jersey shore point’s double according to the Trip Advisor website.
More recently, an episode has Reddington making a pit stop in Philadelphia, where he becomes entangled in a convenience store robbery. In the course of an hour, there is plenty of local color with references to Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, the Phillies and Italian ice. A character is seen reading a book about the Barnes as Reddington is heard discussing the multicultural collection on view there. His monologue resides somewhere between a tourism commercial for the city’s art attractions and one side of a debate about which museum’s collection better represents Philly culturally.
Anyone who has visited the Barnes or the Philadelphia Museum of Art knows exactly what Reddington’s discussion is about, just like anyone who has enjoyed a Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew, manufactured in Philadelphia since 1917, knows the importance of finding a few while in the City of Brotherly Love. And the Phillies cap on view throughout the episode is more than simply a hat as far as baseball fans in Philadelphia and South Jersey are concerned.
There are no clear explanations why this region has been referenced on these occasions or how the show might be affiliated with South Jersey or Philadelphia. Jon Bokenkamp, the creator of the series, neither hails from here nor attended college in this area (he’s from Nebraska and went to college there). Could it be certain writers? Researchers? Actors? All of these are possible but, for the moment, we must simply accept that the answer, like Reddington, is shrouded in mystery and prefers it that way.