The final, 13th episode of the second season of Animal Kingdom airs tonight (August 29) at 9 p.m. TNT announced on August 27 that the series has been renewed for a third season, claiming it had an average viewership this season of 4.8 million per show.
Until last year, Oceanside’s TV/movie exposure was mostly limited to Heartbreak Ridge, in which Clint Eastwood starred as a Marine sergeant, and flyboy film Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s Robert Vaughn costarred in a 1963 NBC series set in Camp Pendleton called The Lieutenant, and Mission San Luis Rey was used as a backdrop in ’50s Zorro movies.
But last year the TNT cable network introduced Animal Kingdom, the drama that prominently features Oceanside restaurants, storefronts, and shots on the pier and along the Strand and Pacific Street. Its principal characters are part of a colorful crime family ostensibly based in Oceanside. The show featured armed robbery, drugs (for sale and for recreational use), murder, and sadistic violence and high school kids exposed to drugs and crime.
As Oceanside’s tawdry downtown image yields to swanky high-rises and new upscale businesses, the verdict is mixed if Animal Kingdom is helping Oceanside arrive as a promising new venue for film locations or keeping Oceanside mired in its crime-tainted past. The Oceanside Police Department says there are now 10 local gangs, down from 13 last year.
“I wished they’d go away,” says Thomas Yearsley about the TV show. His business, Thunderbird recording studios, occupied the building on the northwest corner of Tremont Street and Wisconsin Avenue that is featured prominently throughout the show. That building, which was home to the Oceanside DMV office in the ’60s and ’70s, is supposed to now house a bar owned by one of the Cody brothers at the center of Animal Kingdom. (Actors are portrayed entering the bar throughout the show, but the interior bar scenes are filmed on a Hollywood studio lot.)
Yearsley moved his studios to south Oceanside, but he still doesn’t like what Animal Kingdom says about his hometown. “We aren’t a bunch of murderers.”
But that sentiment is not shared. City councilman Jerry Kern (running for county supervisor) welcomed the Oceanside-centric drama and suggested it might be good for tourism.
“My brother visited Albuquerque because of Breaking Bad," says Kern. "I don’t see that show impacting our image just because it is shot here. I think people are pretty sophisticated. Breaking Bad wasn’t uplifting crimes or drugs, and this is the same thing. I think people who see Oceanside on TV want to visit those places when they come to town.”
“They made sure my [clothing] logo was in the shots when they filmed here,” says Sean Ambrose, who owns Real Surf of Coast Highway, featured in episodes throughout both seasons. “It was a great thing for my store. I have people coming in all the time to see where they shot various scenes. I just heard that someone was actually making a map featuring all the locations where Animal Kingdom was shot in Oceanside."
230 S. Santa Fe Avenue, Vista
“It’s Hollywood,” says Leslie Gaul, CEO of Visit Oceanside. “[The storyline] doesn’t represent our community any more than NCIS: Las Vegas or [NCIS:] New Orleans represents those cities. We’re just a backdrop.” She says the five days in March and the seven days in May when the Animal Kingdom crew was in town brought over $1 million to Oceanside’s economy, spent on lodging and in restaurants and stores. Gaul adds that independent restaurants such as the Flying Pig and the Wrench and Rodent enjoyed bumps in business by getting on-air mentions.
1815 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside
Councilman Kern hopes Animal Kingdom will entice other film crews to use Oceanside locations.
“One of the best things about filming in Oceanside is it hasn’t been overexposed like other parts of Southern California,” says Animal Kingdom producer Llewellyn Wells. “Oceanside still has a really unique blue-collar beach-town feel you can’t find anywhere else in Southern California; it’s not over-gentrified yet.”
The business that took over the space on Tremont and Wisconsin formerly occupied by Thunderbird studios now houses Killfish, a business that sells clothing, tackle, and other fishing gear.
“I don’t like it because it makes us look like a gangster town,” says store co-owner Rick Tierney, who was Oceanside born-and-raised. “But I do like it because if it makes us look bad, maybe it will slow down the gentrification process in Oceanside. So, I guess you could say I’m in the middle on Animal Kingdom filming here.”