On Sex and the City

Growing up, I always had a soft spot for the Sex and the City TV series, and there were many reasons for that. According to the The Telegraph article, “Why do women love ‘Sex And The City’?“:

It was 1998 and I was 29 when Sex And The City first aired on Channel 4. Like every woman I knew, I was transfixed by the exploits of four female friends. They were skinnier than me, better dressed, had better-paid jobs and lived in Manhattan. But despite the differences, they uncannily articulated my thoughts and celebrated my life with a jaunty wit, in a way no programme had before.

Five series later, in 2004, when I watched the final episode with a friend, sipping cocktails in homage, I cried.

And while some women watched in defiance of their appalled boyfriends, plenty of men were devotees. Channel 4 newsreader Krishnan Guru-Murthy was a “big fan”. “I was single then, and in my twenties, and it captured that whole world of dating, gossip and glamour,” he says. “It was an era when people had lots of disposable income and were living it up, spending huge amounts on clothes and restaurants, and the show reflected that.

“There were a lot of open discussions about sex, which seems unremarkable now but was really innovative then.”

According to psychologist Kate Keenan, what made the show ground breaking was the women’s lack of guilt and their upbeat demeanour. “Until then, women had always beaten themselves up about their mishaps, but these women just picked themselves up, complained a bit over brunch, and carried on living it up. In one episode Samantha [the man-eater] found a grey pubic hair, then accidentally dyed it all red. It was a shocking thing to see, but the breezy way she dealt with it made something taboo seem suddenly hilarious.”

Being openly gay in grammar school on my part meant that I simply couldn’t only view women as a pre-existing condition, but actually realize that women are people, capable of doing a lot of things that men do all the time. Essentially, though, Sex and the City allowed me to think about what I actually wanted in life, even though I wasn’t a woman, and not be afraid to take chances or consider the possibilities. This isn’t to say that Sex and the City doesn’t have it flaws (coughs, Carrie), as according to the Vulture article, “The 7 Most Messed-Up Things About Sex and the City“:

Sex and the City requires little introduction. The six-season series about the professional, romantic, and social lives of four 30-something women in New York featured protagonists who were candid and explicit about their sex lives and put female friendship above marriage. It’s become one of those cornerstones of our pop-culture vocabulary: We label our friends — the Miranda, the Charlotte, the Samantha — while convincing ourselves that we are obviously the Carrie of the group. It’s been more than ten years since Sex and the City went off the air, and we’re still binge-watching, quoting, reliving, reminiscing, and continuing the eternal Mr. Big/Aiden debate.

There are certain parts of the show, however, that have not aged well. Some plotlines are quirky — like when Miranda wanted to bone a guy dressed as a sandwich — but others are just too messed up to let slide. Let’s talk about the biggest Cosmo-sipping elephants in the room.

1. Carrie’s net worth is inexplicable.
In “Ring-a-Ding-Ding” (season four, episode 16), our narrator is offered the opportunity to buy her co-op, but 35-year-old Carrie Bradshaw only has a total of $1,657 to her name. Somehow, this 35-year-old woman did not realize that spending $40,000 on shoes was not a sound financial investment. We’ve all been through rough patches, but even in 2002, when banks were giving out loans left and right, Carrie couldn’t get a loan. Still, this is Sex and the City, so she ultimately buys her apartment with Charlotte’s money and her financial troubles are never mentioned again.

2. Charlotte’s love of animals is … intense.
In “Ex and the City” (season two, episode 18), Charlotte stops dead when she sees a woman riding a horse in the middle of New York City. Her first love was a brown horse named Taddy, you see, who betrayed her by throwing her during a competition. Charlotte smiles knowingly when she thinks about how Taddy just loved to be ridden after she broke him in. It can be assumed that Charlotte had her first orgasm riding that horse. Earlier in the season, Charlotte also buys a dog instead of getting a boyfriend (not to be confused with her stand-in child from season six, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Elizabeth Taylor). Is Charlotte a zoophile?

3. Successful Miranda is supposed to be the least cool friend.
When SATC debuted in 1998, Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) was positioned as the series’ token Sarcastic Bitch. By today’s standards, though, the choice seems pretty obvious: Life as a sarcastic, successful bitch — and not a frivolous, shopping-addicted woman with less than $2,000 to her name — might be the more appealing aspiration. Miranda ended up being one of the only women in television history to truly have it all. She had a high-powered job, a husband, a baby, a dog, and an actual house with a yard. Miranda leaned in. Miranda Hobbes was everything, and no one ever gave her her due. What gives?

4. Carrie doesn’t understand bisexuals
For a woman who writes a sex column, Carrie Bradshaw has a spectacularly narrow view of sexuality. In “Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl” (season three, episode four), Carrie dates a bisexual man. According to her expertise, bisexuals who are open about their sexuality are weird, all bisexuals end up with men, and bisexuality doesn’t even really exist. She calls it a lack of a sexual orientation and, direct quote, a “layover on the way to Gaytown.” She says most of this to his face and all of it behind his back. She breaks up with him by leaving a party without saying good-bye. Carrie is a garbage person.

5. Samantha dates a black man, and the plot is just …
The Sex and the City screenwriters do just about everything to fetishize Chivon, a successful black music executive for whom the voracious Samantha falls hard. She says she “doesn’t see color; [she] only sees conquests.” She tells her friends that he has a “big black cock.” Samantha says she thought all hip-hop had a hard edge. Chivon’s sister, who is portrayed as a farcical angry-black-woman stereotype, doesn’t like her brother dating a white woman. Samantha responds by telling his sister that she has a big black ass and that the okra served in the sister’s restaurant isn’t “all that.” I’m going to throw up all over Samantha’s gold-leather “hip-hop outfit.”

6. The Russian
In the show’s final season, Carrie dates reclusive and sexy Russian artist Aleksandr Petrovsky. He makes absolutely no room for her in his life. Her friends hate him. The couple says “I love you” a total of zero times. Still, Carrie quits her job and abandons her friends to move to Paris with him. This empty relationship and the couple’s complete lack of foresight are supposed to be romantic. Oh, honey, no.

7. Carrie doesn’t understand computers
Carrie, a writer, gets an AOL account and hides under her desk so her ex-boyfriend doesn’t see her when she’s online. Let’s just leave it at that.

The Sex and the City film take place immediately following the TV series finale, which according to creator Darren Star (GCB) in the Jezebel article, “Sex and the City Creator Says Ending ‘Ultimately Betrayed’ Point of Show“:

“For me, in a way – and I didn’t [write] those last episodes – if you’re empowering other people to write and produce your show, you can’t … say certain things,” Star said in Kindle Singles interview (via People.) “At a certain point, you’ve got to let them follow their vision. … But I think the show ultimately betrayed what it was about, which was that women don’t ultimately find happiness from marriage,” he explained. “Not that they can’t. But the show initially was going off script from the romantic comedies that had come before it. That’s what had made women so attached.”

Star doesn’t describe what was his ideal ending, but two alternate versions had been filmed. “The second one was that Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov) was coming home after me, “Sarah Jessica Parker said in 2004. “And the third one was me coming home to New York alone.” Perhaps Star preferred the latter?

“At the end, it became a conventional romantic comedy,” Star said. “But unless you’re there to write every episode, you’re not going to get the ending you want.” Of course, in the post-series 2008 film, Sex and the City, Carrie and Big’s relationship gets shaken up again.

The film features Kim Cattrell (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), Candice Bergen (Murphy Brown), Jason Lewis (Charmed), and Willie Garson (Stargate: SG-1). According to The New York Times review:

A little Botox goes a long way in “Sex and the City,” but a little decent writing would have gone even further. A dumpy big-screen makeover of that much-adored small-screen delight, the movie was written and directed by Michael Patrick King, one of the guiding lights and bright wits of the original series, based on Candace Bushnell’s newspaper columns and subsequent book. Once again, Sarah Jessica Parker has stepped into the dizzyingly high heels of Carrie Bradshaw, that postmodern Lorelei Lee — a hardly working New York writer with a passion for men and Manolos — but this time she’s taken a terrible tumble.

Fans of the show were accustomed to Carrie’s falls, metaphoric and literal (as in her spectacularly horrible trip during her catwalk promenade); they were crucial to the show’s appeal, softening its hard, brittle edges. Then in her mid-30s, Carrie was one of New York’s most fearless of the zipless It Girls, able to leap tall men in a single bound without batting a single mascaraed eyelash, but as the show’s nifty opening credit sequence reminded you, episode after episode, she wasn’t above getting muck on her tutu. Her vulnerability — and that of her girlfriends — was the badly kept secret of the show, the glue holding together the froufrou, the lunches, those absolutely fabulous and ghastly clothes and all that muscly man bait.

The froufrou and the lunches are back, as are, kind of, Carrie’s three girlfriends, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), all tricked out with their customary accessories (men, children, handbags). Also back and in and out of Carrie’s bed is Mr. Big (Chris Noth), the longtime lover and habitual heartbreaker with whom she had (hallelujah) reunited during the show’s bitter and sweet finale four years ago. Written by Mr. King, that episode opened with Carrie wandering Paris in a funk and then stumbling into bliss by literally falling to the ground with Big. At once melancholic and defiantly hopeful, it was the kind of rueful happy ending that didn’t make you choke on your own tears.

“Sex and the City” delivered the television goods for six seasons, no small thing in the pop culture annals. That should have been enough or at least plenty for all concerned, but Ms. Parker apparently felt compelled to go big screen, making good on a project that had started to come together in 2004, only to fall apart over money issues and Ms. Cattrall’s reluctance to climb aboard. I wish Ms. Parker had let that bee in her bonnet go silent, because the movie that she and Mr. King have come up with is the pits, a vulgar, shrill, deeply shallow — and, at 2 hours and 22 turgid minutes, overlong — addendum to a show that had, over the years, evolved and expanded in surprising ways.

There are no surprises in the movie, at least not good ones. On opening, all the peas are in their designer pods, from Carrie and Big cooing in his swank New York digs to Samantha and her boy toy, Smith (Jason Lewis), sunning in a seaside Los Angeles perch. Charlotte and her husband, Harry (Evan Handler), are nesting in Manhattan; Miranda and her husband, Steve (David Eigenberg), are bunking in Brooklyn. All is right in this carefree world until Big casually asks Carrie if she would like to get married, a question that leads to the usual luncheon postmortem (oh my gawd, he proposed) and then the usual rom-com clothing montage and a staggering number of product placements. (Louis Vuitton co-stars.)

Somehow it all goes lugubriously south. Carrie is let down Big Time, and she licks her wounds down Mexico way, accompanied by her amazingly accessible gal pals. Jokes about Montezuma’s revenge ensue (really), along with hard laughter and free-flowing tears and yet more clothes (and clothing montages) and jokes and jokes, most of them flatter than Carrie’s steely six-pack. Unlike the show, which allowed the men to emerge occasionally from the sidelines with lines of actual dialogue, the male characters in the movie stand idly by, either smiling or stripping, reduced to playing sock puppets in a Punch-free Judy and Judy (times two) show. I’m all for the female gaze, but, gee, it’s also nice to talk — and listen — to men, too.

I guess size does matter after all, if not in the way that the sex-addled Samantha might assume. On television and in tasty 30-minute bites, the show “Sex and the City” managed to entertain and sometimes even enthrall with self-consciously glib morality stories about love and desire in the modern world. Everything scaled nicely to television’s modest dimensions, from Ms. Parker’s Cubistic face to Patricia Field’s costumes. Kooky and at times insanely unflattering, the clothes caught your eye instantly, directing your attention to the itty-bitty figures, exactly what they were supposed to do. But those same loud outfits, mugging faces and picayune dramas just don’t translate when blown up on a movie screen, which makes all that small-screen stuff seem even punier.

There was something seductive about the bubble world that the show created back in 1998, in the fantasy that all you needed to make it through the rough patches were good friends and throwdown heels. That was a beautiful lie, as the show acknowledged in its gently melancholic return in the wake of Sept. 11. Back in Season 3 Carrie asked, “Are we getting wiser, or just older?” The ideal, of course, is to do both. There is something depressingly stunted about this movie; something desperate too. It isn’t that Carrie has grown older or overly familiar. It’s that awash in materialism and narcissism, a cloth flower pinned to her dress where cool chicks wear their Obama buttons, this It Girl has become totally Ick.

 

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