I am unqualified to critique television. I will watch almost anything, and I will probably love it, too. Today in Amateur TV Critic: Sex and the City, Season One.
Sex and the City is a monumental piece of American pop culture, for better or worse. I have heard so many wildly varying opinions on this show over the years. It’s vapid and ridiculous, it’s misogynistic and harmful, it’s iconic and empowering, it’s campy and entertaining, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam, etc. Art is subjective and can be different things to different people, of course. I guess I just got sick of hearing what Sex and the City (or SATC if you’re into cool abbrevs) was to everyone else. It’s now time to figure out what it is to me. It is now time for that journey that turns an innocent child into a worldly grown woman: watching Season One of Sex and the City
The heart of SATC is its four female leads. Every genuine fan I’ve heard talk about the show is “a total Carrie” or “SUCH a Charlotte” or “Isn’t it obvious? I’m SO Mr. Big.” The way this show is consumed and talked about almost always is structured around the four members of the central cast. So that’s how I will review this show.
Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker [SJP]) writes a sex and relationships column for the newspaper and has the greatest hair I have ever seen on TV. She never wears a bra, and she doesn’t even need to. Carrie is not the most discerning or level-headed woman on the block nor is she the most exciting, but I thiiiiink that’s why we’re supposed to relate to her, maybe? The problem with Carrie is that while she’s innocuously selfish, impractical and gullible in the same way that most of us are, she doesn’t really have any evident, equally relatable good characteristics, and there is nothing to her personality that sets her apart or makes her unique. Carrie is just… a generic, blank-slate protagonist for the viewer to project onto. Sorry, girl, but you know I’m just giving you some tough love right now! I hope to see an actual personality evolve in future seasons as opposed to just listening to her say “Miranda had a point, but was Charlotte right too in her own way?” Every. Damn. Episode.
Samantha (Kim Cattrall) exists primarily to have lots of wild sex and to be “the old one” even though she’s only like forty. Which to be fair is old to me, but everyone I know who is forty gets really mad when I say that, so it’s probably unchill to portray her age as a thing that sets her apart from the other women. Samantha does not have a lot of dimension to her character, but her relentless, aggressive confidence is truly inspiring. Samantha fears nothing, not even (my own personal greatest fear) rejection. No one could describe Season One Samantha as “multi-faceted”, but even her two-faceted presence injects so much energy and fun into her scenes. She inspires me to take action, to be direct, and to stop apologizing for what I want. Plus Kim Cattrall’s weird, affected dialect is amazing. She says every single sentence like she’s having phone sex in the year 1930. Oh, and in one episode she cried hysterically in the bathroom because her new boyfriend’s penis was small.
Miranda (Cynthia Nixon, a real life queer lady I think) is my fucking queen, and I would throw any one of our readers under a speeding bus for her. Miranda has a life outside of dating and designer shoes and Chinese food (not that those things aren’t rad as hell, but you can’t build an entire life around them, CARRIE), and she has specific quirks and failings and strengths. Miranda makes mistakes that are understandable, but that are also uniquely her. She has a complexity that the other characters lack. There are layers to Miranda. She is tenacious yet vulnerable, stubborn yet empathetic, bold yet careful. She’s also a staunch feminist who calls out her friends on their seeming inability to talk about anything other than men and dating and sex. Yes her 1998 second-wave feminism is behind today’s standards, but her views were progressive for the time. Anyway, Miranda should be the star of this show. Miranda is fantastic. I dream every night that Cynthia Nixon will sweep me off my feet and take me to Manhattan to pour her drinks and rub her shoulders after a hard day of lawyering at the office. I don’t understand how acting works.
Charlotte. (I don’t know who plays her, and I’m not looking it up.) I don’t want to talk about Charlotte. She bores me, and she needs to grow up, and it’s super weird that her sex fantasy is to do it in her parents’ bed. YOU KNOW YOUR PARENTS HAVE DONE IT THERE, RIGHT CHARLOTTE?!
Each episode hinges on some sort of sex or relationship-related theme. There’s an episode where the girls all date guys in their 20s. There’s an episode where everyone talks about or considers being in threesomes. There’s an episode where everyone gets vibrators and somehow has no idea how they work even though they are ostensibly experienced and liberated women in their 30s. You get the idea. There’s always some sort of ham-fisted Carrie narration (Excerpts from her column I think? Seems weird that her column FOR THE NEWSPAPER would just be describing the kinds of dudes her friends are currently in bed with, but then again I’ve never even been asked to write a newspaper column, so what do I know?) that pulls all the subplots together with the sexy silk bondage tie that is the Episode’s Designated Theme. It’s like if JD’s sappy, absurd musings at the end of each Scrubs episode were about boning instead of being a doctor. (Which I guess they were a lot of the time.) It’s all very eye-roll-inducing, but quite often also very funny… though not in the way it’s intended to be. And it’s not hard to get past if you have a real affection for the show. Which I do, because I love most things on TV.
The strength of SATC as it has been told to me by others is in the dedication and friendship of the four female leads. In my opinion, they really aren’t fantastic friends to one another, but it is nice to see so many women featured in the same show without being competitive. I’m sure it was even more affecting back in 1998. However, for me, now in 2016, the primary draw of this show is its sheer watchability. It doesn’t require me to think or stay alert. It’s salacious and fun and campy. It’s decidedly not as clever or as dramatically effective as it tries to be, but damn is it ever entertaining.
Will I keep watching? Yes, of course. I have to. Watching one episode of this show is like eating one Pringle or one Oreo for reasons obvious enough that I assume I don’t have to spell this simile out for you. Was it worth paying fifteen dollars for a month of HBO Now? Eeeeeehhhhhh… maybe? Certainly better than paying $130 for the DVD box set, in any case. Would I recommend it? I certainly would, but only to the blessed soul who knows how to suspend their disbelief and to love a ridiculous thing unabashedly, if only for the sake of it. This is not a show for those of you who are deeply committed to being pretentious or critical.
Oh and also literally not a single person in this show is not white. Not even the minor, bit-part characters. It is alarming and egregious, and also probably not my place to comment on. Um. But. It’s a thing. So… you know. Be aware of that.