A month ago, I had never seen Sex and the City. Shameful, right? How can I say I love lady-oriented movies and television while ignoring a huge cultural milestone? Honestly, the only thing I knew about the series was that Sarah Jessica Parker’s character was obsessed with shoes, and Kim Cattrall and I shared a name. I certainly wasn’t expecting one of the most warm and interesting shows I’ve ever seen, but that’s exactly what I got.

SEX AND THE CITY
Created by: Darren Starr
Key Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon

In Short
Carrie Bradshaw writes a column called “Sex and the City” for the New York Star where she uses she and her three best friends exploits to muse on balancing sex, dating, and love with friendships and career goals. She also struggles through and on- and off- again relationship with Mr. Big. They are clearly compatible, but their own shortcomings prevent them from seeing it until it’s almost too late.

Although each of the women is very career oriented, they approach their love lives in very different ways. Samantha, who runs her own PR company, chooses to love ‘em and leave ‘em, never settling down and never apologizing. However, he perspective begins to shift once she has to face her mortality by way of a breast cancer diagnosis. Miranda, a corporate lawyer on her way to becoming partner, just wants someone who can keep up without bogging her down in romance. When she accidentally gets pregnant, she chooses to keep her baby. While she’s not the warmest mother, she clearly loves her little boy and does the best she can for him. Charlotte, a curator at an art gallery, desires a traditional love-marriage-baby scenario, but first goes through a divorce, and then, after finding the right guy, has trouble conceiving.

The Horror
Airing a year before The Sopranos, Sex and the City is the real pioneer for the Golden Age of Television. Although that age has come to be defined by difficult men, Sex and the City took those jerks to task before they even proliferated our TV screens. Big would fit right in amongst the Tonys and Als and Dons and Walters, but his story is so much less interesting compared to the women stuck in their BS institutions, trying to make it work. On top of all that, in contains some of the absolute best comedy, both physical slapstick and witty repartee, that I’ve seen even through today. Anyone who says women aren’t funny has not seen Sarah Jessica Parker fumbling her way through New York in four inch Manolos. She rivals David Hyde Pierce in Frasier in her earlier seasons, imbuing Carrie not with a cute clutsiness, but a genuine feeling of being completely off balance as she tries to fit into a world that doesn’t always want her.

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My primary cultural understanding of the show prior to watching it is that it was largely fashion based, and the four women were just archetypes on which viewers could paste themselves. You’re either a Slutty Samantha, Romantic Charlotte, Cold Miranda, or Flighty Carrie. But that is so not the case. Each of these women are so incredibly well-written, it’s possible to relate to any and all of them at any given moment. Women’s experiences are multitudinous, and while these four live very career-driven lives in New York, even they contain a diversity of experience that we don’t often get to see.

The writers weren’t afraid to make these women villains in their own narrative. Carrie in particular is her own worst enemy, refusing to speak up to her friends and lovers about her own needs and playing martyr. The first time she dates Big, she never tells him what she wants, instead going along with him at his pace. It’s because of this that she loses him. She believes, especially in the early seasons, that love is some sort of game with rules for engagement and milestones that signal things are either successful or completely doomed. Although it seems like Carrie enjoys her space and independence, she continues to play this game, and, especially with the more traditional Aiden in season 4, really hurts people along the way. She’s immature, selfish, and dishonest, but she’s never a bad person. She’s just a person, plain and simple. She rarely extends the compassion she shows to her friends to herself. But because they are also all fleshed-out, real characters, they call her on it. It’s a wonderful, emotionally complex dynamic that allowed me, as a viewer, to feel momentarily better about my own shortcomings, which is probably about as close as entertainment ever gets to being actually important.

For all their faults, the four main characters are never punished for being sexually adventurous or career-driven, a rarity even today. Just last year, Amy Schumer punished her fictional avatar in her own screenplay for having too much sex, forcing her into a relationship where she had to clean up, change and atone for a man who did nothing. Samantha Jones, HBIC, PR extraordinaire, and perennial 35-year-old, would have laughed at this li’l wee baby and her misguided attempts at a relationship. She sleeps with whomever she wants, drinks what she wants, says what she wants, and makes no apologies. The writers never punish her for it. Her friends admire her for being strong and straightforward. They never judge her, and even when she does settle into a relationship, it’s very nontraditional and on her terms. Similarly, when Miranda accidentally gets pregnant, she goes to the abortion clinic with Carrie, who is perfectly happy to help her friend in this difficult time. When she chooses instead to be a mom, her friends support that decision as readily as if she’d chosen to keep her life on its previous course. There’s an acknowledgement that these women are not just decisions or labels, but that they have qualities as friends and lovers and women that transcend any one element. It’s absolutely refreshing, even nearly two decades after the first episode aired.

If these women were men who met for cocktails every weekend after business closed to share stories of their conquests and lives, they would be regarded as complex, morally ambiguous characters. Instead, their place in culture has been largely defined by fashion, which, to my surprise, is not even secondary, but tertiary to the show’s enjoyment. Sure, Carrie loves it, but honestly, her love of smoking too up just as much screen time as her love of Louboutins. Watching this show after the fact made me a little sad for how much its incredible and consistent writing has taken a back seat to the more shallow aspects of its run. Sex and the City isn’t just good television, nor is it just a good lady show. It’s a cultural milestone, and I am glad I finally sat down and fell in love with it.

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