I’m Still Mad about Sex and the City

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The other night, I zipped through and watched bits of both Sex and the City movies on Netflix. Z caught me: “Ah, you’re watching this?!”

I was, momentarily, embarrassed.

Me: “What?! Did you even ever watch Sex and the City?”
Z: “Yeah, a few episodes.”
Me: “Oh God, I loved it.”

You know why I was embarrassed? Not because Sex and the City has become cliche or trite – oh no – but because the movies were terrible. The movies and the final season. I was embarrassed to be caught so hard-up for a Sex and the City fix that I would re-watch their adventures in Abu Dhabi.

Because the real Sex and the City? The Sex and the City that was great? Those movies were a desecration.

A lot of people, they make fun of Sex and the City; they’ll roll their eyes about it, and at the people who loved it. It was consumerist, glittery, fluffy, girly. I think of someone saying: “I’m a Carrie” or “I’m a Samantha”. I did that myself. Doing that strikes me as simple now – because all the characters were so complex. They were full, delightful, and openly flawed.

Though, I suppose, with Sex and the City, we did it because we loved them. The four were so funny and fresh and warm: we wanted to be like them. “She’s the Charlotte”, even now, is shorthand for “she’s a romantic with a conservative attitude towards sex and gender roles”, but also conveys how you feel towards her: “and she’s my friend and I love her”. The show created its own vernacular. “He’s just not that into you.”

When critics talk about Great TV, Sex and the City is often left out of the conversation. It’s all: “The Sopranos” or “The Wire” or “Breaking Bad”. On this list, “Friends” is the top show, with others like “The West Wing” and even “Mad Men” coming in ahead of SATC.

I liked Mad Men, and there were some good episodes, but come on. It was no SATC.

As Emily Nussbaum wrote in The New Yorker:

Even as “The Sopranos” has ascended to TV’s Mt. Olympus, the reputation of “Sex and the City” has shrunk and faded, like some tragic dry-clean-only dress tossed into a decade-long hot cycle. By the show’s fifteen-year anniversary, this year, we fans had trained ourselves to downgrade the show to a “guilty pleasure,” to mock its puns, to get into self-flagellating conversations about those blinkered and blinged-out movies. Whenever a new chick-centric series débuts, there are invidious comparisons: don’t worry, it’s no “Sex and the City,” they say. As if that were a good thing.

So, why? Why doesn’t it get the credit it deserves?

Nussbaum thinks it was the ending:

And then, in the final round, “Sex and the City” pulled its punches, and let Big rescue Carrie. It honored the wishes of its heroine, and at least half of the audience, and it gave us a very memorable dress, too. But it also showed a failure of nerve, an inability of the writers to imagine, or to trust themselves to portray, any other kind of ending—happy or not. And I can’t help but wonder: What would the show look like without that finale? What if it were the story of a woman who lost herself in her thirties, who was changed by a poisonous, powerful love affair, and who emerged, finally, surrounded by her friends?

Amen, sister.

It’s more than 10 years later, and I’m still mad that Carrie went with Big in Paris.

Yesterday, I called a friend: “God, I am still mad about that.”
Friend: “I know, it was awful. I’d blocked it – I blocked that it happened. I’m in denial.”

Though I suppose that’s a testament to its greatness: more than a decade later, viewers are still upset.

After the movies whet my appetite, I re-watched some clips. There were Big and Carrie lazing in bed – Carrie anxious, quirky and sweet, Big all calm, boyish charm. That boyish charm almost won me over – almost – so I re-watched their torrid affair in Season 3 when he’s so unapologetic about cheating on his wife, lest I confuse his commitment issues and lack of emotional availability with simply “being cool”.

The ending really was a slap in the face. How can we, or the critics, give a show credit after being slapped like that?

I did watch some other clips that reminded me of all my favourite things about the show, and when it was great. The wit, the closeness, the humour, the openness. Even the romantic moves of dorky, smitten Harry Goldenblatt, who ultimately makes Charlotte a better person.

You can watch them too. Here and here. Enjoy!