Revisiting: ‘Sex and the City’
Revisiting is a new series where TV writers watch, or re-watch, popular TV shows they missed when airing in their prime. Writers will retrospectively review these shows and determine if they still live up to their hype years after their peak success.
“Sex and the City” is wild. Darren Star’s (“Younger”) HBO romantic dramedy that ran from 1998-2004 was, and still is, a cultural phenomenon. It had a throng of devoted fans (my mother, a “Miranda,” included), all putting themselves in the heels of the show’s four leading ladies.
“Sex and the City” went through its prime when I was a baby, and I kept having to remind myself of this as I streamed it on Amazon. Its six seasons are filled with quips and one-liners that just aren’t OK anymore. Jokes like bisexuality being a “layover on the way to Gay Town” and the constant slut-shaming directed at Samantha don’t hold up, and they shouldn’t.
Still, when I sat down to inhale the series, I found myself thinking it was open-minded for its time. Our heroines are unapologetically themselves, and, despite the occasional cringe and frequent “yikes,” I loved every second of it. Miranda challenged me, Carrie excited me, Charlotte pushed me and Samantha kind of scared me. I rooted for each of them, through all of their self-induced difficulties and horrifying blunders.
I knew the show was equal parts progressive and problematic before I started watching, but I wanted to watch it nonetheless. I couldn’t help but wonder: What have I been missing?
“Ex and the City,” season 2, episode 18
The end of this episode is perfect. It’s one of the most perfect endings in the whole series. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker, “Divorce”) gets an invite to Big’s (Chris Noth, “Gone”) engagement brunch, and watching her open that letter, curled up on her bed, I felt her change. I felt her fall deeper in love with a man who couldn’t give her what she wanted, and I felt her clinging to every last ounce of the faltering faith she had in him. She doesn’t say anything, but when the arch of her foot slowly slides the envelope off the edge of her duvet, she has a clearer head than she did five minutes ago. She’s free by default.
Cut to the last few minutes of the episode, when season two closes in the most K-K-K-Katie way. Our gals are out for drinks, and they’re angry at Big for hurting Carrie, hurting the rest of them in tandem. He’s marrying a simple girl with straight hair, and as the women gush over “The Way We Were,” the show makes it very, very evident that Carrie is not a simple girl. None of them are. They use their Manolo Blahnik’s to stomp out the “free by default” narrative to nothing but dust on a Manhattan sidewalk.
Carrie saunters her way to Big’s brunch, meeting him in front of the hotel to brush hair from his face and finally make him understand that he never understood. She reclaims herself, letting the wind run her curls wild and release her (for now, at least) from Big. It’s the most “Carrie” that Carrie has ever been.
“I Heart NY,” season 4, episode 18
After shutting a small door on Big and opening a big one for Aidan (John Corbett, “Still the King”), season three takes us through the rise and fall of Carrie’s flared-jean, turquoise-ringed relationship with everyone’s favorite furniture craftsman. Season four is a recovery from this (a temporary one, of course, because does Carrie ever fully recover from anything?). Big announces he’s moving to the West Coast, and they dance in his packed-away living room to a “Moon River” record that’s just as broken and cyclic as their relationship. It’s sweet until it’s absolutely devastating, and the rest of the episode follows suit.
Charlotte (Kristin Davis, “Bad Teacher”) continues to find grace in the aftermath of a draining marriage, and Samantha (Kim Cattrall, “Modus”) realizes she surrendered her heart to the wrong man. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon, “That’s Harassment”) and Steve (David Eigenberg, “Chicago Fire”) have their baby boy. It’s a season finale that highlights the utter complexities of losing yourself to love and living through the loss, which, ultimately, is what I think the show itself aimed to do: To propel the independence and resilience of these four women, as they fearlessly gave themselves to whatever, or whoever, their lives had in store for them.
“The Ick Factor,” season 6, episode 14
This is a very important episode, and not because Carrie doesn’t know how to cope with romance. Yeah, it’s her show, whatever, but this is the episode where Miranda and Steve get married! Did you hear me? Did I yell loud enough? I’ve always preferred Miranda’s wheelhouse of men to Carrie’s revolving door, and Steve is the beating heart of this (yes, even movie-Steve, but I don’t want to get into that right now). “The Ick Factor” is a minefield, and their wedding is a blissful release from it.
Charlotte is happy, and she’s happy with Harry, and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. Her arc has been littered with pain, and she needs this. She deserves this. Carrie comes to terms with the fact that a fancy French man wants to woo her (because apparently, that’s the kind of thing Carrie needs to come to terms with). Life is good for our girls, and then Samantha finds out she has breast cancer.
She tells Carrie first and then Charlotte, trying to spare Miranda the news until her “special fucking day” is over. But they’re friends, sisters and soulmates, and Miranda knows that something is off. The last couple minutes of the episode are spent around a little square table at the back of Miranda’s wedding reception. The four women pool themselves together, filling a reservoir with strength to give to Samantha. This moment is everything, and it captures so elegantly what the women of “Sex and the City” were to one another. They were one, an irrevocable force of female friendship, a whirlwind of love.
The show isn’t perfect, and neither are its heroines. Carrie really sucks sometimes (a lot of the time), and I wish Charlotte was as woke as her internet alter-ego. But what “Sex and the City” does, and does well, is show women supporting each other — unconditionally, unabashedly and unrelentingly. After six messy seasons (and many now frighteningly outdated jokes), the show remains beloved because of its women and their ownership over their sexuality. They found voices in themselves and laughed over the noise of people acting like their bodies weren’t their own to control. It’s radical in its own, elaborate way, and it’s so much fun to watch. Run to it in your favorite Jimmy Choo’s — but watch out for the puddles.