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Sex and the City – Seasons 1-3 (A TV on DVD Review)

Sex and the City

The Complete First Season (HBO-2000)

The Complete Second Season (HBO-2001)

The Complete Third Season (HBO-2002)

Sex and the City is the story of four gay men frolicking in a fantasy fairyland version of Manhattan. From its hideous opening credits of a badly lit and cosmetically starved Sarah Jessica Parker (admit it: doesn’t she deserve to be splashed by that bus?) to its broadly played characters, from its bad acting and fictionally false bed-hopping and bed hoping, this series is both maddening, delusional and obsessively watchable.

This odd recipe was a result of a bold move that put HBO on the respectability map and gave free TV a run for its money. Once the show became a staple of the pop culture landscape at the dawning of the new millennium, it offered a new low of low standards for other series to shamelessly mimeograph.

Take the basic premise (please): Carrie Bradshaw is a freelance writer who “honestly” laments about universal sexual matters that apply only to the tiniest segment of the most superficial of New Yorkers. Even though she’s barely clad in most scenes, she’s naked here, folks – at least her soul is naked, to the world. And she’s gonna make you look, no matter how hard you try to turn away.

Despite the fact that her column appears only weekly, she can afford to live alone in a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side, chow down her three squares in the city’s most expensive restaurants, take taxis rather than lowly subways, and purchase more designer shoes than Imelda Marcos. We are asked to find this adorable, eccentric, and believable.

Her lunatic-asylum wardrobe (which gets more outrageous with each passing season) is imported from the minds of Big Apple wannabe’s, imagining that all sophisticated Manhattanites sashay down the street in tutus and micro-minis. What’s worse, the show’s producers and writers insist on dolling up Parker, who can’t be more than five-feet tall and light years from anyone’s ideal of sex incarnate.

This alleged sexpert’s column is supposedly popular among New York’s twenty-four-hour party people. In it, she asks such nails-against-the-blackboard questions as “are we secretly being graded in bed?” or “do we need drama to make a relationship work?” Of course, we never get any real answers – just some overwritten epiphanies (example: “man invented fire but woman learned to play with it” or “it’s always better to marry someone who loves you more than you love them” or the old golden rule, “tell a man ‘I hate you’ and have the best sex of your life. Tell him ‘I love you’ and you never see him again”) and other words of wisdom that make you want to leave this city for the Vatican City.

For additional material, Carrie literally “uses” her friends for sexual information. This small circle of types is purposely diametrically opposed to each other for maximum conflict: the hard-up, hard-bitten, hard-working lawyer who hardly ever works, the easily shocked, aging debutante (from Connecticut, of course), and the brashly oversexed nympho who effortlessly says exactly what’s in the writers’ overheated minds. Carrie sees no problem exposing her pals’ most personal trials and tribulations in her column, and they seem to think nothing of it, being that they think and talk of nothing but sex from the minute they awake in the morning to the minute they fall asleep in the arms of their pickup du jour.

The one true revelation in this series is Kim Cattrall, who made a bold choice in playing the role of the sex-o-matic public relations executive Samantha Jones. We’ve already seen the prototype (Tina Louise as Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island), but Cattrall takes this potentially troublesome character to comic heights. It’s daring and shocking to see her engaged in realistic and/or unusual sexual acts, free-flowing dirty talk and brash come-on’s to strangers, from firemen to sailors to women. In the commentary track, writer Michael Patrick King calls her a “clown,” and he means that with the highest respect.

The series hits its own G-spot only when Cattrall is doing her thing; the rest is more miss than hit. The most problematic buzz kill of the series is the on-again/off-again romance between Carrie and Mr. Big, played by Chris Noth. Although many people believe that Mr. Big could actually be a figment of Carrie’s imagination (sort of a sexual Sixth Sense, in which she always seem to run into him at a party or an opera or a plot-driven inopportune time), Carrie proves to be a pure pain-in-the ass girlfriend to him – extremely needy and never satisfied.

His patience with her can only be appreciated – and dreaded – by men (for instance, she calls him at 5:30 in the morning and nags him while he is on an important business trip to Paris). Her superficiality in worming her way into his life knows no bounds. She literally follows him to church, which he attends weekly with his mother, and then confides with great seriousness, “getting on the good side of his mother is like closing the deal.” Exactly what Jesus would do.

The series’ ultimate tragedy is its occasional light beams of truth hidden under all the showiness and bad taste. At one point, Carrie laments about the city in which she eventually calls her lover, “No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s, and no one has affairs to remember,” or that New York is like a bar where “everybody knows your name but forgets it five minutes later.” Or when her pal asks, “What ever happened to aging gracefully?” Carrie responds, “It got old.”

There is also a half-hearted attempt to pull a Seinfeld by introducing phrases into the cultural vocabulary (“modelizer,” “KY2K,” “funky spunk”). Ultimately, though, they fall back into what has become a familiar pattern of pseudo-ponderings: “Which of the founding fathers were the most fuckable?” and “Are relationships the religion of the 90s?”

Though the show wants to be a step above, it still falls into the same pathetically stereotyped traps: once again, the mindset here is that anybody or anything outside of New York is stupid and backward. The occasional trek out of Manhattan is supposed to be a horror ride into the lowest depths of hell: “I began to realize that Staten Island was like a quaint European country,” Carrie muses patronizingly. “The music was twenty years behind and you could smoke anywhere you wanted.” And in the continuing false belief that there are no middle-class or poor people in Connecticut, Carrie wonders “how a place so filled with nature can look so unnatural.”

Speaking of unnatural, the casting directors for this series need a re-evaluation and a refresher course. The minor characters (boyfriends, lovers, neighbors, suburbanites, and especially rich people) are hideously overplayed to the point of distraction. When it comes to the smaller parts, the casting directors and writers paint with an outrageously broad brush and consistently succumb to the most heinous clichés. A bit more thought and subtlety would have added some much-needed weight and believability to a series that barely has both expensively dressed feet on the ground.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: January 12, 2005.


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