Strange as it may seem to some, I saw this “Sex & the City” just around the time it was on each week. I watched with my mom. We laughed and grimaced in unison, faintly disturbed by the New York unfolding before our eyes. We’re New Yorkers, so it was half amusing because we saw “those” people and half relatable because we must’ve known people at some point who did those things. I was in middle school, but have always been very practical. I didn’t see why women acted like Carrie Bradshaw, but I knew that they did. Then I found feminism and the real world and…well, “Sex & the City”became even more of a puzzle as I grew into my own ideas of what it meant to be a woman in this city.
I decided to review the information I picked up as a pre-teen and see if any of my perceptions were challenged or changed with time. Here’s what I got from re-watching:
1. It didn’t make sense to put up the fourth wall.
Carrie was such a good protagonist in the first season. She’d turn and talk to us like we were on our way to grab coffee. Or shoes. We established, or rather she established that she was as gracious as she was faulty, but she definitely had potential. She was relatable, but a notch or two more confident walking and talking than most women, and she had a crew- three other women who were all so different we couldn’t be sure how they ever came together, but it expanded the show’s opportunities to explore different angles of urban lady issues, so …we fold- we watch. And it was good. All this had a flow that held audience’s attention while still allowing characters to flesh out (literally- thanks, HBO) questions about sex and the city. By building up the barrier between Carrie and the audience, it removed some of the accessibility viewers had in watching like it could happen to them. Access made Skipper more of a puppy, Big more of a romantic and Carrie more of a human as opposed to being a character. Or maybe I just like that trick where a character trusts the audience enough to talk at them…
2. The men are extra caricaturized
One of the main themes of the show is that Carrie studies people and relationships. She does it by living her life in the city, which is social, casual, unpredictable, and, most importantly, lacks the restraints of commitment. Carrie almost immediately puts forth that the men she sees and comes into contact with are there to be studied. The women are as well, but she intimately exposes the generally unvaried image of maleness as a much broader thing than most characters on TV have the opportunity to do. That’s pretty fantastic, however the show usually asks question, had Carrie meeting an example type of character (male or female), gives him or her a partner, studies them in an intimate context for awhile, adds some hilarious circumstance, then Carrie gets to say what she thinks their relationship means to her overarching question. It’s ok because it’s a show, but since it’s a show that seeks to entertain by asking pretty influential questions about the inner-workings of society, perhaps it should be understood that the characters all have more potential than they can explore, as do their circumstances, and everything is a generalization, including the seemingly ever-widening variety of male specimens that grace the screen. They are caricatures.
3. But everything I just described in 2 is ok…
Because the show keeps the coding of caricature men and relationship material men really consistent throughout all the seasons. The show assumes the viewers know how to read Carries research, because she’s showing a blend of stereotypes and common issues- impotence, misogyny, cheating, insecurity, culture clashes. We’ve seen or heard about this stuff before, but not really on TV, so it was just recognizable enough to fly amidst the scandal of in-depth penis talk, flying condoms, and the odd sociological dalliance in prostitution (with group analysis- see episode 6, season 1 when Carrie gets $1,000 in an envelope after a fling with a rich Frenchman). The balance of all opposites -even logic and total idiocy- is pretty much a success. Not too much, not too little, though I could’ve handled more of certain ingredients- but that simply wasn’t for this show. It’s the next level of TV. Brava!