March 14, 2004

goodbye to Carrie and friends

I miss Sex and the City. I miss curling up on the couch with Dan, both of us nursing cups of warm tea while watching these four women get into trouble and quip about it and always survive.

We became involved somewhere in the middle of the run. When we got TiVO last year, we recorded the reruns of earlier seasons and caught up. It was fascinating. The show began probably much more like the source material: flip and ironic and annoyingly superficial. Carrie was the iconic Single Woman, her friends were all paper-thin stereotypes. Samantha the slut, Charlotte the romantic (yin to Samantha’s yang) and Miranda the cynic. They were all cynical, of course, except for Charlotte, but Miranda could go further with it, adding ironic commentary to everyone else’s lives. Carrie spoke to the camera at first, a device which worked in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but not so much here. And all the men were horrors, dating war stories every one. Except Big, who was a charming ass and thus a hair more three dimensional.

Sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t, it was catty fun. Like a good, malicious gossip session with a girlfriend. And it evolved, which was the surprising part. Most good shows start strong, hit their stride by the second half of the first season, and have maybe one more good season before they go downhill, usually because the show’s creator leaves and the head writer who replaces him or her is copying someone else’s formula rather than writing from the original gut-level spark that fired up the first writer.

Sex and the City wasn’t like that. It got stronger over time as they deepened the premise and let the characters feel more true emotions. Samantha fell in love. With a Donald Trump clone of cad, but still. Charlotte discovered her fairy tale true love wasn’t all that after all. Carrie had her heart broken and lived and moved on, but gradually and in stages, the way we do. I still winced at the male portrayals (Charlotte’s straightlaced WASP first husband Troy would be unbearably caricatured if it wasn’t for Kyle McLachlan’s nuanced acting) but the show became much more emotionally true overall. Also much less of a laugh fest. I recently read a quote from the showrunner that said it went from sitcom (all about the laughs) to comedy (as in comedy of life). This is true, I guess. But I think it was more about the way it hurts to be single. Also sometimes the misery of marriage, but mostly how you come close and then get shafted, but you long for a real connection, that elusive right fit. And how hard that is to find. So many nights when we watched the end credits, Dan and I ended up quiet. Holding hands. So glad to be together. Not out there, painfully alone like Carrie and her friends. Because the show made it seem painful indeed.

A lot has been written about how the show’s true love affair was between the four women and yes, I loved that aspect even though it too was exaggerated and idealized. I often felt jealous that they had that, that they could get together for brunch every week and call each other to talk about anything and nothing and show up at each other’s doors when they each most needed it. I have some bits of that with friends but not all together. (Partly because we don’t live close enough for a subway ride.) I loved, though, that the women had disagreements and hissy fits and cold silences too. That they had to deal with each other, not just lean on each other. And that was indeed a huge part of the show.

But let’s be honest, it was really all about the men. How the men reflected the women’s desires, self-images, how they even charted the women’s growth. Samantha ended up with a man who, though not the brightest flashlight in the drawer, taught her how to love by accepting her protestations that she wouldn’t and, well, accepting her completely. On her terms. Which changed as a result. How often does a cynical woman with a hard shell get unconditional love? And Charlotte accepted a man who fit none of her romantic requirements (he was almost the anti-Romantic) and in fact became Jewish to fit into his world better, thus metaphorically shedding her upper crust WASP skin. I admit, I had a problem with this part of her storyline from a feminist POV, but they handled it fairly well. Miranda, of course, ended up with Steve the bartender, physical to her intellectual, rough to her smooth, unread to her, well, read. And yet I believed that relationship and found it the most satisfying of all. Maybe because they came to it in stages through the course of the entire series.

Carrie I hate to discuss. I found the final supposed choice between Alec the rich self centered Russian and Big the rich formerly self centered American facile and not properly explored. I guess Carrie ends up true to herself by coming back to New York, but why should she or we believe Big has really changed? And why is he the one for her? And what does it mean that he’s returned? And what does it mean for her? Has she grown at all or is she back at the beginning?

But in the end, if you leave Carrie out of the equation, the show was about finding true love and discovering it wasn’t what you’d expected. That rings truest of all to me. Because every time I try to imagine the future, I’m wrong. Even if I’m right I’m wrong. Because that’s how it works. I’m glad Sex and the City got that (mostly) right.

Posted by Tamar at March 14, 2004 09:33 PM