Entertainment Television

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Yes, it's dated badly and the characters are white and privileged, but Sex and the City still has its charms

 

Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr Big (Chris Noth) in the TV adaptation of her best-selling book, ‘Sex and the City’
Breakthrough: SJP as Carrie Bradshaw in 'Sex And The City'
The mother of all jobs: Charlotte in Sex and the City is a stay-at-home mother
Flawed and funny: ‘Sex and the City’ examined aspects of modern womanhood
Screen stars: Charlotte, Carrie, Miranda and Samantha may be hitting our screens as the 'Sex and the City' foursome once again
CUDDLING UP WITH A GOOD BOOK: Mr Big and Carrie in a scene from ‘Sex and the City’
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

There are some things in life you expect will age well - a fine Burgundy, a leather jacket, Nicole Kidman's forehead. Wednesday marked 20 years since the first episode of Sex and the City aired and the milestone has people asking how the show has fared since its premiere.

Last month, ELLE.com editor Faran Krentcil republished an essay she wrote five years ago - now titled 'Carrie Bradshaw Is Still Full of S**t'- that went viral for its savage takedown of everything she perceives to be wrong with the fictional columnist and shoe-obsessive.

The Telegraph pondered in its headlines 'Why do today's feminists hate Sex and the City?' while Vice has declared 'Miranda Is the Only Redeemable Sex and the City Character'.

Although two decades mightn't seem that long, in pop culture years it's an eternity; particularly when you factor in the all-consuming force that is the internet, which was only in its infancy in 1998.

It's not only Carrie's penchant for tube tops that have been dismissed as dated. Like that other stalwart of early aughts television, Friends, SATC has been labelled as "problematic" for its lack of diversity, offensive stereotypes and cliched finale in which the female protagonist ends up happily coupled with a man (who systematically rejected her over the course of six seasons).

In a post-recession world, in which social inequality has never been more pronounced, the show's blatant display of consumerism, combined with the hedonistic lifestyles of some of its characters, seems wincingly out of touch.

Flawed and funny: ‘Sex and the City’ examined aspects of modern womanhood
Flawed and funny: ‘Sex and the City’ examined aspects of modern womanhood

That Carrie can rent a whole apartment in Manhattan with a salary based on writing a single weekly column is seen as absurd, while her ongoing dependence on various men for fulfilment seems just plain sad. As the war for gender equality rages, widely-circulated depictions of obsequious women like Carrie only serve to reinforce stereotypes we have fought so hard to dispel. Simply put, Sex and the City seems like bad feminism.

This all makes for a rather damning appraisal of the show. The strident social changes we have undergone in the past few years alone throw the shortcomings of Sex and the City into sharp relief.

While it may be easy to hone in on everything wrong with Sex and the City, or fashionable, even, to declare it tragically outdated, there is much we owe the fabulous four and their creators.

Sex and the City was, first and foremost, a show about women. While that shouldn't be a talking point, 20 years on unfortunately it still is. Female actors are becoming increasingly vocal about a lack of meaty parts for women and it's still thrilling to see an all-female lead cast, as shown with the anticipation surrounding this month's release of Ocean's Eight.

Sex and the City's four female leads were flawed, funny and not always likeable. The show examined so many aspects of modern womanhood that we don't often see on television: abortion, adultery, aging, childlessness, miscarriage, masturbation, ambition, single parenthood. Nothing was deemed too taboo or tasteless - literally no crevice went unexplored.

Of course, it was the show's depiction of female sexuality that made it such a resounding success, particularly with female viewers. For the first time, women were shown having sex that wasn't just a fumble beneath the sheets and a groan of desire. It was messy, embarrassing, emotional, satisfying and quite often, funny. It was real. Female desire was complex and ever-present; for the first time, libido trumped testosterone on television.

(From Left To Right) Willie Garson Stars As Stanford, Sarah Jessica Parker Stars As Carrie, Kristian Davis Stars As Charlotte, Kim Cattrall Stars As Samantha And Cynthia Nixon Stars As Miranda In The Hbo Comedy Series
(From Left To Right) Willie Garson Stars As Stanford, Sarah Jessica Parker Stars As Carrie, Kristian Davis Stars As Charlotte, Kim Cattrall Stars As Samantha And Cynthia Nixon Stars As Miranda In The Hbo Comedy Series "Sex And The City" The Third Season. (Photo By Getty Images)

Female talent was given a platform off camera, too. While it was Darren Star who successfully adapted Candace Bushnell's newspaper column for the small screen, the show was brought to life with the help of many female talents. Eight of the 22 directors who worked on the show were female, while a whopping 17 of the show's 20 writers were women.

Clearly, they felt that female characters were sorely lacking on television and set about shifting the dial. They devised storylines that, although at times were outlandish, resonated with young Gen X women whose story had not yet been told because it had not yet been lived. They were the first generation for whom motherhood was a choice, not an expectation, and their career was just as valued as that of their spouse.

On its 20th birthday, Sex and the City is as relevant as ever. Yes, its leading ladies were all white, wealthy and (mostly) straight, living in a Manhattan bubble that only ever existed for the privileged few. Yet they fearlessly plundered what was considered off-limits for television in the name of female empowerment. The results were never perfect, but then again, neither are we.

And if there was ever a group of women destined to age disgracefully, it was Carrie, Miranda and Samantha - just maybe not Charlotte.

Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker during Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker On Location For
Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker during Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker On Location For "Sex And The City" at Saks Fifth Ave in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)

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