Saying Farewell To 'Sex And The City' Really Is For The Best
Sex and the City was a game-changer in terms of TV. It’s become a buzzword for the representation of women, a kind of cultural benchmark for discussions of sex, sexuality and relationships. Women defined themselves using the characters’ foibles and trademarks. That’s so Miranda, we might say. And we knew what it meant. If like me, you watched it avidly the first time around, you definitely had an opinion on who Carrie’s best boyfriend was.
Then came the films; the first, a more serious attempt at a continuation of the story, and the second, a daft romp that was not reviewed kindly, to say the least. So I had mixed feelings when the news broke that Sex and the City 3 had been shelved, apparently because Kim Cattrall wouldn’t do it.
SATC3 could have been a return to the show’s glory days. Roles like that don’t come along often for women over the age of 50. Politically speaking, another shot at pushing the envelope in terms of representation of female sexuality and issues pertaining to women’s bodies could have been welcome. It could have been really interesting to see the show’s take on those issues in the current political climate. Imagine Miranda representing a woman in a sexual assault case, Samantha wearing a Pussy Hat to the Women’s Day March, Charlotte teaching her daughters about role models like Malala, and Carrie finally getting round to teaching that ‘Women in the Arts’ writing class to some young people in need of a mentor and role model. With crazy fashion, occasional slapstick and some sex jokes thrown in for good measure.
But again, the rose-tinted nostalgia glosses over some of the issues in the show, issues that perhaps don’t stand up to scrutiny so much now. And so, as I read the hot-takes flying in about the show, the films, and Cattrall’s decision, I couldn’t help but wonder: is there still room for the SATC brand in 2017? How does the show hold up now? Is it time to strike the movies from the canon?
For reasons that seemed a good idea at the time, I recently completed a re-watch of the series. I’ve seen the whole thing countless times before, but the boxsets had gathered some dust since the last visit. As the episodes rolled on, there were a lot of things that dated the show. Surprisingly, fashion isn’t really one of them. Some of the outfits were so bonkers at the time that they are still just bonkers now. The shoes are still fabulous. The technology seems ancient; Carrie uses email for the first time in season 4. SEASON 4! (Who feels old?) She even has an embarrassing email address like so many of us did the first time, before we realised we’d have to start using it to apply for jobs. Hey, Shoe Gal.
But more seriously, it was a little disconcerting that the show I remembered as such a driving force in terms of representation would be pulled apart if it aired in 2017. It’s really white. It could be called Rich White Women Problems and the City. It doesn’t do well representing lesbianism, bisexuality or trans issues. There are beloved gay male characters, but these rely on outdated clichés and outlandishly flamboyant campness. How did I not notice all this the first time around? It’s like reuniting with someone you thought was a delight and a hoot, only to realise they are actually a bit of an arse.
The episode on abortion is also somewhat uncomfortable, with rather too much (for my taste) focus on the guy’s right to know, and some borderline unpleasant judgment from the otherwise perfect Aidan. (Perfect for me, not for Carrie.) Would the 3rd movie have taken a bolder stance? We’ll never know, but it’s unlikely. There are plenty of things that you can ‘get away with’ on TV that would never make the cut in a mainstream movie.
It’s what the films did to the characters though, that makes the cancelled movie more of a relief than a disappointment. Adorable Steve became Steve the Cheater. Big went from ‘go get our girl’ romantic epiphany to wedding day flight risk. You could excuse (to an extent) some of those transformations by narrative need; stories that were neatly resolved in the show needed a fresh injection of conflict to justify the movies. OK, Big was never totally reliable. But Steve? How dare you.
It didn’t stop there. And this is where you can’t help but be thankful that the third movie never existed to provide its take on current affairs. Stanford and Anthony conveniently stopped hating each other’s guts and got married, so that the second movie could have a gay wedding. Featuring Liza Minnelli, of course. Hell yes for a gay wedding. But Stanford and Anthony together? Look, Anthony put it best when Charlotte tried to set them up on a date in the show. Just because they are both gay doesn’t mean that they will get along, or like each other, or fall in love. I admire the intention, but more could have been gained with Stanford marrying a New Character Who Happens To Be Gay (fancy that?) and hiring Anthony as his wedding planner. Now that would have been interesting. Just imagine the Groomzilla moments we could have seen…
Carrie always was rather melodramatic in the show, but usually in a harmless way. No more: Movie Carrie became hurtful, snobby and mean. Samantha went from risqué and provocative to an embarrassing American tourist, in an attempt to address attitudes to female sexuality in the Middle East. That was meant to be profound and political, but instead it was mortifying. Just, hide-behind-your-hands mortifying.
In all honesty, the highlight of the second movie was a brief conversation between Miranda and Charlotte about how hard motherhood is, where they were kind and supportive to each other while acknowledging their privilege.
So yes, there would have been lots of opportunities for interesting representations and messages, but could we trust them to do it well, given the evidence of the first two films? Not so much.
I still love a lot about the show. I kind of enjoyed the first film, if you can call ‘furious and crying’ enjoyment. I enjoyed a few bits of the second film, and cringed through much of the rest. I would have seen the third film, though it would have been out of apprehensive curiosity rather than full-blown excitement.
I mean, it could still get made. They could write Samantha out, or re-cast the role (as Kim Cattrall suggested). Or they could just come up with a new idea. How about that, Hollywood? Use the SATC fans as a demographic, as you can probably rely on them to turn up to watch it, especially if you cast those actors who want to work together again. But make something new, rather than recycling material that should be left to the warm, fuzzy realm of nostalgia. AND DO IT BETTER.
P.S. Big and Carrie clearly belong together.
P.P.S. Berger and the Russian are the worst.
P.P.P.S. How come I still can’t afford Manolos?