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Survival Of The Thickest.png

'Survival Of The Thickest' Is a More Realistic Depiction of New York than 'Sex And The City'

By Jen Maravegias | TV | August 25, 2023 |

By Jen Maravegias | TV | August 25, 2023 |

Survival Of The Thickest.png

If Sex And The City premiered today it would, or should, look more like Netflix’s Survival of the Thickest than the Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle we got in 1998. I’ve never been a fan of SaTC. It gave people the wrong impression of life in New York City. And it attracted the worst sort, luring a lot of dull, white, people here with promises of creative job opportunities, endless Cosmos, and apartments with walk-in closets. Now look at it, we’re overrun by well-off, white, gentrifiers who want us all to keep the city’s sounds down to a dull roar. It’s a show about privilege set in a city built on hustle.

Survival of the Thickest is all about the hustle. Michelle Buteau stars as Mavis Beaumont, a fashionista who suffers a reversal of fortune when she finds out her long-time boyfriend and creative champion is cheating on her. Mavis goes from her princess fairytale life to a cramped, Brooklyn apartment-sharing situation with an aggressively weird woman who coats her body and hair in olive oil and owns a cat named Cocaine Xavier. What felt like a solid path to a happy, successful, and fulfilling life crumbles beneath her feet in the first episode.

The rest of the season’s eight episodes are about Mavis picking herself up and dusting herself off. She has a couple of loyal friends (Tone Bell and Why Did I Get Married’s Tasha Smith) by her side as she re-enters the job market and dating pool, learning how to make her own opportunities and set healthy boundaries for herself.

There’s a level of magical thinking in the show just like there is with Sex And The City. The pace moves quickly so good things happen at an almost unbelievable rate for Mavis. But Michelle Buteau, who created the show and wrote the book it’s based on, is a talented comedian who has created a disarmingly charming character with a sharp sense of humor. Those qualities go a long way towards glossing over any moments in the script where you want to ask yourself how believable her luck is.

The three main characters have an easy-going rapport that allows them to lift each other up and hold each other down through questionable relationships and questioning their sexual identity. And everybody’s got somebody on this show. Or multiple somebodies. The whole show is sexy and everyone is having fun. Instead of staid, white-lady brunches, the SotT gang goes for weed-vaping jogs and late nights at the drag club where Mavis styles the performers. The show’s conflicts are more internal than interpersonal. So there’s less of the cattiness you might see on SaTC. But with all of the drag queens and Garcelle Beauvais as Natasha, the former fashion model looking to Mavis to style her comeback, there’s plenty of cattiness to go around.

There’s also plenty of couture to go around. Mavis Beaumont is a stylist, after all, and she needs to keep herself looking sharp. The show’s costume designer, Keia Bounds, does a fantastic job dressing Mavis in all sorts of creative outfits with pieces that look like hard-won thrift store trophies mixed in with haute items. In contrast, her best friend Marley, who works in finance, has a sleek and well-tailored wardrobe, with lots of gem tones and rich fabrics. The drip is enviable across the board. Except for the roommate. She’s a mess.

There’s never going to be a shortage of shows about stylish women navigating life in the city. We’re overwhelmingly shown the same stories about the very young, or the very white, or the very fit, or the very all three of those things. There’s certainly a universality to these stories, is Mary Tyler Moore that much different than Carrie Bradshaw? But with a city as diverse and colorful as New York as a backdrop, we should make more room for these lighthearted queer and black culture shows where we can root for the heroine, her friends, and lovers to be successful instead of spite-watching shows that struggle with how to handle their queer characters. Mavis is a big, almost middle-aged woman of color working to make it work. And throughout the series, she’s influencing her friends to be more accepting and less judgemental of themselves and everyone in the world around them. New York, and the shows that portray her, need more Mavis and less Carrie.

All episodes of Survival Of The Thickest are available to stream on Netflix.