Season 1, Episode 5: The Power of Female Sex

Women have the right to use every means at their disposal to achieve power” – Samantha

episode5ON repeat viewing, this episode is not what it first seemed. It’s not “the one where Carrie gets paid for sex” – it’s the one where Carrie receives a charitable donation after moaning to a man she’s known for five minutes that she’s broke. Broke as a result of buying too many shoes. Which is pretty embarrassing, but not exactly prostitution.

She’s been introduced to her handsome/creepy French benefactor by her friend Amelita, who’s either an international party girl or a hooker with a passport, depending on who you ask (you can probably guess which take is Miranda’s – she cries out “Don’t listen to the dime-store Camile Paglia!” as Samantha tries to argue that a bit of female-on-male exploitation is justified).

What’s striking in this episode is everyone’s enthusiasm for eating. While Samantha and Carrie’s efforts to snag a table at the hottest restaurant in town are fairly cringe-worthy, rumbling stomachs win out over style credentials each time. And while Carrie ponders what to do about the $1000 on the bedside table, she and her pals wolf down the hotel’s entire room-service breakfast menu.

Carrie’s column: “Where’s the line between professional girlfriend and just plain professional?”

Fashion: The coveted shoes that set off the episode’s chain of events are just awful. Fluffy pink marabou heels, Carrie? Really? She also showcases a voluminous old-lady nightie – perhaps it’s some sort of family heirloom. While Carrie’s fashion choices were always hit-or-miss, the difference in make-up and overall “grooming” between these episodes and the later ones is really quite striking. Also: the woman withholding restaurant tables wears a series of hats that on paper sound great – a jaunty miniature top hat, a leopard pillbox number – but in execution are really bad.

Puns: I’m starting to get the feeling these will be a long time coming. If you’d told early viewers that Samantha would one day be romancing “Lawrence of My Labia”, they would never have believed it.

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Season 1, Episode 4: Valley of the Twenty-something Guys

Front, back, who cares? A hole is a hole” – Samantha

episode4MIRANDA gets all the best lines. Pondering the lack of available men in their thirties, she quips that “Guilliani had them removed along with the homeless”. She and Carrie are dating younger men, and the latter is trying to figure out how to spin this in a column. Having picked Miranda’s brain she treacherously dashes off to meet her toy boy, fobbing off her pal with a lie about lunch with her editor.

Fortunately there’s some girlfriend solidarity on display soon afterwards, when the gang convene in a taxi for crisis talks with Charlotte – despite Carrie having plans for drinks with Mr Big. Admittedly their advice about her anal sex quandary isn’t very useful, and she’s sent back to her beau in a tailspin rambling in a panic about how no-one marries “Mrs Up-The-Butt”.

With regard to Carrie’s personal antics, I again have to question her columnist credentials. She squeals at the sight of a tongue piercing and swoons as she spoons. She and Mr Big eventually arrange a date, but his weird angry friend ends up tagging along. After only four episodes this storyline is already quite boring. Carrie reckons Mr Big is like the New York Times crossword: tricky to figure out. But is there any point figuring him out? At least if you figure out an actual crossword you can be entered into a draw to win a dictionary. And (spoiler alert!) no-one has even been jilted by a dictionary.

Carrie’s column: “Are men in their twenties the new designer drug?”

Fashion: Carrie’s lovely furry coat makes its debut, and she rocks a nice blue dress for her meeting with Big. However, her $400 shoes are ugly.

Puns: None.

Season 1, Episode 3: Bay of Married Pigs

When someone gets married all bets are off … they become married and we become the enemy” – Miranda

episode3THERE are some wonderfully obnoxious talking heads in this episode about the attitudes of married folk towards singletons. And while we see a few embarrassing wives treating their husbands like a dog treats a lamppost, it’s a nice touch that the desperate-to-wed character is a man. To judge by most film and TV output you’d be forgiven for thinking this guy didn’t exist in real life. Oh, but he does. He really does.

There’s another reversal of the usual gender dynamic when Samantha seduces a  doorman then fails to calls him, leaving him sad, but there’s also a definite hint in these early episode of fragility behind her bravado. The Samantha of later episodes wouldn’t let an encounter with some married former conquests put a dampener on her night. Perhaps here it’s just be the tequila talking.

Meanwhile, Miranda is set up on a blind date with a woman, and decides to roll with it after the pair score an invite to her boss’s couples-only dinner party. This storyline is handled poorly, with Miranda seeming to work on the assumption the other woman must be attracted to her – because she’s a lesbian, right? After planting a surprise kiss on her she apologises, but it feels like she’s apologising for not being gay, rather than for using another human “just to check” her own sexuality. Tsk.

The conclusion of Carrie’s research into the married/single divide is that the situation is basically the same as that of Northern Ireland. Wait, what now? We’re all basically the same, is what she’s trying to say. She should maybe have found a different analogy.

Carrie’s column: “Is there a secret cold war between marrieds and singles?”

Fashion: Carrie compares dating a bride-hunting man to trying on a dress that isn’t her usual style, and this may explain the unfortunate headgear choices showcased in the episode.

Puns: Still none, although Samantha does embarrass everyone with some pepper-mill innuendo at brunch.

Season 1, Episode 2: Models and Mortals

We should just admit that we live in a culture that promotes impossible standards of beauty” – Miranda

episode2FROM a feminist perspective this is an episode of two halves – one of which is terrible.

The topic of men who only date models is pretty NY-centric, but the notion of men pursuing attractive-but-vacuous women less so.

Miranda’s characterisation is pretty one-note for the first two episodes – twice in a row she takes offence at the idea that she’s a guy’s intelligent as opposed to attractive choice of date. But she eventually softens when one of them calls her luminous.

A friend of Carrie’s shows her videotapes of him having sex with models. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says in her narration. But it’s not the horrible violation of the women’s privacy that’s worthy of comment, or even the discovery that her seemingly wholesome friend is a huge creep – it’s that fact the he’s slept with “half the perfume ads in September’s Vogue”. She titters when asking if they consented, and his answer suggests not. PROBLEMATIC.

The lack of regard for the models as people is reflected as much in the way the women discuss them as the way the men treat them. While there’s some right-on sounding talk about beauty standards, there’s no real critique of the media or fashion industry. Instead, the models themselves are the targets of abuse.

Mr Big pops up a couple of times in this episode, first dating a model (one of two black characters in this episode – interesting given the show’s poor reputation for diversity) and then seeking out Carrie to assure her that for him, sense of humour is more important than model looks. Spoiler alert: he’s lying.

Carrie’s column: “If models could cause otherwise rational individuals to crumble in their presence, exactly how powerful was beauty?”

Fashion: Carrie has a hilariously huge mobile phone at this point in the show. And an underwear model has a hairy chest, suggesting some standards of beauty were actually a good bit more naturally achievable in 1998 than they are today. Also retro: sweet potato puffs with smoked salmon and sour cream are served at a fashionable party.

Puns: Still no puns. Was this pitched as comedy drama or what?

Season 1, Episode 1 (Pilot): Sex and the City

“The ‘right guy’ is an illusion, you understand that? Start living your lives!” – Samantha

episode1THE pilot episode is about “the mid-thirties power flip”, where men perceive a shifting of power in their favour and women – earning their own money and setting their standards high – find once-plentiful dates are drying up.

This premise has not dated. At all. Was this phenomenon particular to late-1990s New York? Is it even a real thing? The idea is explored pretty thoroughly, especially given how much the pilot episode needs to do in terms of establishing characters and overall tone.

The biggest weakness of the episode is that case study doesn’t seem representative of the power-flip trend. The guy just seems unhinged – and it’s also pretty distracting that the unsuspecting “English” woman he dates and dumps speaks with an Australian accent.

Charlotte blows off the girls to meet a new man, and karma sees to it that he ends up sleeping with Samantha instead. That’ll learn her … or will it? We’ll see.

Mr Big is really quite camp, and his saxophone-heavy scenes still feel ridiculous. It’s just not plausible that the writer of a Sex and the City column would have an epiphany with six series worth of consequences just because some rich guy told her he had – gasp! – been in love.

Carrie’s column: “Was it true? Were women in New York really giving up on love and throttling up on power?”

Fashion: Controversially, I like all the hairstyles in this episode. There’s a lot of volume going on, and even some frizz. There are frown lines on foreheads too, and it’s depressing to realise that in 2014 this is noteworthy.

Puns: Zero. Early Sex and the City did not have puns. Interesting.

An introduction

I read this month that it’s been 10 years since the final episode of Sex and the City was first shown on TV. 10 years!

sexheads

I decided this would be a good time to go back and watch the whole series again to see how well it has stood the test of time, how it developed over the 12 years it was shown on TV, and, perhaps most significantly, just how different a viewing experience it is for me in my early 30s compared to my early 20s (or indeed 17, as I was when it all began).

Sex and the City inspires some strong feelings – particularly among those who have never seen it. Even those who love it give contrasting accounts of what it’s about. Some say they were sucked in by the fashion and glamour, others enjoyed the tales of dating dilemmas. Some viewers enjoyed the jokes (though it’s hard to imagine much laughter at Carrie’s dreadful puns), while others blubbed over scenes of cameraderie among the four female friends.

At the show’s peak it was fashionable to scoff at women who claimed to identify with any aspect of it, be it a character or a plot line. The basis of this seemed largely to be that the characters were TV-star attractive and had access to significant sums of cash, but it also seemed to reflect irritation at the idea that “ordinary” women might have actually have plenty of others things in common with the likes of uptight Charlotte, promiscuous Samantha or no-nonsense Miranda – particularly when it came to relationships with men.

Will Sex and the City prove to be a period piece, of little relevance to a world transformed by online dating (not to mention online porn)? Are we still debating the topics about which Carrie “couldn’t help but wonder”, or have we got most of it figured out by now? And how bad were those puns, exactly? There’s only one way to find out…

P.S. There will be spoilers. The blog is not intended for newbies who haven’t already watched the show, from start to finish. So if you haven’t, things will be spoiled. You have been warned!