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'Sex' and sensibility

Bunting: One viewer’s love-hate relationship with 'Sex and the City'

“Sex and the City” begins its final run of episodes on January 4, the last batch of double entendres, NC-17 brunches, and fashion, er, “novelties” before the Frank Four head into the sunset (and onto DVD).  It’s the end of an era, but it’s an end I welcome, because I watch the show faithfully … but I don’t like it very much.

It’s certainly not a bad show, especially compared with most of the other half-hour comedies on television, but a lot of the time, it’s hard to relate to. I live in New York City, but it’s not the same New York City the girls live in. In the city I live in, a single column a week doesn’t earn you nearly enough money to cover the rent on a one-bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood, much less have enough left over to take taxis everywhere, or stock up on dozens of pairs of Manolo Blahniks and myriad gigantic flower accessories. But so-called heroine Carrie Bradshaw writes a little and spends a lot -- and, based on the not-very-clever puns she uses to bludgeon us with each episode’s theme, what she does write isn’t very good in the first place.

Carrie doesn’t dress very well, either. I don’t have any quibble with the Manolos, but -- the gigantic flowers? The see-through top, teeny gym shorts, and high heels -- that she wore to walk a dog? In the rain? The show has always gotten (fairly) positive press for its fashion-forwardness, but my idea of couture is Old Navy, and for a woman like me, a nightie over jeans isn’t refreshingly chic, it’s … a nightie over jeans. How can I identify with a woman in a pinafore?

I probably wouldn’t have a problem with Carrie’s outfits if I didn’t have a problem with Carrie herself. She’s whiny. She’s self-absorbed. She’s a little on the prudish side, too; since when does a sex-and-relationships columnist get into a judgmental tizzy about oral sex, the way Carrie did when she walked in on Samantha engaging in it? Even if she’s shocked by the act generally -- and again, given her job, that doesn’t make sense -- it’s Samantha, for heaven’s sake. 

Carrie-d away
And Carrie doesn’t take responsibility for her own actions. When she cheated on Aidan, I didn’t judge her for that per se; we’ve all made mistakes. But she acted like she had no control over the situation, like she couldn’t possibly be expected to resist Mr. Big and it wasn’t her fault that other people got hurt, and instead of sympathizing with her, I wanted to reach into my TV and smack her. 

** FILE ** Cast members from HBO'sCraig Blankenhorn

I’ve wanted to smack all of the characters at one time or another, starting with Charlotte, whose determined primness no longer works as a punchline. Charlotte really has nothing in common with the other three, and I have to wonder why Charlotte’s remained friends with them for so long when every confidence seems to inspire a grimace or a squawk of protest on her part -- or why they’ve remained close to her, when her single-minded pursuit of marriage is either irrelevant to their lives (in Samantha’s case) or an unspoken indictment of their failure to pair themselves up (in Carrie and Miranda’s). Not to mention that it has to have gotten as tiresome for them to hear about as it has for us.

The never-ending string of lascivious talk from Samantha has definitely gotten tiresome.  Bracing at first, Samantha’s smirky disclosures have grown predictable, and irritating; it’s nice to see a woman defying certain stereotypes, but not when she turns into a one-note character with no other purpose. The writers attempted to deepen Samantha with a same-sex affair, followed by one in which she actually allowed herself to fall in love and then got burned, but after all that, she’s still pretty much the same character she started out -- leering, uninterested in commitment, overly fond of quips involving poles and cracks. It’s not that an unapologetically sexual woman like Samantha needs to “grow out of” her behavior, but on a TV show, a character is supposed to have an arc, not a shtick.

And then there’s Miranda. She’s the most relatable of the group, but after six seasons, shouldn’t the successful attorney have learned to speak her mind? Did she have to wait a whole season to tell Steve, the father of her child, how she felt? And why did viewers have to suffer through a subplot involving her love affair with her TiVo as a result? It’s possible to make a character human without making her pathetic -- although at least Miranda didn’t wind up eating food out of the trash again.

A certain resonanceSo, why watch? Why continue to follow these characters in spite of the eye-rolling they inevitably inspire? Why invest the time in their fictional lives?

Because those lives do resonate. We’ve all had a Mr. Big we can’t seem to leave behind; we’ve all dealt with a neurotic Berger who needed space, or a sweet Aidan who seemed perfect in theory but just didn’t quite work in practice -- just like Carrie. We’ve all resisted getting close, just like Samantha, or longed for the opposite, the permanent closeness of a life partner, just like Charlotte -- or felt both ways at different times. We’ve all had feelings we couldn’t express, or found ourselves overwhelmed by situations, just like Miranda. We’ve all related strange and embarrassing details to our friends, over brunch and on the phone and in bars, and we’ve all leaned hard on those friends in times of trouble, and fought with them, too. We’ve all hoped for the best in love, seen it not pay off, and hoped again later.

No matter how maddening the characters and their actions over the years, the show has excelled at giving the audience situations to relate to, even if the women in those situations sometimes grated. Miranda’s reaction to her mother’s death, and her doubts about motherhood; Carrie’s ambivalence about Big, about marrying Aidan, about her career, about almost everything else; whether Samantha’s greatest strength is also her greatest weakness -- a lot of us see these things every time we look in a mirror, whether we like seeing them or not.

After six years, the characters don’t really have anywhere else to go. It’s the price of success, unfortunately, and it’s time to liberate Samantha from her weak one-liners and Carrie from her crazy Prada bibs, give Charlotte a baby and Miranda a backbone, and turn them all loose. I won’t really miss them -- but I’ll miss seeing what they get up to every week.