There are only a few television “events” I can recall my family sitting down, en masse, to watch, but they included the finale of those long running Nescafe ads (which was shown in the middle of Hey, Hey! It’s Saturday!), the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, that last great Michael Jackson concert, and the finale of Sex And The City.
That was when SATC, one of my favourite television shows of all time, ceased to exist.
Sure, I saw the films, like everybody else; I know they exist. I went with my three close girlfriends and at one point, horrified by the spectacle unfolding on screen, I turned to my pal; she was cowering behind her hands (during the sequence, if I recall, where Samantha throws condoms at some Muslims and yells “YES! I HAVE SEX!!”), and I whispered, “It’s okay, they’re not our real friends.”
Saying that felt a little like a betrayal of these formerly beloved characters. Because the thing is, for me - ten years later - the enduring power of SATC is not the clothes, or even the writing about sex (though it was remarkable enough at the time), but instead, friendship.
In particular, the complex relationship of Carrie and Miranda, which reached a memorable point of crisis in the series’ final season. I still find it hard to watch their fight, in the penultimate episode, after Lexi’s funeral. I didn’t really care whether or not Carrie ended up with Aleksandr or Big (even though I assumed she’d absof*ckinlutely pick Big), I just wanted Carrie and Miranda to make up.
Another great strength of the show, which increased as the series drew towards its close, was that the directors and writers weren’t afraid to let the characters sit with silence and pain.
It’s become de rigueur to throw SATC under the bus in order to praise Girls (despite the fact that the only real similarities between the two shows are that they both feature four women living in New York, and the lead character is a writer), but the main problem I’ve had with Girls is its inability to leave space around those moments.
I think of the episode in which Jessa left Thomas John, and came to Hannah’s only to find Hannah in the bath; Jessa gets in, and starts to cry - a moment at which I believe SATC would have faded to the credits. Instead, perhaps indicative of producer Judd Apatow’s influence on Girls, it dissolved into some cheap gag about how Jessa blew her nose into the bath.
Which is not to say that SATC didn’t employ humour deftly, just that it tended not to use it to mask pain; if anything, it was often employed to amplify it. Look at the Berger arc; the scrunchie bit is hilarious because we know the hideousness of those sorts of stupid arguments.
The original show contains some of the best comic writing to grace television, much of it delivered by Sarah Jessica Parker (who is and has always been a sublime physical comedian), but also its wonderful supporting cast. I have recovered from many a failed relationship by liberally quoting Charlotte's wedding planner Anthony Marantino: “I want nothing but lilies on the chuppah. The theme is Yentl chic! We want candles, candles, candles, and I don't want short stubby little broken-off DICK candles, I want loooong tapers. All right. Call me right back!”
In her review of the first film, critic Stephanie Zacharek nailed the show’s legacy, noting that it was “sophisticated not because of its depiction of New York as a world of expensive handbags and shoes but in spite of it: Looking back on the series, and on the way it could so often be both breezy and sharp, I can see it more clearly as a grandchild of the jazz age, a cocktail laced with the spirit of Anita Loos.”
Yes, the clothes were often silly (but more often than not, sublime), and the films were appalling, but ten years on, I still do a little air-punch like Miranda sitting down to Jules & Mimi when things go well, and I still think that no show has bettered Sex And The City’s take on female friendship.