Carrie Bradshaw changed TV for the better

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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.”

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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.

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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. 

13 comments so far

  • Was this soapie popular because these sorts of friendships only exist in fantasy?

    Commenter
    MrBlonde
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 11:02AM
    • MrBlonde, the shoes, the clothes and New York are the fantasy for me but friendships like this do exist.....they are long term, sometimes good, sometimes not so good, but definately worth having for years and years.

      Commenter
      K
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 1:13PM
    • No.

      Commenter
      Misrule
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 4:50PM
    • This show wasn't a soapie and, yes, friendships like these absolutely exist. When your girlfriends are as close as family, when they have supported you through births, deaths, addictions, life achievements, marriages, break ups, and the high highs and the low lows. And this is true for both men and women in my life.

      Commenter
      Actually
      Date and time
      February 27, 2014, 4:04AM
  • I agree that SATC was ground breaking for its time and it was the focus on female friendship that made it attractive to so many women. Maybe I'm just showing my age but I don't get Girls at all. I find it quite depressing and boring compared to SATC, I've only watched a few episodes but they involved Hannah and the women in her office being sexually harassed by the boss and putting up with it, and another early episode where two of her friends go home with this boring windbag of a guy who proceeds to yell at them over something while they sit there and roll their eyes but take it. Oh, and another episode where Adam practically rapes a woman he is dating.

    I find it really hard to see how this is an improvement on SATC because none of the characters would have tolerated being treated in this way. From what I've seen Girls is just plain regressive and I fail to see what all the hype is about. The friendships between the women seem to come second to their relationships with men and it just lacks any kind of charm or humour for me. Maybe I haven't watched enough episodes but that's my impression.

    Commenter
    Fran
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 11:08AM
    • Even at the start of SATC, the characters were mature, powerful, independent career-women in their thirties. The first film ends with Samantha's 50th birthday. Compare with Girls, where all the characters started out in their early twenties, unfocused, self-absorbed, insecure, drifting, powerless at the bottom of the job market and (usually) broke while they try to work out what they want from life, love, work, each other and themselves. It's not just about different people, it's about an entirely different phase of life. If anything I think that Girls is uncomfortably realistic, while SATC was a bit of escapism revolving around idealised, fashionable lifestyles lived by extremely beautiful people with a one-hour work day.

      I totally love both shows.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 3:01PM
  • I can see how Girls is not for everyone. But I think for people in their early/mid 20s, it is hugely rateable. All four of them are completely self-absorbed, that's why their female friendships suffer. And I think most people of our generation can relate to that. The scene where Hannah is antagonising Adam because he never mentioned he is a member of AA, and he says its because she never asks questions about him. Her response is to ask "do you even think of me when I'm not around?" Classic.

    Not to say that I don't love Sex and the City, because I completely do. Love the story of female friendship. Actually there are a lot of parallels between Carrie and Hannah, they both can be really unlikeable sometimes and make very stupid decisions.

    Commenter
    ash
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 12:25PM
    • Everyone mentions the self-absorption of the characters as being typical for this generation and that's exactly what I find depressing. Not that the characters in SATC weren't self-absorbed but they at least had a sense of female solidarity that is missing from Girls.

      SATC, despite its flaws, had a feminist message at its core but I don't think Girls really has a message at all, apart from Lena Dunham's attempts to normalise ordinary body shapes. This is admirable, but it doesn't make up for what the show lacks. It's entirely possible that I'm missing the irony but I don't think this show is anywhere near as deep or subversive as many make out that it is.

      Commenter
      Fran
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 1:04PM
    • hugely rateable what on earth does this mean? Must be a generational thing.

      Love SATC, loatg 'Girls'. So so so happy to see SATC appreciated here. Loved Carrie with the Russian in Paris.

      Commenter
      Melinda
      Date and time
      February 26, 2014, 5:11PM
  • Hear hear! I initially embraced Girls but can't get into the third season- the vapid, self-entitled whinging has really begun to grate on me.
    By comparison I watch SATC reruns whenever I encounter them, always taking comfort in some element of the show which to me was always about the deep friendships between the four women.

    Commenter
    Kelly
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 2:02PM

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