What a bizarre phenomenon Sex and
the City was. (The past tense is used here with a feeling
of great hope.) Beginning on HBO in 1998, the series' setting
tells us everything we need to know about it: late 1990s New York.
In other words, right smack dab in the middle of New York's Giuliani
era, a time when the streets were cleaned up and made safe for young
women to leave their apartments dressed exactly as they pleased.
Now that Times Square's pornographic smorgasbord had been transmogrified
into a family-friendly Walt Disney spectacle, ladies of means were unaware
of the irony that freed them to utilize their vaginas in ways that the
fear of rape had previously prevented. Also, this was before 9/11,
when New York became a TARGET and a focal point in America's newfound
suspicion of Muslims (a suspicion that was slow to creep its way into
the world of Sex and the City, showing up in the second feature
film in an extremely uncomfortable form).
The first three-and-a-half seasons
of the series were about young women in a wonderland vision of pre-9/11
New York, an extraordinarily decadent time and place that enabled the
frivolous, dream-like lifestyles of these four amoral characters and
rewarded viewers with that particularly insidious form of self-hate
that only indulgence by proxy can produce. But the show did capture
a certain reality - these characters lived fantasy lives that were
not wholly untenable during that time. When I moved to New York
in 2000, I experienced some of the intoxication that Carrie Bradshaw
often feels in the show, and it wasn't just because I was a kid from
the suburbs living in the Big City - it was because it was a time
of great wealth, confidence, and indulgence. The technology boom
had enormous influence on New York's economy, and everyone seemed
to be riding high in spite of the fact that the bubble was about to
burst. So I can't fault the show's first few seasons as far
as their embrace and glorification of that period, because that is what
the times were about: spending shitloads of money on utterly needless
things and going wild in the streets with frenzied abandon.
What is odd, however, is the consistency
of the show's tone over the next two-and-a-half seasons, or the series'
post-9/11 period. Carrie and her three compatriots hardly acknowledge
the events of that date (there are one or two fleeting references).
Couple 9/11 itself with the economic problems that were already developing,
and there was no way of escaping the fact that the 1990s were unmistakably
over. But Sex and the City never acknowledged this.
The show continued to showcase lavish behavior at its most indiscreet,
heedless of the demands of money, or the fear that gripped New York
for years after the day of the attacks. In this way, Sex and
the City morphed from a fantasy rooted in reality to a delusional
daydream, and this willful denial on the part of the show's creators
and characters built into a crazed explosion of whorish decadence by
the time the series reached the big screen. By this point, the
characters themselves had been abandoned and replaced by caricatures
of flamboyant drag queens on holiday.
So the show began as a social portrait
of a particular moment, but when that moment passed, it never adjusted,
leaving its characters looking deluded and immensely trivial.
But I was never the show's target audience, which will lend any review
I write a certain prejudicial cast, at least in the eyes of its most
devoted fans. Still, notwithstanding the somewhat philosophical
objections above, I enjoyed much of the series. The show's strength
was in its ability to create odd situations, to carry off a certain
witty flair, and to keep even a 30-ish married hetero male interested
enough to finish off all six seasons. The movies, however, are,
as I suggested above, another story. They are nothing less than
grotesque self-parody, abandoning the series' character-based approach
to storytelling, and veering unwaveringly into the high camp we associate
with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Myra Breckenridge.
In the first film we see Chris Noth's Mr. Big behave in an incredible
out-of-character manner when he gets momentary cold feet. This
kind of fundamental character inconsistency is a trademark of both films,
which fling all plausibility out the window in favor of hyper-lush accoutrement,
exotic settings, and bodily fluid jokes.
I felt strongly about including another
voice in this review, given that my own fairly strident opinion represents
a male viewpoint and because the show has such a devoted following.
So I decided to interview the member of that following to whom I happen
to be married.
He: I understand that you are a fan
of Sex and the City. When did you starting watching it?
She: I started watching it sometime
in 2001. The first episode I saw was the one where Carrie goes to Los
Angeles. After I saw that episode I rented the first season and started
watching it from the beginning.
He: Okay, a quick Wikipedia search
tells me that the LA episodes were in 2000. It was the third season.
Those were good episodes.
She: Yes. I watched them on DVD at
my friend Madeline's house in LA.
He: Perfect. You probably thought you
were going to run into McConaughey at Starbucks. Hoping.
She: Yeah, that dreamboat.
He: So what appealed to you about the
show? And what kept you watching all six seasons?
She: I was single at the time, so initially
it was funny because the girls on the show were having a lot of the
same dating problems my friends and I were having. I watched the first
three seasons with my roommate at the time, Becca, and we both identified
with the "bad date" thing the show did so well at the beginning.
As the show progressed, so did the characters, and it became less about
being single and more about their relationships with each other and
the men in their lives.
He: So you could find parallels in
your own life and the lives of your friends, and so you identified with
some of this stuff.
She: Sure, like you would identify
with any comedy. It is only funny when there is some truth to it.
He: But women respond differently to
Sex and the City than men do. I always thought the show was pretty
funny, and enjoyed it when it succeeded in the storytelling department.
I found the main characters quite grating, however, and often had a
hard time empathizing with them and their "struggles." Did
you like the characters?
She: When we watched the whole show
together all at once, I definitely grew more irritated with the characters
than I did when I only saw a few episodes at a time. When I first started
watching, we were renting discs, one by one. I think there were four
episodes per disc, so it forced us to take a break and watch it over
a longer period of time. The second time around it definitely
got hard to watch Samantha have sex over and over and over again. It
is different watching a character do that over a span of six years vs.
a few weeks. But yes, I liked the characters. Carrie was annoying at
times, but her flaws created much of the plot. She was also the
easiest to identify with in a sense because she was the least exaggerated
character on the show, so she had that working in her favor even when
I was frustrated by her.
He: Sure. What did you make of the
male characters on the show? Were they as realistic as the females?
Were they treated the same?
She: The show definitely gave the women
the power. The exaggerated male characters mostly came off as kind of
sad and idiotic. They never really got into what the men on the show
were thinking, so you never really empathized with them.
He: I was put off by the grotesque
indulgence of the female characters, which contradicted all of their
moaning about how tricky men were. I mean, maybe a shallow woman who
gets all excited about $900 shoes and has to have them doesn't
deserve her Mr. Wonderful. I also thought it was bizarre that
when Carrie and her friends are together, their mouths are like these
confused flapping gab-holes, but then when Carrie sits down at her computer,
she's full of this sudden wisdom, like some spoiled white Oprah.
She: I don't think the show was meant
to be realistic. The behavior and lifestyles of the characters were
an exaggerated fantasy. The point was that every girl loves her shoes
and has splurged at one time or another when she shouldn't have. I think
one of the reasons the show was so popular is that it was the first
time a television show really sided with the women's point of view.
In a lot of ways I think that Sex and the City did for women
what Playboy did for men in the 1950s. It allowed us not to feel
guilty for wanting $900 shoes, hating baby showers, and resenting married
friends. Playboy did the same thing for men who did not want
to have a family. Both things idealized a lifestyle that had previously
been seen as sad or taboo.
He: I think those points are really
good. Let's move on to the movies. Did you feel they were a fair continuation
of the series?
She: Sure. I know the second one got
terrible reviews but i thought they both stayed true to the series.
I think the problem with the movies is that the actresses had gotten
so old. It was depressing seeing them act the same way as they did ten
He: Yes, and the characters didn't
She: Exactly right. The characters
did not evolve.
He: I had a problem with Big's behavior
in the first one. His momentary "cold feet" set the whole
plot in motion, but it was so unlike him.
She: Agreed, I thought that part was
out of character as well. I wished they had thought of a different way
to get to the same point. I thought about it afterward and it
was really important that the audience empathize with him so they could
forgive him afterward.
He: What about the second movie? It
seems like it was made only for gay men.
She: The whole show was made for gay
men, by gay men.
Me: Do you hope there will be another
She: I don't really care. The
series seems kind of done to me. I'm not sure what else they could
do with it without abandoning the whole idea of the show.
He: Maybe they could wait 20 years
and do one where they are all grandmothers and get trapped inside a
posh estate with a murderer for a weekend.
She: Yeah, maybe you don't know whether
or not Big did it, but Carrie is accusing him.
He: Yeah, maybe Big could kill Steve.
Yelling, "Shut up, you whiner!" while bludgeoning him.
She: Right. And Charlotte could be
trying to calm everyone down.
He: With tea and cakes. I think
if there's another Sex and the City movie, all four leads should
have to show their vaginas. You know, to "close the loop."
He: The whole show is about vaginae
and you never see one. It's a cop out.
She: It was on TV, Casey. Television.
Sex and the City: The Complete Collection
arrives in a sturdy, well-designed box. The outer board case has
a wrap-around style with a magnetic flap closure. The interior
of the box has a book-like design, with each "page" being of heavy
card stock, housing two discs each, which are pulled out with thumb
and forefinger from the open edge of the "page." Removal and replacement
of the discs is slightly cumbersome, and necessitates one touching the
underside of discs in the process. It's far from an optimum
situation, although an alternate design method utilizing pop-out trays
would have required packaging with much larger overall volume.
There are a total of 20 discs in the
set, which include all 94 episodes of the series, plus the two feature
films. There is also a new bonus disc featuring a 90-minute writers'
roundtable discussion. Missing is the bonus disc from the two-disc
DVD edition of the first film.
Image and Sound
There are no surprises here.
The full-frame series looks very good and surprisingly film-like at
times. Colors are bright and blacks are deep. There is generally
very negligible evidence of compression; the enhanced 1.85:1 image for
the films is even better, given their recent release. The show's
stereo soundtrack is clear and bold.
All of the extras are here from the
previous releases, plus the new writers'
roundtable. There is plenty of bonus content here for fans
of the show, although only the roundtable will be new to owners of the
previous box set.
A landmark in numerous ways, Sex
and the City established a formidable cultural legacy, one that
has been somewhat undermined by the feature films, especially the second
one. But the series itself was and is entertaining, hilarious,
and significant. Those who already own this material in some form
can safely skip this release; for neophytes, it's recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.