“Welcome to the age of uninnocence. No one has ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and no one has ‘Affairs to Remember,” voices Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw in the opening monologue of the “Sex And The City” (SATC) pilot. “Instead we have breakfast at 7 a.m., and affairs we try to forget as quickly as possible.
SATC is consistently skeptical of love, romance and the stories that sell them to us — including rom-coms. Despite this denunciation, “Sex And The City” is a rom-com — and as such, it ultimately shows a faith in love and human connection above all else.
Created in 1998 by Darren Starr and based on Candace Bushnell’s 1996 book of the same name, SATC follows four thirty-something white women’s exploits in dating and sex in Manhattan.
The show has increasingly and justifiably been criticized for its many faults. But, for all its flaws, SATC has undeniably had a tremendous cultural impact, both good and bad. Part of this relevance comes from how the series interrogates women’s attitudes toward relationships at a time when these attitudes were shifting. Its characters are disillusioned, cynical, and exhausted trying to reckon with ideas of what love looks like. SATC asks: Can women have both love and independence? And sex? And marriage? And a career? And designer shoes? That’s too much!
At the beginning of the show, Miranda, a lawyer, can be seen as the quintessential rom-com career woman: she’s individualistic, cynical and dresses like a 90s Annie Hall. Miranda sees relationships as inherently self-sacrificial for women, hesitant to believe that functional love is even possible; “Soul mates only exist in the Hallmark aisle,” she says. “And if you don’t find him, what? You’re incomplete?”
Samantha is the girlboss. She owns her own PR company, wears pink power suits and has blown-out blond hair. Unapologetically sexual and the only character who never marries or wants to marry, she best represents how SATC negotiates women’s sexual freedom. “This is the first time in the history of Manhattan that women have had as much money and power as men, plus the equal luxury of treating men like sex objects,” Samantha says in the pilot.
“The landscape that the women of SATC inhabit appears cynical, consumerist and absentminded. They look for love unsuccessfully, they girlboss shallowly and they shop their feelings away. However, through all of this disillusionment, Carrie and her friends find direction by ultimately choosing to believe in and pursue human connection — even when imperfect.”
Miranda and Samantha are the polar opposites of Charlotte, a Chanel-wearing diehard romantic. Charlotte is committed to the whole big-white-wedding thing. She wants the Prince Charming, “The One,” the knight in shining armor, and thinks she’s found him when she marries Trey, a WASP-y cardiologist.
Carrie, the show’s main protagonist, has been lauded as its most unlikeable and problematic character. She’s witty and fashionable (I pine after her Dior newsprint dress daily); she’s also annoying, a bad friend and a cheater.
Even with all her flaws, Carrie remains relatable. She, even more than her friends, initially seems to trudge through her life in a haze of indifference. She goes to expensive new restaurants; she buys pair after pair of Manolos (later in the show it’s revealed she’s spent over $40,000 on shoes alone); she dates and sleeps with men she barely likes; she wakes up and does it all again. Very rarely does Carrie voice a strong opinion about anything outside of her lifestyle. She wanders around kind of listlessly, unsure what she’s doing.
The landscape that the women of SATC inhabit appears cynical, consumerist and absentminded. They look for love unsuccessfully, they girlboss shallowly and they shop their feelings away. However, through all of this disillusionment, Carrie and her friends find direction by ultimately choosing to believe in and pursue human connection — even when imperfect.
As the series progresses, the cynicism each woman represents is challenged in unexpected ways.
In the last two seasons, Miranda is confronted with loneliness at the death of her mother and Samantha is diagnosed with breast cancer. Both events help the two independence-driven women learn to depend on others and be vulnerable, finding relationships in which they don’t need to compromise a part of themselves.
Charlotte, now a housewife living the life she dreamed of with a perfect-on-paper but loveless and sexless marriage, realizes her unhappiness and leaves Trey for Harry, a man nothing like what she thought “The One” would be like but whom she genuinely loves.
Carrie’s ending is kind of maddening. In the last moment of the last episode, she leaves a lonely life wandering through Paris with the detached Aleksandr for Big, the man she’s been off-and-on pining for since the very first episode. It’s a controversial move that I’m still not sure I agree with — Big is bland and erratic at best and mean at worst, having mistreated Carrie many times over. I personally hate him and you should too.
But Carrie taking a chance on a passionate but unstable relationship completely fits with her character, and with what SATC has been telling us this whole time. Carrie wants connection — it’s what she’s been searching for while meandering through Manhattan’s department stores and bars. In the show’s finale, she stands in front of Alexsandr, who doesn’t understand her dissatisfaction: “I’m looking for love,” Carrie says. “Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.”
Carrie taking the chance on Big is “Sex And The City”’s last-act way of confirming a faith in human relationships: in fairytale love, sure, but also in inconvenient and imperfect love, in love as the antidote to indifference.