It's around 9pm on Tuesday night. I'm midway though the second season of Sex and the City right now. I mean, right now right now, like, as I type this, Big just held up a piece of veal and asked Carrie, "Is this a piece of veal or is this a piece of veal" and then she invited him to have dinner with all her friends for the first time on Saturday night at a hot new restaurant called Denial ("Apparently, everyone in Manhattan wanted to be in Denial." Ha ha.) I'm in kind of a weird headspace.
Watching TV all day - watching any TV show all day - will do that to you. But you know, there is something especially mindfucky about SATC. There's something about Carrie! (Ugh, something that encourages terrible, terrible puns! I promise to try to not to make any more of them.) And, actually, let me also dispense with a couple of other things right up front.
I am not interested in making qualitative judgments about this TV show. Maybe it's groundbreaking, and documentary-realistic about New York City, and it gave women permission to speak frankly about men and sex and dating mores in a way that they hadn't before! Or maybe it's hilariously dreadful - full of schlocky metaphors and over-the-top untruths about New York City, and stunningly, feminism-hobblingly retrogressive portrayals of womens' priorities and desires!
In this clip, Miranda sums up my feelings. Basically she's like, "Why do you only ever talk about penises? There is other stuff to talk about!" Unfortunately they don't listen to her and the show continues for another four seasons.
I don't know anymore. I change my mind every five minutes. This minute, on my TV screen, Carrie and friends are watching Big come down the stairs of Denial in slow motion and a huge grin is lighting up her face - he does care about her friends, after all! - and Miranda is running out into the street after Steve - she will give him a chance, after all! - to kiss him in the rain. And I'm thinking the answer might be that everything everyone's ever said about Sex and the City, both good and bad, is somewhat true. All that matters is that it's already been said, so I won't waste time saying it again here, and neither should you. Instead I want to talk about the kind of insight that can only be gleaned by watching many, many episodes of a TV show in a row.
Such as: there is a LOT of rollerblading going on in Seasons 1 and 2. A whole lot.
There are other stand-out un-modern touches, of course. Just to get it out of the way: oh my god their CLOTHES, their HAIR! The fact that their cellphones are the same (enormous) size as the Rabbit Pearl vibrator Charlotte gets "addicted" to in episode 9 ("It's pink! For girls!")
And of course there's the unfortunate fact that, thanks to increasing budgets and the increasing social acceptability of facial muscle microparalysis via injected botulinim toxin, the gals seem to have grown younger, not older, as the series wore on.
Also, remember the HBO Real Sex-style Man on the Street interviews and Carrie's turn-to-the-camera confessionals? Those were weird.
But yes, seriously, really I wanted to mention something about the early seasons of SATC that - I think, at least! I haven't read everyone's grad school theses - hasn't already been discussed to death. It has to do with Carrie's job.
As the first episode opens, we hear Carrie narrating, in voiceover, the story of another woman's love and loss. We don't even see Carrie onscreen for a few minutes - instead, we learn about Elizabeth, a young British woman who came to New York and met a charmer who talked marriage and babies, then completely disappeared. Remember? It's the monologue that ends, "Welcome to the age of un-Innocence. No one has breakfast at Tiffany's and no one has affairs to remember." We're then given to understand that this voiceover, like alllllll the voiceovers that will follow it, is an excerpt from one of Carrie's columns. She is a sex columnist for a New York newspaper. "This is my work," she later tells a man she's just met when he asks what she does besides going out every night. "I'm sort of a sexual anthropologist." "You mean like a hooker?" he (it's Big!) asks-his joke-or-is-it? quasimysogny, established here, continues throughout the series and is meant to be, I guess, realistic and endearing.
"No. I write a column called 'Sex and the City.' Right now I'm researching an article about women who have sex like men. You know, they have sex and then afterwards they feel nothing," Carrie says. So this is the premise for the show: her life is research for her column. All the things that happen on the show - everything that makes Carrie have "to wonder," to announce that she "had a thought," to conclude that "the truth was," to sum things up with "and just like that," - these are all things that Carrie is sharing with a public. She's a little bit famous. "I'm a huge fan of your column," random characters say throughout the series. "I'm sort of somebody and she's definitely sort of somebody," Samantha tells an indifferent gatekeeper at a fancy restaurant.
So as Carrie and her friends navigate the many pitfalls that can imperil romance in New York - modelizers, married people, lesbians, twentysomethings, butt sex, vibrator addiction, pregnancy, flatulence and Catholicism in the first season alone - they're doing so in front of an audience. Not just the people who are unfortunate enough to be seated around them at brunch or at so-hot-right-now restaurants - no, Carrie and co. are figuring out whether nice girls do anal in front of all the people who read Carrie's column. You have to wonder whether this scrutiny is affecting their relationships - well, you have to wonder, but Carrie never does. It's the one thing she never wonders about.
Carrie's column is the elephant in the room for a reason - what if Big and Carrie had ever argued over how he was portrayed in her column? It's like wondering what Friends would have been like if Rachel had married that dentist - which is to say, probably nonexistent. And of all the credulity-straining things about SATC - you know, the 'how can she afford those shoes/that apartment?' factors - this is, to me, the most egregious. As I watched my 17th episode of the day, I HAD TO WONDER: How does Carrie constantly, publicly pontificate about her personal life and still manage to, you know, have one?
Also, why does Miranda always talk with her mouth full?
More things to WONDER about in this season one highlight reel: are women "things?" Is Big calling Carrie ugly? Is Carrie good at dumping people? And is Charlotte, in fact, a hole?