When I refer to myself as a “former” fan of Sex and the City, don’t misunderstand me: I’m not one of those fickle viewers who will drop a TV show as soon as it’s passé. I don’t mean that I was gradually shamed into turning against Carrie and friends by all the post-SATC-movie revisionists who now find liking the HBO series as embarrassing as ordering a cosmo in a Brooklyn dive bar. You’re talking to someone who has publicly admitted to sticking around for all six seasons of Gossip Girl.
What I’m telling you is that SATC aired while I was in high school and college; I didn’t have HBO at the time, but I binged on the DVDs. I lazed through the first few seasons during the boring, anticipatory summer before college. A year later, when a friend and I shared a comically tiny room in a Manhattan apartment full of strangers, we rented the next installment from the nearby video store and played it on her laptop, with the volume turned down to a polite whisper. (Despite living in the city, we were never tempted to compare our lives to the characters’; I was too deep into collegiate radicalism, she was a lesbian, and we were both relatively broke.) Another friend and I watched the final season in my college row house, screaming our frustration at Carrie and Big and ignoring eye rolls from the five men who lived with me. We knew the boys thought it was stupid, but nothing could stop us from loving it.
We loved it because we didn’t have much to compare it to. We loved it because TV just wasn’t as good ten years ago as it is now, and even if it had been, we might have been too young to appreciate it. We loved it because it was sexy and revolutionary — because the lives of the characters were glamorous in their messiness, and as teens and then young adults, we liked to flatter ourselves that the disarray of our lives made us beautiful and interesting, too. We loved it because Sex and the City was a coming-of-age show that just happened to be about women in their 30s and 40s.
So I can understand where Starlee Kine is coming from in her recent Vulture piece, which makes the controversial (some might even say willfully contrarian) argument that Sex and the City was better than 30 Rock. “The show begins when Samantha is 40 and the other three are in their mid-thirties, but it’s not a show about women who are aging. It’s the most dedicated depiction of choosing to make your friends your family that I’ve ever seen,” Kine writes. Later, she observes, “There’s a reason SATC comes up as often as it does. It addressed so many different sexual scenarios as to be almost invasive; it’s hard to not at least mentally refer to it when I’m talking with my friends about our real-life dating situations. It covered stuff no one on a sitcom had touched on before, like anal sex and the alternate interpretation of the words ‘pearl necklace.'”
What Kine and I have in common is that we like — or, in my case, used to like — Sex and the City not because it is good but because it stands for good things: female friendship and radical openness about sex. (It also stands for materialism and the same whitewashed vision of New York perpetuated by its most obvious descendant, Girls — legitimate gripes that have already been covered in so many other SATC takedowns that I won’t even get into them here.) There’s no question that SATC changed the way women and sex are portrayed on television. But if we judged shows based on their admirable sociocultural agendas alone, we’d all be watching reruns of Reading Rainbow.
I stopped enjoying Sex and the City a few years after graduating college, when I had embarked upon my own, exponentially less salacious and expensive, New York City career-girl adventure. Again, my judgment was not clouded by the movies, the first of which I didn’t see until after forming that opinion and the second of which I can’t imagine ever subjecting myself to. It wasn’t just that the realities of New York life had made me aware of how unrealistic SATC was. And though Kine argues that the episodes lose some appeal when you catch the sex scene-scrubbed reruns on TBS, they didn’t do much more for me when I spent a sick day or two revisiting them on HBO On Demand.
By then, I was watching Six Feet Under, the early seasons of Weeds, and eventually 30 Rock, all of which quickly transformed me into the full-on, DVR-wielding, unrepentant TV addict I’ve become. Although I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, I must have been developing higher expectations for plot and dialogue, because the SATC characters’ self-congratulatory, brand name-stamped prattle began to sound hollow and overwritten, their storylines painfully predictable. As eccentric yet still wholly recognizable characters like Liz Lemon and Claire Fisher entered my life, I lost patience with Samantha’s syrupy self-satisfaction and Carrie’s pseudo-deep thoughts on relationships.
The difference between SATC and the shows I love now resembles the difference between friends you make because you’re thrown together in the same awkward situation (high school, your first job) and friends you make because sheer compatibility and mutual understanding will you together. At one time, my needs and priorities — as well as those of many American women — aligned with Sex and the City‘s. When that was no longer the case, I discovered that circumstance and my low standards were all that had united us in the first place.