Published On: Wed, Jun 13th, 2018

Sex and the City’s stylish ladies were sometimes heels — and that’s why I loved them

I’ve been a Sex and the City fan since it premiered on June 6, 1998 — which means I’ve had to defend it for 20 years. Depressingly, that hasn’t gotten any easier over time.

Detractors dismiss S&TC for the same (so-called) reasons they dismiss Hillary Clinton or Kathleen Wynne: They pick at this or that flaw, but what they really mean is, “These women make me uncomfortable. They’re too insistent, too present, too forthright, too needy, too angry, too happy, too independent, too flawed — too much. They’re difficult. They don’t behave.” Of course, those are the same reasons we celebrate male antiheroes, from Gregory House to Walter White, but television can be sexist, too.

Sex and the City’s stars, from left: Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon.
Sex and the City’s stars, from left: Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon.  (Gerald Forster / HBO)

Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) strode onto a TV catwalk that was just beginning to embrace antiheroes. Amid the lite antics of That ’70s Show and Friends, an interior designer named Grace (Debra Messing) was besties with a gay man named Will; a bad girl (Michelle Williams) was commanding attention on Dawson’s Creek; and attorney Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) was all pouts and prickliness (“Snappish,” her assistant, played by Jane Krakowski, would chide, gliding away).

What makes the S&TC foursome legitimate antiheroes? They did what they wanted. They messed up. They hurt people. They hurt themselves. But they also did a lot of things that electrified viewers. They felt entitled to healthy sex lives. They expected orgasms (unlike the next-generation quartet on Girls). And they did not ditch each other for men.

The series delved into weighty subjects: income disparity, class divides, interracial expectations, religious differences, the anger of certain men, the self-loathing of certain women. The conversation Miranda and Carrie have while waiting their turn in an abortion clinic is a quiet masterpiece. But because these discussions usually took place in nail salons or nightclubs, gussied up in Prada dresses and Manolos, culture pundits overlooked them rather than gushed over them.

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The four heroines conformed to classic archetypes (the predator, the cynic, the romantic, the centre), but any one of them could cross into the others’ territories at any time, and often did. Most excitingly, they talked to each other the way real friends do. The writers understood that women are storytellers, and therefore any event happens twice: once in the doing, and a second, often better time in the telling. A horrible sexual encounter becomes hilarious; a moment we convince ourselves is loving doesn’t stand up to scrutiny over brunch.

When the friends fought — which they rarely did — you could feel how pained they were to be fighting (“All right, I don’t like him.” “Then don’t you move to Paris with him.”). And when they laughed, you could feel their shared sense of humour.

Yes, the series chickened out at the end. It paired up its main characters way too neatly, like bedside tables from the most conventional furniture store ever, instead of doing what it should have done: sending the foursome into a less certain future, but together. And yes, the two movies that followed were ghastly betrayals of every real thing the series stood for; the less said about them, the better.

But S&TC got so much so right. Forget the late-night reruns on women’s TV channels, which are cut to ribbons and further pulled to pieces by ads. Do a proper binge-watch of the original (it’s on Crave). I dare you to not respect it in the morning.

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Sex and the City’s stylish ladies were sometimes heels — and that’s why I loved them