A final fling for 'Sex and the City'. So how was it for you?

No one lives like these ladies do - but we love the show anyway. David Usborne asks if life will ever be the same after last night's final episode
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Are you in mourning for Sex and the City? Well, it has been a month since the fabulous, columnising Carrie Bradshaw and her three gal-pals extraordinaire exited our lives over here in the United States and I am still carrying a small residue of regret in my heart. My weekly fix of vicarious voyeurism is lost.

Are you in mourning for Sex and the City? Well, it has been a month since the fabulous, columnising Carrie Bradshaw and her three gal-pals extraordinaire exited our lives over here in the United States and I am still carrying a small residue of regret in my heart. My weekly fix of vicarious voyeurism is lost.

No more the opening sequence of an oh-so-familiar Manhattan bus splattering the bursting blouse of Carrie Bradshaw. No more competing with friends to identify the clubs and restaurants the foursome frequented. And never again will we be able to appreciate the aphorisms about the pitfalls of love and romance typed by Carrie into her computer that were invariably so vacuous and yet somehow true. And where else on the dial will I find so much sexual explicitness without it actually becoming smut?

We could argue all weekend over what set Sex and the City apart from anything else on television - on American television, at least - but its willingness to have its characters speak frankly about things carnal, without resorting to winks and nudges, was surely part of it. Best of all, it invariably made the search for sexual satisfaction - from vanilla to kinky and much in between - hilariously funny.

As you ponder why HBO, the cable channel responsible for Sex and the City, decided to pull the plug now and not mine it to extinction, maybe the answer will simply be that there was nothing else in the realm of libido and raunch for the writers to explore. If the girls have not done it all by now - Samantha, we know, has left no pillow unturned - they have certainly discussed it all. Over the years, we have listened to the four girls muse on such matters as orgasms, penis size, the taste of semen, pubic hair colour, oral sex etiquette and the degree to which a woman is in touch with - and typically studies - her own vagina. (Did you know what tea-bagging was until a few episodes ago?) And some of it they actually practised on screen. I seem to remember Samantha, played by 48-year-old Kim Cattrall, negotiating a bout of oral sex beneath a restaurant table.

To British audiences used to the boundaries of decency being pushed in their living rooms, none of this may be especially thrilling. But here, Sex and the City represented a television arts revolution. The irony is that as the show fades to memory, the threat of nanny-state repression is now looming larger than ever. The federal standards on what can be said and done on our airwaves are being tightened, not loosened. Janet Jackson's boob at the Superbowl caused a furore that is only now gathering steam.

An oft-repeated criticism of the show was that nobody in Manhattan can possibly live the kinds of lives these four women did. Well, I have girl friends - professional, thirtysomething, very attractive girl friends, who are single - and let me tell you, the show was HOGWASH. No one beds men in this town at the rate these ladies did. And nobody has so much time on their hands to try to find them. I mean when did Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha do any work, anyway? (And, while we are on the subject, where do I apply to get $4 a word for my writing as Carrie apparently earned?)

And yet surely the genius of the writing was that these same friends of mine - and, by the way, numerous gay friends also - so utterly identified with these ladies. They did so because each of these characters was a very extreme version of us. There are no decent men in Manhattan for career women, or men, in this age group. Every liaison is a disaster. This is why the show was so liberating for women surely - because it addressed topics that were so true to them, but which previously were taboo. And it sent this message: nice girls want sex as much as anyone else. They can have it and still be nice. And moreover, sex is something to laugh over. Especially when it goes wrong.

"There was this whole culture of single women who suddenly found themselves having careers in big cities, trying to work out relationships with men," commented Candace Bushnell, who wrote the original newspaper column that became the show. "The whole concept that I started with was, why are there all of these fabulous thirtysomething single women - and where are the fabulous thirtysomething single men to date them and marry them? And you know what? Ten years later, it's still a good question."

And if we cannot identify with one of the four main characters ourselves - I remember a rash of internet sites not long ago that asked you a series of personality questions to determine which of them you were most like (I was Carrie, not Samantha) - we are almost certain to recognise friends of ours in them. Some of us can go one better. Hey, I vaguely know the real Mr Big on whom the character was based in the Bushnell columns. Beat that. He is married now, but last I heard his career has taken a nosedive.

It was somewhere in the midst of the fourth series that a common gripe began to surface. Sex and the City was getting a bit too serious, they said, and less funny. Things like babies and death were being introduced. And, finally, cancer. Where are the laughs there? Please don't start getting all sentimental and gloopy on us. The precise turning point was the episode when Miranda's mother dies and in the funeral scene Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) busts out of the back pews to stand by her friend's side with the coffin. You have no husband so here I am - your nearest thing to a partner - to support you.

If you watched the final episode, you will know that friendship and loyalty was ultimately the bedrock theme of this programme. And that is something that tugs at the cords of everyone. Especially if you live in a city that is as crowded and as unutterably lonely as Manhattan often is. (Contradictory, but true.) This viewer, at least, was a total sap in those last few scenes. How sweet is it when Samantha comes to realise that, no, she does not want her man to have sex with other women while he is away on location making a film. And how profound - did I really just say that? - when Miranda finds her true decent self in realising that there is nothing more important finally than looking after Steve's mother?

The day after the airing of the last episode here someone phoned me to ask if I had cried when the final credits rolled. I had watched it with exactly the right person - a close female friend, who is successful, gorgeous and chronically sexually frustrated. No, I had to admit, I hadn't cried. But I did remember sitting on the edge of the sofa and clapping. We both did. Well, Mr Big can't be all that bad.

Magic moments

¿ Samantha in a sling having wild sex with some man or other. The sling comes unattached and she crashes to the floor.

¿ When Carrie is walking down a catwalk and she falls flat on her face. Stanford, Carrie's gay friend, remarks: "Oh my God, she's fashion roadkill."

¿ Samantha in a casino racing up the hotel stairs because she thinks her man of the moment is cheating on her upstairs. She has to pause to rip off her apparently entangled pearl thong.

¿ When Samantha has to return her vibrator to the shop because she's discovered that it is, in fact, a neck vibrator.