Have you heard the news? Sex and the City is over.
(For true fans, you will know that I am quoting party girl Lexi Featherston from season six, who lit a cigarette, tripped over her stilettos and plummeted out of a window.)
It took exactly two decades for the secret to be let out of the bag, but the SATC cast – Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristen Davis and Kim Cattrall – don’t like each other much. Cattrall laid down the gauntlet this week, responding to Parker’s condolences after the death of her brother.
“I don’t need your love or support at this tragic time @sarahjessicaparker,” Cattrall wrote on Instagram. She added: “My Mom asked me today ‘When will that @sarahjessicaparker, that hypocrite, leave you alone?’ Your continuous reaching out is a painful reminder of how cruel you really were then and now. Let me make this VERY clear. (If I haven’t already) You are not my family. You are not my friend. So I’m writing to tell you one last time to stop exploiting our tragedy in order to restore your ‘nice girl’ persona.”
We thought they had been friends since 1998. But Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda are not the cosy, brunching foursome whose friendship and intimacy was sought after and imitated around the world. To the millions of viewers, these women, admirably, had their cake, and they ate it, too. Their lives were amazingly uncomplicated, yet they indulged in overanalysing every part of it. It was escapism at its best, and that means it’s hard to reckon with the fact that the show wasn’t real in the first place.
When I say how much I enjoy – perhaps, sometimes, rely on – Sex and the City, people look surprised and ask, “Oh, do you?” It’s the same reaction when I tell people I’m not vegetarian. “Oh, aren’t you?” (I reason that there are plenty of sensible-looking women who like SATC and plenty of silly-looking women who are vegetarians.)
Some would be surprised that I have haunted SATC filming locations with the same dedication that one might apply to serious journalistic endeavour. I have wasted evenings, days, weekends, possibly a good portion of my life, in watching re-runs.
To think what I could have achieved with my 29 years so far had I not known, for example, that the bench outside of the Magnolia Bakery where Carrie and Miranda scoff cupcakes was only put there for the show. Now my trivia includes the fact that while filming in New Jersey, Parker, Davis and Nixon rented a house to themselves and left Cattrall on her own. If only I had instead studied the Old Testament, or learnt Spanish.
Why did I move to New York for 18 months? I can let you guess.
The show was a product of its time and it was also before its time. SATC was part of the cultural zeitgeist of 1990s New York, when abortions were, and are still, contentious, and women worried about their biological clocks while poring over the wedding section of Sunday’s New York Times. The show was inspired by and included great NYC figures, like the reclusive New Yorker book critic Michiko Kakutani, the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who wrote about new generations of professional, single women, as well as then real estate tycoon Donald Trump (a likely model for romantic lead Mr Big).
Yet there were serious flaws, which are cringeworthy and embarrassing in 2018, let alone around the turn of the millennium. In the melting pot that is New York, the entire cast was white, and mostly rich. Bisexuality was dismissed, and serious medical conditions like vulvodynia were mocked and glossed over.
To be pedantic, there was also nothing explicitly groundbreaking in the show. Decades before it aired, Dorothy Parker had already written her ode to the woman who waits by the phone for a man to call, and a woman had tried to run for president long before the cast were even born. What was “new”, however, was the four women’s freedom to talk about whatever they wanted – awkward sex, quiet sex, bad sex, good sex, abortions, careers – on cable television. Over six seasons, the show was impossibly unrealistic – Carrie earned $4.50 a word at Vogue as a freelance columnist and lived in a brownstone apartment on Perry Street – but it was also real, as the writers borrowed stories and plot lines from their own lives.
After being targeted late last year by the Daily Mail for “making demands” and stalling the third film, Cattrall told Piers Morgan that there had never been a deal. She said that as she reached her sixties, she decided she was going to cut ties from the brand and make her own choices. What we had thought to be sexist rumours about women’s “catty” behaviour turned out to be a real and unresolved feud.
But who could be surprised Cattrall wanted to call it quits? The films were incredibly damaging to the SATC brand. In the second film – a musical farce – Samantha angrily brandishes a pack of golden condoms as angry Muslim men shake their fists, and Carrie pokes fun at a woman in a burka eating chips. Gone was the sharp, witty repartee, and replaced with diamond rings and Cheshire-cat grins. Here were the once beloved Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, their personalities now so bloated that they lost their shape and became soft, overacting their small sub-plots with the intensity of a Christmas pantomime. It was a sad decline for a show that once had as much cultural weight and relevance as Frasier, Seinfeld or many other popular shows that were dominated by men.
If the younger millennial maelstrom surrounding Friends after it came on Netflix this year is anything to go by, we can be assured that modern audiences have moved past 1990s New York and the white privilege associated with Sex and the City. We have moved on, despite the profitability of the franchise. Unlike Will & Grace, it can’t come back.
Cattrall has revealed she felt isolated by the cast. She lost allies along the way, when her friend and producer Darren Star was replaced by Parker’s friend, Michael Patrick King. By the final episodes, it was reported that nobody spoke to her in the make-up room. While we may never know the full extent or cause of the tensions, we can respect her need to speak out and to focus on other projects, like guest editing BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and filming a new series of Sensitive Skin. What is really sad is that, having once presumed Cattrall and the cast would look back on SATC as some of the happiest times of their lives, Cattrall may see it as an enormous sacrifice.
In fact, she is doing me and my generation a favour. Googling SATC locations took up too much time in my life. I recognise that my investment in the characters, my longing for New York City, is akin to clinging on to something that does not exist and that, who knows, is preventing me from fulfilling my true potential. If Cattrall can move on, then so can I.
But if anybody knows the location of that French café in season two, episode 11, where Carrie, Stanford and Charlotte eat French pastries in a quest to determine if Charlotte’s boyfriend is gay, I’d really like to know where it is.
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