Sex and the City: Imagine it Today!

According to Entertainment Weekly, the CW television network is about to close the deal on a prequel series to Sex and the City, based on Candace Bushnell’s The Carrie Diaries. While it’s painful to watch Hollywood destroy memories of a once-clever show in order to squeeze every last drop out of a dying franchise (the Sex and the City 2 movie, anyone?) it’s even more frustrating that TV execs are looking backwards instead of forwards. We don’t need the SATC 1980s-retro-prequel; what we need is SATC revamped for a new generation of women negotiating work, family, love and sex in contemporary America.

What made SATC so progressive when it first aired in 1998 was that it brought the intimacy of some contemporary women’s lives to light. Not only did they talk about their sex lives, but the characters discussed such real-life feminist issues  as sexism in the workplace, body image, financial independence and dependence and, eventually, marriage and parenting.

Today, many point out the flaws in SATC–such as its unrealistic portrayal of how single, working women living in New York City could afford to own a closet of Manolos and dine on $30 salads. People also criticize the show for its one-note portrayal of gay men as lispy, effeminate “queens.” For all its barrier-breaking in the late 1990s and early 2000s, SATC doesn’t really hold up as a socially progressive show today. And we need one.

If a truly contemporary SATC were being written today, what would it look like?

–The character of Samantha (Kim Cattrall), who called herself a “try-sexual” (she’ll try anything once), represented women who were exploring casual or non-monogamous sex with multiple partners. But today, the taboo-smashing Samantha might be polyamorous, pansexual and gender queer. One episode might focus around Sam’s insistence that hir friends start using the non-gendered pronouns “ze” and “hir.” While the original Samantha dabbled in kinky sex, today’s Sam could be part of the organized kink community, giving viewers the opportunity to learn about SM, safewords and negotiation checklists.

–Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) represented “career women” trying to compete with men in a sexist workplace. Today, Miranda would still be fighting that battle–but as a black woman in the workforce. Changing Miranda’s race would open the door to discussions about the intersections of racism, sexism and class and how they play out at home and in the workplace. Much of the original Miranda plot arc centered on her financially unbalanced relationship with baby-daddy Steve; she was a high-earning lawyer, he a low-earning bartender. A black Miranda would add another layer of complexity, providing the opportunity to explore the oft-reported issue of black women out-earning black men.

–Charlotte (Kristin Davis) represented a more conservative sort of woman who had to negotiate her traditional values and goals (love, marriage, children) with her refusal to settle for less than everything she wanted. Today, Charlotte might be re-imagined as a femme lesbian looking to meet her butch “Ms. Right,” get married, and have children. Charlotte’s plot arc gives us the opportunity to discuss the legalization of gay marriage, the mixed feelings towards marriage in the gay community, the reality of the gay dating scene and coming out in the workplace. What could be really exciting here is the portrayal of Charlotte’s butch lovers as attractive and sexually desirable–something I don’t think we have ever seen on mainstream television.

–Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) was, in some ways, the least developed character on SATC. We know almost nothing about her family, her upbringing, etc. This ambiguity is strategic since, as the SATC protagonist, every woman is supposed to be able to identify with Carrie a little bit. Playing both a writer and the show’s narrator, Carrie’s purpose is to give women a voice. Remarkably, her character translates seamlessly into a contemporary role: Instead of being a newspaper columnist, thoroughly modern Carrie would be a sex and fashion blogger trying to stick to her ideals and manage her image as a burgeoning internet celebrity. The original Carrie sometimes had trouble separating her personal life and her public life; updated Carrie would continue this struggle, negotiating the additional challenges to privacy and persona on the web.

It’s unfortunate that instead of looking forward and tackling the new issues of the day, television producers are jumping on the Mad Men bandwagon and going retro, as in the upcoming Playboy Club and Pan Am series. It’s easier to discuss sexism and other social issues retrospectively; it’s more difficult to capture the complexity of women’s lives as they unfold in the moment.

SATC became iconic because it gave a generation of women a voice in a mainstream TV series. What show(s) will be the voice of the next generation of women? When will we see realistic contemporary issues and challenges faced by women represented on TV?

Cartoon by Sarah Richardson. All rights reserved.

Comments

  1. I hated SATC. Granted, I came to the party a bit late (I probably saw my first episode in 2004), but it seemed to be a show that called itself progressive while actually featuring a bunch of shrieking over ridiculous, expensive clothes, makeup, and other material things. And every issue somehow revolved around a man: how to catch one, how to keep one, how to not inadvertently emasculate one. The characters were whiny, needy, privileged, and far from self-fulfilled. The last thing we need is another show that claims to address women’s experiences while in reality making us all look like vapid idiots. Let’s come up with something new. Something that won’t teach women that empowerment is owning a pair of designer shoes, and that won’t reinforce the very gender stereotypes it claims to overturn. Let’s come up with something that men and women can enjoy because it addresses issues in accessible, poignant ways. Let’s stop claiming that this consumerist form of women’s entertainment does anything other than alienate and undermine.

  2. Great article!! I think maybe the “L Word” is an example of a cutting-edge show producers should take note of when trying to create a new series that will actually expose modern problems. Hopefully this version of SATC will fizzle and fade because it is lacking that contemporary newness and honesty that the first series possessed . . .

  3. Watching SATC with my wife was a programmed event – a time to enjoy a glass of wine and each other’s company. It was a meeting place – I can’t relate to designer fashion, and she can’t relate to car crashes and chase scenes. SATC allowed us a common ground. It was edgy (at the time), it was funny, and the characters resembled no one we ever knew and they met in places we would never go. That’s why is was entertainment. If I want a hard sell I read the New Republic or the Atlantic.

    Arguably, if it was populated with more “modern” characters and more edgy themes as the writer supposes, it would not have as many viewers. It would not be as easy to “share” with a friend or a partner. By exploring subjects that are too uncomfortable viewers would find safety in the remote control. In the end, that would leave us nothing to share but reruns.

  4. Anyone notice how SATC infuriated men? Male reviews hated it, and lots of guys were really threatened by it. Granted, the show was not very realistic, but it was refreshing and entertaining to see strong, independent women who treated men the way men usually treat women – as pleasure toys.

  5. I love your idea of remimaging SATC in a way that’s much more overtly feminist and more challenging/interesting. Some racial and sexual orientation diversity would be especially welcome. Maybe one of the women could even be disabled, and demonstrate the issues of living in a busy city that doesn’t accommodate her needs?

    But I actually really liked the first Carrie Diaries book (the second, not as much — while Miranda is a feminist, she’s a “harpy” stereotype… ’til she gets laid, and the whole thing felt very sleazy in general) and think there’s a lot of promise here depending on how well it’s cast and how well they integrate into Carrie’s on-screen backstory (which is very different from her in-book one).

  6. this would be such a good show; I wish it could get produced

  7. There already is a show a lot like this “modern” version of STC! Its called “The L Word”. It is progressive and represents all sorts of different kinds of women in different places and of different sexualities. However there is a reason that shows like this aren’t mainstream, because they are threatening to hegemonic patriarchal ideals of male dominance…and guess who owns the TV stations and decides what gets produced????

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