The first episode of Sex and the City aired on June 6, 1998, and I instantly fell in love. The Carrie Bradshaw character spoke to me in so many ways: her relationships were imperfect, she had a core group of friends (also imperfect) with whom she processed her relationships, she struggled to establish herself, and she even had wild curly hair similar to mine. It was my first year post college, and so much of my development into adulthood tracked with her own growth into adulthood. It was also the summer that my relationship with my husband began, and we took a good year to settle into a healthy relationship with each other. Several years later, I can remember lending a dear friend my set of recorded VHS tapes, and indoctrinating her to my passion for the show. I had given her the first season, which she didn’t care for, and then I corrected my error and started her in Season 3. Season 1 was more about the sex and less about relationships, and each season became increasingly more character-driven. She was hooked, and then went back to the older seasons when she had exhausted what was available.
The HBO series “Girls” has been called the Sex and the City for the millennial generation, but the comparison falls flat in my opinion. Let’s start with the lead characters. It was easy to cheer for Carrie in all of her struggles, whereas I tend to find myself hoping that Hannah Horvath will finally experience hard consequences for her unwise choices. Both are writers, and tend to be narcissistic, but Hannah has wealthy parents supporting her pursuits whereas Carrie was always on her own. Frankly, I am sure that it would have been hard for Carrie to actually afford her existence, but she mentions her financial struggles in various episodes and makes it clear that she had been on her own from an early age. In one episode, Carrie states that she would skip dinner so that she could purchase Vogue, while Hannah seems to never back off on indulging in her whims. I have to admit that I am thrilled with the fact that Hannah Horvath has a more realistic body than Carrie, and I feel a little ashamed of the fact that I loved being able to see Carrie in various fashions- her character was like my grown-up Barbie. I have yet to see Hannah wear anything I would ever covet. Again, I feel conflicted here, because my feminist self recognizes that Hannah could actually be movement forward, but it is not exactly aspirational.
As far as secondary characters are concerned, Carrie had a core group of friends who were very different but also complimentary. I can imagine that most ladies in the late 90’s/early 00’s knew who was which character in their crew. My friends were very consistent, although I likely was a blend of Carrie and Samantha. Due to the younger age group of the Girls cast, you don’t see them moving to places of career success. It really feels that few of the Girls characters actually have aspirations beyond navel-gazing, while all of the Sex and the City cast were in the process of establishing their career path. The Charlotte character was the most present in search of her MRS, but she is also actively pursuing a career in the art world. The MRS pursuit is more of a distraction than a primary focus for the first couple of seasons, while the Shoshanna and Jessa characters seem to do nothing but pursue the attention of men.
Speaking of men, the male characters on Sex and the City tended to be the type of men that would make a lot of ladies swoon. I was always a major fan of Mr. Big, and was thrilled with the fact that his true identity was kept unknown for much of the series. When Carrie moved on and landed with Aiden, it felt that she had found someone who was able to pull her attention solidly away from Mr. Big. The men who eventually landed with Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte were all blissfully surreal, with even the most minimal character development. I do enjoy both Adam Driver’s Adam Sackler and Alex Karpovsky’s Ray Ploshansky in Girls, particularly as they both play anti-love interests who end up as love interests. I always find myself wondering if anyone would really fall for either in the way that Hannah and Shoshanna manage to entangle themselves, but the truth is that they are much more authentic than any male character who was in Sex and the City.
TV has changed since Sex and the City was in its prime, and this could have a lot to do with why there really hasn’t been another show to hold the attention of so many ladies. We would gather together to watch shows when they aired, and we also gathered to watch my VHS recordings and eventually my DVD box set. The box set has survived several moves and several purges of stuff, because it holds a special spot in my heart. The majority of the programs that are watched now are at our own pace, streaming when it is convenient instead of as they are revealed. Many of my conversations are about which series or season has been watched, recommending whole programs and sharing whether or not there are enough seasons to warrant the time investment. The quick comedy of Catastrophe has definitely caught my interest, but it will never have a permanent spot in my media collection. Let’s face it, the DVD box set of Sex and the City is the only DVD collection that I have.
When people are struggling to understand relationship concepts, I often will refer back to Sex and the City episodes as examples of these concepts. The core episodes “prescribed” by Dr. Daley will be the subject of my next installment!