As the Sex and the City reboot hits our screens, Lily Richards revisits the original show and wonders whether something made today could ever be the same.
About six months ago, after a day of repetitive tasks (emailing, eating, eliminating, trying to remember something I’d forgotten, audibly sighing whenever one of my children came near me, eating), I flopped onto the couch, opened my laptop and considered my options.
I am both at an age and within an epoch that demands nostalgia. My hunch is that it’s more than the normal mid-30s kind of nostalgia where you find yourself digging out old Liz Phair albums and wondering if you kept that Standard Issue cardigan somewhere… I suspect it’s an altogether more aggressive, desperate kind of nostalgia, based on the fact that the world is currently fucked.
Right now, people can’t smile at each other, children can’t hug friends, petting random cats is frowned upon, technology is now our shadow overlord dictating who can and cannot have an opinion. If I am anything to go by, we are stressed, sad, lonely and in need of something to binge-watch.
Specifically a show born into a different, more hopeful era when bisexual was as progressive as it got and a thirst for shoes, cocaine and cigarettes could propel a good half hour of dialogue. Which was why, after trawling through endless high-tech, high-concept new releases I settled on re-watching Sex and the City.
I was 13 years old when Sex and the City first hit our screens in 1998. A riot of sexual innuendo and outright exposition went almost entirely over my head. I caught some stray references; I clocked what a blow job was, I pegged Samantha for a slut, I recognised my older sister in Carrie’s devotion to her wardrobe and I was also largely bored by Charlotte and Miranda whose goals to marry, and to be a lawyer I found dull. So it was with a somewhat unsettling delight (did this prove I definitely wasn’t cool?) that I began a self-taught media studies class by rewatching it from the beginning.
Over the course of its six seasons, the show was nominated for 50 Emmys and won seven. It was the first TV show to include seriously good fashion, to blur the line between costuming and styling, the first to make fashion another character in the show.
Carrie in her emerald green silk bunny hop skirt with the huge white padded tail. Carrie wearing a cowboy hat and a bandeau at a twenty-somethings Hamptons’ hoedown. Carrie (it’s all Carrie) in a tight white crepe dress as she catches Big’s eye whilst he’s en route to his engagement party (to someone else). There are endless blogs categorising screenshots into top 10 outfits that, although you probably wouldn’t wear them today, you have to admit, still look great on SJP. And every single one of them had a mood, a movement and a moment. You could spot a heatwave from how Carrie’s shorts got shorter. A bad streak with men for Miranda would often culminate in a bizarre textural layered outfit in mismatched pastel and earth tones as if to scream “Mayaswell, I couldn’t make myself any less appealing.”
Samantha’s penchant for baggy, bold and block coloured power suits forecast her bucking some kind of sacred taboo, be it in the boardroom or the bedroom, and in stark contrast you knew Charlotte would be getting some action if she looked like she’d been dressed by Martha Stewart holding the cover of a bodice-ripper for reference. In legendary costume designer Patricia Field’s own words “It’s a storytelling situation.”
And yet, what’s maybe more interesting than the fashion, is watching a show written and filmed pre-cancel-culture. A time when questionable opinions were opined and the sky didn’t fall down. Maybe that’s the real reason Samantha’s character wasn’t renewed for the upcoming season? The world can no longer cope with opinions it doesn’t agree with. Can you cancel a fictional character? Probably we’d just hunt down the writer and assassinate them instead. Facebook and Instagram’s censorship algorithm would have exploded if it had to deal with Samantha’s nipples and her comments about trans people: “I am paying a fortune to live in a neighbourhood that’s trendy by day and tranny by night.”
Would we have banned Carrie when she balked at the idea of her hot young boyfriend confiding his bisexuality to her? “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists. I think it’s just a layover on the way to Gaytown.”
Right or wrong aside, it’s bloody refreshing watching a show that explored different ideas without scrutinizing their impact.
The four women practically spew awful sentiments, at least to each other, and apparently aren’t afraid of being ‘unfriended’ because that charming prospect didn’t exist pre-Facebook. When cellphones and personal computers finally make an appearance, Carrie isn’t interested.
Yes, there was homo-obsession and fetishisation of Black men, there was slut shaming and materialism but there was also the right to be wrong and less of an appetite to take yourself so seriously. Its initial pre-internet optimism hinted at the opportunity to get better, the writers didn’t seem to be checking every sentence to ensure it wouldn’t offend anyone from now until the end of time.
With the current level of self-scrutiny and righteousness I cannot imagine what the reboot will be like or how it will manage to have a sense of humour. But if it fails, we can, at least, go back in time and binge watch the ballerina skirts, strappy sandals and golden namesake necklaces of an arguably less complicated era.