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Tube Talk: Carrie On, Sex And The City

TUBE TALK: a weekly TV column with John Forde

Carrie On, Sex And The City

Few TV shows in recent years have attracted the fevered attention and inches of magazine copy as Sex and the City. The brain child of Melrose Place producer Darren Star, Sex and the City’s fizzy cocktail mix of snappy dialogue, bizarre fashion and no-holds-barred sexual frankness has earned the programme street cred, and elevated its kooky-but-loveable star, Sarah Jessica Parker, to cover-girl stardom.

Look everywhere and you’ll see Sex and the City’s influence taking hold – urban slappers guzzling Cosmopolitans in trendy minimalist cocktail bars, the rise and rise of Manolo Blahnik strappy stilettos, and girl journalists everywhere trying to emulate the show’s perky musings on life, love and Brazilian waxes.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for two years, you’ll know that Sex and the City follows the sex lives of four Noo Yawk 30something career girls – Samantha (Kim Cattrall), the vampish PR executive, who chews and spits out men like cocktail olives, Charlotte (Melrose Place alumni Kristin Davis), a Park Avenue princess who dreams of perfectly-happy married life; and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) the lawyer whose loser-guy record feeds her rueful cynicism.

Queen of the quartet is Carrie (Parker), the kooky-but-loveable sex columnist whose job improbably pays for her chic apartment and shoe addiction. Week after week, Carrie thoughtfully types fortune-cookie questions like "Can women have sex like men?" and "Are relationships the new religion?" into her laptop, while she and her friends sleep their way through legions of good-looking freaks – then talk about it over brunch the next day.

And oh, how they talk. Blow jobs, funky spunk, vibrators, spanking, bad breath, faking orgasms, rimming, and men who want to date their mothers - you name it, Carrie and the girls have tried, dissected and dissed it. The episode where the foursome debated in the back of a taxi whether Charlotte should have anal sex with her boyfriend is still the programme’s comic highlight.

Sex and the City’s setting is a fantasy, pre-9/11 New York of parties, gorgeous guys and endless cocktails. But what lifts it above other sitcoms is its witty, razor sharp take on modern singledom and sisterhood. Like four prisms of the same Tiffany’s diamond, the foursome act out the crisis of modern feminism. Can you reconcile your independence with Cinderella dreams of marriage and family? Can you find a man who’ll understand you as well as your girlfriends do? Is anal sex the new black?

In Series Four (currently screening on New Zealand TVs), the show’s writers, mindful that the sex-and-shopping talk couldn’t last forever, are letting their characters diversify. It’s now "Co-dependent Fucked-Up Relationships and the City".

Carrie is locked in a deeply sado-masochistic relationship with Aiden, the burly furniture maker who she won back after cheating on him with her long-term obsession, Mr. Big. (She’s also spiraling into some horrific 80s retro fashion nightmare, too, but that’s another story.)

Transfixed with guilt, she’s now trying to be the perfect girlfriend to Aiden, who despite losing weight and getting a better haircut, is being distrustful, self-righteous and snotty. Carrie’s subconscious is screaming for her to hit the eject button – she forgets to tell people she’s engaged, won’t wear Aiden’s engagement ring on her finger, and breaks into hives when she tries on a wedding dress. Their relationship is doomed – and it makes damn good TV.

Meanwhile, Charlotte got what she wanted – marriage to Dr. Trey (Kyle McLachlan, as creepy here as he was in Twin Peaks) and a great apartment. But life after the fairytale ending has its problems. She’s lumbered with a WASP mother-in-law from Hell, and – more upsettingly – infertility. Faced with the appearance, but not the reality, of a perfect home, Charlotte’s true control freak nature is starting to show – and it ‘aint pretty. “I repel sperm! I’m sperm Raid!” she shrieked. Trey tried to make it up to Charlotte by buying her a cardboard baby. Needless to say, their marriage is on the rocks.

In a neatly ironic counterpoint to Charlotte, Miranda accidentally got pregnant to on-again off-again boyfriend Steve, then decided to keep, not abort, the baby. Mercifully, she’s dealing with pregnancy with the same wry humour and aggression she once dealt with her cleaning woman confiscating her dildo. “I faked my sonogram!” she confessed, after having to dredge up a fake smile to please her gynaecologist when she discovered she was having a boy.

In the midst of all of this mom-a-thon-ing, thank God for Samantha, whose cheerily pro-promiscuity/anti-family quips drive, icepick-like, through Charlotte’s illusions. “If it’s so hard to get pregnant, how do you account for the number of crying children on planes?” she barks over brunch.

Samantha is, one suspects, actually a gay man, created by the show’s largely gay male scriptwriting team as a camp fantasy. (But no one’s complaining about Cattrall’s comic timing, which is as pitch-perfect as her outfits). Perhaps to counter this criticism, this season Samantha got to experiment with being monogamous – admittedly with a Brazilian lesbian. But she got tired of continually talking about her feelings in the bath, and returned –to all our reliefs – to dick. Now – to her horror – she's falling in love with her boss, who’s as much of a power hungry horndog as she is. Watch this space.

Sex and the City’s dedicated party-girl fan base may be disappointed that Carrie & Co. are growing up and settling down. But as long as there’s a martini in hand and a saucy one-liner to spin, Sex and the City will remain, hands-down, TV’s best comedy.

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