It has been over 20 years since Sex and the City first graced our television screens. In many ways, the show was groundbreaking. It was funny, smart, and to many, a true–to–life depiction of female friendship, sex, and singlehood. But as times have changed, it’s no longer the relatable, easy watching that it once was. Especially with an HBO Max reboot recently announced, it’s important to look at this iconic series through a more modern lens.
When the show first premiered in June 1998, I wasn’t even born, and when its last episode aired in 2004, I was only three years old. Practically speaking, this meant that I missed (along with most of Gen Z) almost all of the cultural commentary and debate surrounding the show because we’ve undergone massive social change in the last two decades.
I binge–watched the show earlier this month, and by binge–watch, I mean that I devoured the show in a single sitting. All in all, I loved it. It got so many things right, and I took comfort in Carrie Bradshaw and her friends’ mishaps while watching them fall in and fail at love time and time again. For every single hardship going on in my life at the time, whether it be being ghosted or being overwhelmed by work, I found an answer or a parallel in the lives of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, or Samantha.
Viewers are generally starved of representation of women on screen and when we do get it, we want them to represent all of womankind, not just the tiny subset the story is actually centered on. While Carrie was perhaps supposed to be the perfect role model for women, I found myself relating to her because of how imperfect she was. Underneath all of the glitz and glamour, Carrie’s life was a mess. To a certain degree, that made me feel better about any residual messiness in my own life.
But as much as I enjoy the show, it has so many pitfalls. Viewing the show from a contemporary lens, I decided to weigh up the good, the bad, and the ugly of one of the most famous shows of all time, and see if it really is Gen Z–compatible as HBO Max gears up to reboot it.
It taught viewers how to love the single life.
Sex and the City follows the lives of four women in their thirties as they navigate the ups and downs of New York City living. Bar Charlotte, none of the women were particularly interested in marriage at the beginning of the show. They all had fulfilling jobs that they loved and friends they could depend on for both love and support. The show was one of the first to explicitly promote the message that it isn’t the end of the world if a woman remains unmarried after her 30th birthday.
In fact, it showed viewers that sometimes no matter how perfect the man is or the relationship might seem to be, it’s okay if things don’t work out. It shouted loud and clear: If it’s not right, then don’t settle. Sex and the City showed the lives of women who didn’t need to be in a relationship to be happy. Carrie and the gang had fun—they drank, had sex, and worked hard. All in all, they loved their lives. It reminded us that we can find fulfillment in many different forms, whether it be through a career, friends, or finding a place to call home—there’s more to aspire to in life than the perfect marriage or romantic relationship. Charlotte says it best to Carrie, Miranda, and Samantha: “Maybe we can be each other’s soulmates.”
It’s a show about women for women.
Films and TV shows that focus on the stories of women are still not as common as they should be, but Sex and the City was definitely ahead of the game. To no one’s surprise, the show passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, meeting all of the test’s criteria easily. To be fair, some of the dialogue and the puns featured in the show were tedious, but the camaraderie between the four women remains unrivaled. These were women who were mostly supportive and kind to one another instead of catty and always competing. For the most part, the women were always there for each other and genuinely valued one another. That being said, the most unrealistic aspect of their relationship was that they had so much time to brunch and hang out despite their jobs, children, and partners.
It is just so white.
For a show set in one of the most diverse cities in the world, an overwhelming majority of the characters are white. At one point in season three, Samantha, who “didn’t see color,” struck up a short–lived relationship with a Black record executive named Chivon. Throughout their relationship, we hear Samantha fetishize Chivon constantly, and ultimately, they break up due to his sister’s disapproval of him dating a white woman. This disapproval that leads to the end of their relationship forces Chivon’s sister into the role of the 'angry black woman,' an age–old, harmful stereotype.
The producers tried to remedy the lack of diversity in the show through the casting of Jennifer Hudson as Carrie’s assistant in the first film. However, this just left many viewers with a bad taste in our mouths as we watched Hudson’s character sorting through Carrie’s mail and looking thrilled when her boss gifts her with hand–me–downs.
Its representation of the LGBTQ community
Carrie’s biphobia in season three is uncomfortable to watch at best and blatantly offensive at worst. When she dates Sean, a younger man whose previous relationship was with another man, she claims that bisexuality does not exist. Infused by her own insecurities, she says to him, "I'm not even sure bisexuality exists. I think it's just a layover on the way to Gaytown."
On top of Carrie’s biphobia, the representation of the LGBTQ community itself is also extremely problematic. In the world of Sex and the City, there are only two types of gay men—the campy ones with a great sense of style, and the gossipy ones who dole out sharp quips and one–liners. Carrie and Charlotte’s best friends, Stanford and Anthony, are the perfect caricatures of every single stereotype of a gay man that you can think of. Of course, the two end up together because there are obviously no other gay men in New York.
Sometimes, Carrie was the absolute worst.
Although the show’s focus was the friendship between the four women, most people would have cut Carrie from their circle immediately, myself included. Self–absorbed, selfish, and always complaining, Carrie continuously slut–shamed Samantha, sent her boyfriend to check up on Miranda while she was sick instead of going herself, and stopped talking to Charlotte when she refused to lend her money. When Miranda was contemplating whether or not to get an abortion and needed a friend, Carrie spent days walking around New York contemplating her own life. When Samantha was getting chemotherapy to fight off breast cancer, Carrie was more wrapped up in her eventually unsuccessful relationship with Petrovsky.
But we need to consider that there would be no Girls or The Bold Type without Sex and the City. Although we may cringe from time to time at the jokes in the show or how they depict certain issues, it’s undeniable that Sex and the City holds an important place in television history. Without Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha we wouldn’t be having the conversations that lead to more female–led perspectives and narratives in shows such as Good Girls or Big Little Lies.
Looking forward to the new reboot of the show, Sex and the City has a lot to make up for. I still genuinely enjoy the show, but some bits and pieces are incredibly uncomfortable to watch. I recommend that you give Sex and the City a watch, if nothing but to marvel at how far we’ve come as a society, with the show having paved the way for modern representation of women's sex lives and complex female characters.