Hollywood loves a reboot.
It’s often as simple as tweaking an old fail-safe recipe for modern times. But what happens when modern times are anything but simple? Since its conception over twenty years ago, Sex and The City fans have lived through movements such as Me Too, Black Lives Matter and the Worldwide pledge to not wear a Tutu past the age of 12. Which leaves me to ponder what business Sex and The City, a show that had its heyday during the frivolous 90s, has returning to our screens in 2021?
I first discovered Carrie Bradshaw and friends at the tender age of 13. Like the young magpie that I was, I recognised the arrival of gold in my household when I saw it. This time it came to me in the form of the entire box set. The show became a world I could dip in and out of from the comfort of my single bed. It introduced my young eyes to a world of wonder, of fashion and female gossip.
There are many one-liners that have been cemented into my brain. I can recite entire sections of dialogue with little to no shame. To me, it will forever be comforting to watch Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw in an outrageous outfit talking about a minor relationship drama. It would become, like it did for many young girls, the basis upon which I built my ideas surrounding ‘adult’ relationships and notions of womanhood.
Of course the show has now aged and when rewatching it feels more whimsical, cartoonish and at times downright ridiculous. However, it has at its core what many women can relate to — honest and heartfelt conversations about sex. This was the first time we’d seen storylines in a prime time television show that centred around female sexuality. It featured complex narratives that were solely about female friendship. At its conception, the show injected an unabashed feminine energy into a network that was dominated by shows centred by men, such as The Sopranos.
Sex and The City had never been something I needed to dissect, it was just there when I needed frivolity. The outdatedness of the show was pointed out to me by friends who came to the series many years after I did. They were viewing the show as an artefact, a period piece which could be torn apart and devoured deliciously, like a roast chicken. At first it bothered me that they came so late to the party and ruined my fun. I wanted to view Sex and The City through anything but a political lens, but eventually I couldn’t ignore their observations.
As I learnt more about important movements that would come to shape my identity as a young woman, such as intersectional feminism, I fell somewhat out of love with the show. Its particular brand of feminism is now unpopular and distasteful. It offers a narrow view of womanhood. Some may argue it promotes and adheres to an idealistic image of women — skinny, white, successful.
There are so many parts of the show that can now be deemed as ‘problematic’, a phrase many of us love to throw around to vaguely demonstrate our level of ‘wokeness’. Its handling of the issue of race is particularly lack lustre. The blinding whiteness of the show is unusual considering that it takes place in the multicultural hub that is New York City.
One episode that is particularly grating to watch is ‘No ifs, ands, or butts’ in which Samantha, the show’s resident nympho, starts dating a black record producer called Chivon. It is disappointing that Chivon, one of the only black characters in the entire series, manifests as a cross between P Diddy and Iceberg Slim. Watching Samantha in this episode is a bit like watching your aunt come back from holiday with a new foreign boyfriend, she’s using the right slang but it sounds all wrong in her accent. She goes to RnB clubs straight out of a hip-hop music video, where everyone wears sunglasses indoors.
Samantha bumps and grinds with her new beau in ‘Jennifer Lopez looking dresses’, much to the raging disapproval of his Black sister. Chivon’s sister ends up fulfilling the angry black woman trope rather quickly when she slaps Samantha around for refusing to be told who she “can and can’t fuck”. This episode is twenty years old, no wonder it feels hopelessly tone-deaf.
The series has since gained notoriety for its lack of diversity. For a show that has never claimed to be about anything but four middle class white women, this critique is not hugely surprising. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy the outfits and the one-liners. Perhaps we simply have to disengage our brains when doing so. It is also perhaps true that not every piece of television has to be politically groundbreaking, sometimes we do just need to escape.
Perhaps we are right to view this series as an artefact. Or perhaps the show was reflecting a kind of truth of its times. It may have been true that white affluent Upper East Side women scarcely interacted with black women from the Bronx. It could perhaps also be true that these type of women would have only slept with Black men as a form of sexual exploration. Just because we don’t like the past doesn’t mean we can criticise a television show that was made twenty years ago for arguably reflecting some uncomfortable truths.
Whilst I do think that it is futile to condemn a television show that was conceived during an entirely different political landscape, I believe we have a duty as storytellers to tackle certain social issues. In this current climate of political tension, it’s clear that viewers want more diversity. We want to see a more nuanced depiction of modern life. When considering the shows that have experienced success in past years, this becomes obvious.
Whilst Netflix’s Bridgerton has been praised for featuring diversity in its cast, Darren Star’s most recent offering, Emily in Paris, fell flat for doing exactly the opposite. Emily in Paris is essentially about a tone deaf American marketing exec who moves to Paris and insults every person she meets. She sends back her steak for being too rare and snaps selfies with a pan au chocolat like she’s just discovered the cure for cancer. It is irritatingly watchable, critics deemed it as ‘Ambient TV’, and more harshly as ‘embarassing’ and ‘excruciating’.
On the other side of the spectrum, Michaela Cole’s I May Destroy you was breathtaking and deeply thought provoking work, tackling complex issues such as consent and rape culture. It presents us with an entire world that has rarely been captured so poignantly onscreen. Cole spoke of the difficulties she faced whilst filming her first series Chewing Gum with Channel Four — fighting for agency on a show that she herself created. Cole spoke of the racial inequality that was experienced on set, comparing it to ‘a f***ing slave ship’. Cole’s experience proves that even when in the driving seat, women still have to shout louder to be heard - and perhaps louder still for black women.
Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag, born from a monologue at an Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2012, was another great success of recent years. Fleabag breaks the fourth wall and tackles complex social norms. Waller Bridge created a KickStarter fund to attain interest in the show from production companies. I may Destroy You and Fleabag are shows about the female experience, they were written and directed by women, they subvert the male gaze. And it is safe to assume that the path to success was not an easy one for either Cole or Waller Bridge.
It is time then, to pay attention to the content that we are being offered by behemoth production companies such as HBO. We have to question who is writing shows about women and who gets paid to tell their stories. When a television show enters our ether these days, we have little choice but to view it as a remark on our times. Unless it is to be viewed as anything but a period piece, the Sex and The City reboot, called ‘And Just Like That’, has some serious catching up to do.
In an effort not to contribute to cancel culture, I still very much enjoy watching this show that will never fail to bring me joy. However, it is impressive and important that we can look back on a series made twenty years ago and recognise that the ideas it presented to us are now outdated.
So to Sex And The City: thank you for the good times and the fluffy outfits, but now I want to see something that reflects more truly my experience as a woman living in a modern world. I want stories written by women about women for women, and I don’t want it to be so difficult for these stories to be told.