On May 14, I wrote about an excerpt I read in Entertainment Weekly concerning a book slated for release in July that assesses an HBO show known for the barriers it broke. Written by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed The Way We Think, Live, And Love explores the cultural impact of said show and why it’s still relevant today. Although I’ve seen every episode of SATC many times and am very aware of the significant impact the show made regarding fashion, brunch, shoes, refusing to live a conventional life, and the importance of friendships, I was excited to read a best-selling author’s analysis.
What I like about Armstrong as a writer is that, like a true journalist should, she examines all sides of the story. While she discusses how the show made household names out of Manolo Blahnik, Cosmopolitan cocktails, Pastis, and the Meatpacking District, she also points out infuriating aspects like Carrie saying “shopping is my cardio” when she has six-pack abs. She also highlights the lack of diversity, the implausibility of Carrie having enough money to spend $500 on shoes when she writes one newspaper column a week, and the ridiculousness of women in their thirties eating out and drinking all the time without gaining a pound.
By publishing this book, Armstrong brings the SATC series full circle. The popular television show started with Candace Bushnell’s newspaper columns and now there is a book about the significance of all of those stories.
- Armstrong sets the tone of her book with this Bushnell quote: “I don’t write books because I want everyone to like the characters.”
- Over the years, “Field made Carrie Bradshaw an icon.”
- “The coffee shop scenes, in which the four women gather to discuss the theme of the week, were gold.”
- “If the Sex and the City women were consuming something, viewers coveted it, stalked it, bought it, made it, or devoured it.”
- Big is brilliantly described as “a man practically woven out of red flags.”
- Following 9/11, the SATC cast and crew wondered whether they were irrelevant or more relevant than ever: “As the show grew more serious around this time, Sex and the City also started to gain serious recognition as not only a quality television show, thanks to the Emmys, but also a socially significant one.”
- Petrovsky was brought in to be “bigger than Big and the absolute opposite of Aidan and Berger – commanding, worldly, confident, and terrifying in his hugeness.”
- On the final season and series finale: “The stakes had never been higher for Sex and the City’s heroines. The writers, too, faced their riskiest maneuver yet. They had to stick the landing.”
- “The Versace dress decision was one of [executive producer] King’s great takeaways from his entire Sex and the City experience: Sometimes what mattered most was the spectacle.”
- “The series might as well have been a production of the New York tourism board, it made the city look so inviting.”
What I learned:
- Sex and the City was initially seen as a more sophisticated, forward-thinking version of Caroline in the City, Mad About You, and Friends.
- Darren Star (of 90210 fame) wanted to create characters who were smart, independent, vulnerable, vulgar, and sexual. He also “wrote something he himself would want to watch” and always had Sarah Jessica Parker in mind for Carrie Bradshaw.
- All four of the leading actresses had reservations about doing the show.
- In the two decades prior to SATC, Cynthia Nixon was in 25 plays on and off Broadway.
- The entire first season was shot before any episodes aired.
- Costume designer Patricia Field was brought on in episode two and was ready to “bring a more interesting aesthetic to pop culture.”
- Star wanted the opening credits to accomplish three things: be sexy, be sophisticated, and let the audience know that laughing was encouraged. Carrie was originally supposed to be in a blue dress but Field wanted her in a tutu to stand out.
- In terms of filming, SATC set itself apart from Friends and Seinfeld by filming on location in actual New York City.
- Episodes were created based on real-life stories and experiences the writers brought to the writing room.
- In the beginning SATC received a slew of negative reviews – most of which were about Parker’s looks and reverse sexism.
- Although it’s common knowledge that the show made cupcakes a trend, what Armstrong pointed out was that it was a trend the masses could afford.
- The show’s crew was meticulous about details – even items in Carrie’s closet were constantly being shifted around to make it look lived-in.
- Season three, which was my favorite for sure, is when SATC hit its stride and therefore had a much larger costume budget. “Carrie’s everyday outfits could cost about $2,000 total” and in episode seventeen her entire ensemble, including shoes, dress, and handbag, cost $23,000! “Sex and the City life came with a price, one way or another.”
- After more than three seasons, the SATC audience grew from 3.8 million viewers for its debut to 6.5 million for its fourth season premiere.
- Fans brought Aidan back!
- The fight scene between Carrie and Aidan in season four is one of executive producer Michael Patrick King’s favorite scenes – and mine too.
- One line in the show – “He’s just not that into you” – spawned a best-selling book and a movie that grossed over $181 million worldwide.
- The first SATC movie earned $56 million in its first weekend – the biggest opening ever for an R-rated film and a film with a female lead.
SATC also significantly contributed to transforming “kids” stuff to popular items for wealthy adults including cupcakes, crop tops, glitter, tutus, and restaurants with names like “Cafeteria.” More importantly, it depicted a lifestyle that challenged the norm in a way that was glamorous and fun, but also hinged on the importance of friendships.
Like all the best stories, Sex and the City came down to the writing which was always fresh, provocative, and authentic. The show’s writers told stories that mattered to them and realized that what they were writing mattered to millions of others as well. Though people wanted to experience the glamour portrayed on the show, audiences could also relate to characters who were not morally perfect – even if the show was completely female-driven.
Overall, Armstrong does an excellent job delving into why SATC will always resonate with audiences. Clearly she did her research and her thoughtful analysis provides an accurate depiction of why doing things different can yield the most exciting results.