Box Set Club: Sex and the City
After some clunky opening episodes, it doesn't take long for series one to morph into the show I remember so fondly
Julia RaesideTuesday 2 August 2011 14.44 BST
Watching the first series of Sex and the City again after 10 years was an exercise in rosy nostalgia and painful wincing. When I first met Carrie Bradshaw and her friends in 1998, I fell pretty hard for them. The show quickly became the one I could not miss. Social arrangements had to fit around my weekly date with four fabulously-dressed fictional women having their pretend brunches. Yes, I was pretty cool.
I had graduated, moved to London and was thrilled by the possibilities of living in a city. Sex and the City coincided perfectly with my tentative first steps into urban adult life and I clung to it like a life raft. And I really felt that the women on screen were like me, albeit more expensively dressed, with better jobs and nicer flats. Looking back now, they were about as similar to me as the Empire State Building is to my shoe. They talk openly about masturbation, penis size and intimate sexual practise while entirely sober. I'd have to be blootered to get that graphic. And they never spend more than a couple of weeks being single. And they're thin.
|Sex and the City: Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon. Photograph: Norman Jean Roy|
The first season opens with what was obviously the pilot episode, tacked on to a series that was filmed much later. The writers try to jam the entire feminist manifesto (plus shopping) into the first half hour and Carrie sports a vast ginger hairdo like the one she had when she played Annie. The mass of agitated blonde worms make its appearance in episode two.
I'd forgotten how much Carrie talks to the camera in these early episodes. And the narrative is peppered with self-conscious vox pops from anonymous extras like quotes in a naive GCSE essay on sexual politics. But the pontificating about the differences between men and women was new to my 23-year-old ears back then. Now it sounds trite and hackneyed but I suppose that's the trouble with fashion, it dates quickly. I had to fast-forward past the bit where Carrie compares the divide between men and women to The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
In those early episodes, some of the plotting and exposition is as clunky as Carrie's incredibly noisy laptop keyboard. Seriously, she wants to get that examined at the Genius Bar. It's deafening.
But it doesn't take long for this series to slowly morph into the show I remember with such affection. Carrie is a maddening fruitcake of a woman but her comic timing gives her the necessary spark of appeal. And despite the often irritating displays of self-doubt, Carrie's insecurity is what spoke so loudly to me and millions of other women trying to find happiness back then.
In episode one she sleeps with a repeat offender called Curt who always loves her and leaves her, under the pretext of turning the tables on him. But men holding huge "Do not feed the ego" signs are like iron filings to Carrie's skinny little magnet. She's lovable for about five minutes – I used to properly adore her – then you want to slam that sash window on her stupid fingers and tell her to get a grip. Then she crumples into a heap and you like her again. Big enters the picture in the first episode and is the catalyst that turns Carrie from a happy-go-lucky single gal into an obsessive, insecure nightmare.
Miranda, the independent lawyer, has her defences set to stun in this first season. She snaps and snarls with such ferocity it's a wonder her friends don't march her straight into therapy. Her love interest in the first series is a sweet, nerdy Skipper who is clearly the blueprint for Steve, the adorable and much sexier dweeb she finally marries.
She treats Skipper so badly that you kind of loath him for not telling her to get lost. Then later in the series, she kisses a lesbian she's using to advance her career, just to make sure she's not gay as "life would be so much easier". I had perhaps the fondest memories of Miranda but proto-Miranda really isn't a very sympathetic character at all. She gets better, and more layered, in later series.
Charlotte surprised me the most as I remembered her being pretty one-dimensional and a total prude from the outset. But just in this series she has a threesome with her boyfriend and poses nude for an artist who likes to paint massive close-ups of vaginas. Quite the goer.
And Samantha, the sexually voracious one goes through cycles of incessant bonking, followed by a relationship that's always against her better judgment. In this series, she falls for a man so whole-heartedly that she waits before sleeping with him. Restraint is not a word in her vocabulary. Only when she finally "unwraps the goods" does she discover he has a tiny penis and the relationship droops thereafter. It's actually a relief when she reverts to type. Her sole function in the first series is to demonstrate sexual confidence at all times, throwing the other three into sharp relief while they're having self-conscious sex in their bras.
Needless to say, I have every episode of Sex and the City on DVD but series one is not the most-viewed in my collection. It has been good going back to the beginning at a time when the films have done such a demolition job on the brand I loved so much. I enjoyed reminding myself what a panacea this show was to me when I was lurking in the self-imposed gloom of my own single life. And though we went our separate ways for a while, I shall always love it.