When I first started watching HBO’s Sex and the City, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, I was enchanted by the charmed New York lives of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis). I ate up their romantic and sexual exploits and I listened to Carrie’s voiceover with reverence. But two decades later, I’m not so sure I believe everything the ladies who brunch had to say.
Rewatching the series a few years ago, I had to stop partway through because the show’s sensibility became so irksome I couldn’t enjoy it anymore. Part of the problem was just the passage of time. The cultural zeitgeist has changed, and SATC has some episodes that now seem homophobic or racist, just like you’d find, for instance, with other 1990s shows like Friends.
The series has aged badly all around: divorced from the relentless hype many of the episodes just aren’t as good as we remember. Carrie’s narration sounds cliched, Samantha’s dialogue feels unnatural and Charlotte is just plain tiresome. The show has simply lost its lustre.
What’s more interesting now is what still resonates, not what doesn’t. Because while much of the series could make you cringe, Sex occasionally hits on some universal truths that haven’t changed. I will never shut up about one 2003 episode, “A Woman’s Right to Shoes.” After years of scrutiny, it’s the one episode that has aged the best, a microcosm of all that we loved about the show that manages to skirt its pitfalls.
If your memory of Sex isn’t encyclopedic, I’ll remind you that, at this point in Carrie Bradshaw’s life (and the show’s sixth season), she’s single. She attends a baby shower for a friend, Kyra (Tatum O’Neal) where she’s asked to remove her shoes at the door of the apartment.
By the end of the night, someone has stolen Carrie’s Manolo Blahniks, a catastrophe that surprisingly doesn’t embarrass the party’s host. When Carrie returns, hoping the shoes have turned up, Kyra awkwardly offers to pay to replace them. But when she discovers the Manolos cost $485, her generosity fades. She thinks the shoes are a waste and refuses to subsidize what she sees as Carrie’s extravagant lifestyle.
But as Carrie later points out, she’s the one who’s been subsidizing Kyra’s lifestyle, and her other married friends’, through bridal showers, bachelorette parties, weddings, baby showers, kids’ birthdays and other celebrations.