March 2004

Liz Miller

hollywood madam

That Whole Pink Thing

Look, I didn't want to be the first one to say something, but it's time to face it, girls. We have a problem. No, not the equal pay for equal work thing. Not the assault on Roe v. Wade. Not those godforsaken Ugs. It's a lot more insidious than that.

Not to mention, much more pink.

It's raining in Los Angeles, and right now, in Burbank, some friends are having a party to watch the last ever episode of Sex and the City. I am not at the party -- I'm tired, and it's in Burbank, and it's raining. Instead, I plan on getting into pajamas, making some tea, and falling onto the couch with my knitting and the remote control.

I haven't read any of the Kim Cattrall interviews or seen any of the Sarah Jessica Parker publicity. I'm not going to watch that damnably maudlin hour-long retrospective. But tonight, I am going to surrender forty-five minutes of my life to Sex and the City, one last time.

Stupid X-chromosome.

Actually, it's not the chromosome that's to blame. It's the pink -- the girlie frothy pink that evaporates into faintly scented air. Sure, the free-for-all cursing, hot male guest stars, and slapstick comedy in the form of bad fashion give the series a little zah-zah-zoo (to quote one of Carrie's many crimes against the English language), but the fact remains that there is a nation of women (and gay men) who have been tuning in week after week, spending hours upon hours of quality time with their favorite female archetypes. So many people, hooked on an never-ending romantic comedy, sugary sweet and oh so... pink.

I've been casually watching the show for the past few years, via DVDs and reruns, but I never gave the show a lot of thought -- especially since a friend had already declared that she was "so Miranda" and there was no one else I really wanted to be. But when I thought about it ending, I kinda wondered -- where did it come from?

Thus, mere days before the last episode, I sat down with Darren Star's source material -- Candace Bushnell's anthology of columns from the New York Observer, featuring a naked Parker on the cover (girlie bits concealed by a strategically placed laptop). Put on my pajamas, made some tea, and fell onto the couch, prepared for some syrupy romance and bad puns.

Believe me, I was more than pleased when I found both lacking.

Bushnell's writing is candid and clear, a journalistic touch meshing nicely with the personal introspection she layers on delicately. The columns showcased aren't structured around the pedantic questions that drive each episode of the show -- instead, they simply focus on people dealing with the vagaries of relationships in a romance-free world. It's not telling readers about the way things are, it's just showing people in the midst of the social scene, seeking that stability of connection.

It's not half bad.

One of my favorite columns detailed men discussing their experiences with threesomes. Loosened up with pot and booze, the guys profiled speak highly of the hotness of two women going at it, but the awkwardness of the interaction is not shortchanged, nor the issues of masculinity underlying everything. One man discusses the half-dozen times he's shared some woman with his friend Bill, remarking that it was "a validation of our heterosexuality." But then he notes that Bill once participated in a threesome with another man that featured some guy-on-guy interaction. "To me, that constitutes latent homosexual yearnings," he said. "Do I have those yearnings? I don't know. Maybe Bill wasn't my type." It's these moments of honesty that elevate the book beyond simply being tawdry tales of steamy nights. Because in the end, the book's not about romance, it's about reality, and the people that inhabit it.

The vague approximation of the show's characters are present in the book -- or rather, names make the transition from book to screen, even if characters do not. Samantha is a forty-ish film producer who "has sex like a man," but Charlotte is the disillusioned English journalist nerds might remember from the pilot episode, Miranda has sex in other people's closets during parties, and Stanford is a Esterhaus-esque screenwriter who prefers straight men. Even Smith Jarred, the Hotty McHotzstein who began screwing Samantha during the show's final season, can be traced back to a vapid model/actor in the book known only as "the Bone," who even has a mammoth Times Square billboard where his cock is "fourteen feet long."

The most startling difference between page and screen, though, was seeing Carrie depicted in the book as an actual character. I'd gotten used to show-Carrie's only defining traits being self-obsession, self-importance, and whininess, and so the brazen, cool-hearted woman in the book, who extinguishes cigarettes on hotel carpets and wears an old Yves Saint Laurent jacket with her jeans, was actually a lot of fun. I'd always thought of Carrie as simply a Bushnell surrogate, but to see her and her awkward relationship with Mr. Big depicted on paper made her distinct from the storyteller; the questioning position Carrie takes so often during the series was absent. Perhaps this is why the book has a greater impact -- rather than force the primary character to straddle the observer and participant roles, Bushnell's distance allows for a more detached viewpoint, and the material becomes thought-provoking, not so tear-jerking, as a result.

For a series with a lot of time on its hands and few-to-no restrictions on its content, it's sad to see Sex and the City eschew Bushnell's delicate touch, relying on anvils to make a point when a feather would do. (She lost her "Carrie" necklace! It's like she's lost herself!) Some intense moments of drama tend to be beautifully underplayed, but otherwise the writers appear to have left their restraint in one of those fabulous New York City clubs the book and show both excel at bringing to life.

Is Sex and the City a bad show? Well, there are far worse. I mean, it's too punny for its own good (and by "for it's own good," I mean, "enough to be taken out back and shot"). But as girlie TV goes, it's well-written and well-acted, with a touching emphasis on female friendship often lacking from a world replete with buddy comedies. It had a good run. It was some decent television.

However, now that the show's over, perhaps we girlie girls will be able to wake up from our pink Cosmo hangovers, kick off our Manolos, and pick up a book with a far stronger connection to reality.

Or at the very least, free of Carrie's piercing squeal.

Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell
Warner Books
ISBN: 0446673544
256 Pages