Sex and the City is based on Candace Bushnell's provocative bestselling book. Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Carrie Bradshaw, a self-described "sexual anthropologist," who writes "Sex and the City," a newspaper column that chronicles the state of sexual affairs of Manhattanites in this "age of un-innocence." Her "posse," including nice girl Charlotte (Kristin Davis), hard-edged Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and party girl Samantha (Kim Cattrall)--not to mention her own tumultuous love life--gives Carrie plenty of column fodder. Over the course of the first season's 12 episodes, the most prominent dramatic arc concerns Carrie, who goes from turning the tables on "toxic bachelors" by having "sex like a man" to wanting to join the ranks of "the monogamists" with the elusive Mr. Big (Chris Noth). Meanwhile, Miranda, Cynthia, and Samantha have their own dating woes.
The second season builds on the foundation of the first season with plot arcs that are both hilarious and heartfelt, taking the show from breakout hit to true pop-culture phenomenon. Relationship epiphanies coexist happily alongside farcical plots and zingy one-liners, resulting in emotionally satisfying episodes that feature the sharp kind of character-defining dialogue that seems to have disappeared from the rest of TV long ago. When last we left the NYC gals, Carrie had just broken up with a commitment-phobic Mr. Big, but fans of Noth's seductive-yet-distant rake didn't have to wait long until he was back in the picture, as he and Carrie tried to make another go of it. Their relationship evolution, from reunion to second breakup, provides the core of the second season. Among other adventures, Charlotte puzzles over whether one of her beaus was "gay-straight" or "straight-gay"; Miranda tries to date a guy who insists on having sex only in places where they might get caught; and Samantha copes with dates who range from, um, not big enough to far too big--with numerous stops in between.
The third season was the charm, as the series earned its first Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series to go along with its Golden Globes for Best Comedy Series and Best Actress (Parker). One of this season's two principal story arcs concerned hapless-in-love Charlotte and her pursuit of a husband; enter (if only...) Kyle McLachlan as the unfortunately impotent Trey. Meanwhile, Carrie has a brief but memorable fling with a politician who's golden, but not in the way she anticipated. She then sabotages her too-good-to-be-true relationship with furniture designer Aidan (John Corbett) by having an affair with Mr. Big, who himself has gotten married. Like I Love Lucy, the series benefited from a brief change of scenery with a three-episode jaunt to Los Angeles, where Carrie and company encountered, among others, Matthew McConaughey, Vince Vaughn, Hugh Hefner, and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
The fourth season is just as smart and sexy as ever, mixing caustic adult wit and sharply observed situation comedy on the mean streets of Manhattan, though this time the quartet of singleton city girls must endure even tougher combat in the unending war of love, sex, and shopping. Carrie finally seems to have found her ideal life partner when she is reunited with handsome craftsman Aidan. But can their relationship survive trial by cohabitation? Meanwhile Charlotte seems to have both her dream Park Avenue apartment and a solution to her marital problems with Trey. But when the subject of babies comes up, everything starts to unravel for her, too. It's not just Charlotte who has baby issues either: after what seems like an eternity of enforced sexual abstinence Miranda is horrified to discover she's pregnant. And as for the sultry Samantha, she's on a quest for monogamy, first with an exotic lesbian artist, then with a philandering businessman, with whom to her utter dismay she just might have fallen in love.
It was a short but sweet fifth season, as HBO's resident comediennes found themselves affected by forces beyond their control--the pregnancies of both Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon. A truncated shooting schedule to accommodate the actresses forced this season to be reduced to a mere eight episodes, but they and creators forged ahead, creating a handful of episodes that if short in content were long on emotion and laughs. Carrie and Miranda wrestled with their solitary lifestyles, albeit with new attachments--Miranda had new baby Brady and single motherhood, while Carrie found herself in the world of publishing as the author of a real-life book of her columns. Charlotte wondered if she'd ever find another man, while Samantha finally got rid of the one that had been vexing her far too much. If the season as a whole felt less than the sum of its parts, those parts were some of the best comedy in the show's history. The season's climactic episode, "I Love a Charade," was one of the series' best episodes ever, equally touching and funny, and grounded the show in an emotional maturity that announced that after all their wild travails, these women had truly grown up.
After a long wait--like the entire fifth season--Carrie is dating again. The sixth season starts with Carrie and her sparkly new potential, Berger (Ron Livingston), trying to leave past relationships and hit it off, with mixed results. Meanwhile Carrie's friends seem to be settling down, relatively speaking. Miranda decides that her affair with TiVo cannot compete when Mr. Perfect (Blair Underwood, at his most charming) moves into her building. Charlotte's feelings for her "opposites attract" boyfriend (Evan Handler) deepen, but they still have a few things to iron out. Most surprising is Samantha's hot relationship with waiter-actor-stud Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis) taking on something resembling love, despite Samantha's best intentions. Before the sixth season started in the summer of 2003, a bombshell hit: it was announced that this would be the finale. But it would be a long season, and these 12 episodes plant the seeds for the final 8 airing the following winter. These dozen episodes illustrate the maturity of the show: there's not a bad one in the bunch, and the show is still flat-out funny. The comedy blends serious points of how we perceive singles, couples, and parents (and the gifts we lavish on the latter two). Carrie's method of celebrating her singlehood is just another gem in this treasure of a series.
With the last eight episodes of the sixth season, HBO's grand sitcom concluded, leaving untold numbers of women--and many men--feeling deprived. The six-year series certainly did not outlast its welcome; the final season is some of the best TV had to offer in 2004. In many ways, the eight episodes served as a single finale, with all four characters approaching a kind of destiny and happiness, the theme of this last half-season (which aired weeks after the first half). Carrie continues her romance with Russian artist (Mikhail Baryshnikov), a flippantly arrogant man who's been around the block, but able to supply Carrie's needed desire for magic. Miranda has settled down with Steve (David Eigenberg), but there is more that will change with her, including her address. Charlotte continues to make baby plans now that the husband slot is filled quite nicely (Evan Handler). Going down the final stretch--and Samantha's cancer--gives the series a more serious tone, but there's always a jab to tickle the funny bone: Miranda's awkwardness with happiness, Charlotte's latest passion, Carrie typing someplace new, and Samantha getting into Paris Hilton territory. Like any series winding down, there is a wedding, a baby, old faces popping up, and some star-ladened new ones. In the final two-part episode, "An American in Paris," Carrie faces her romantic destiny, but also solidifies herself as a fashion icon, an Audrey Hepburn for 21st-century television. In the penultimate episode, she asks her friends an emotional question: "What if I never met you?" Certainly fans can ask of themselves the same question and reminisce how much better TV became since they first tuned in these four women of the City.--Donald Liebenson and Doug Thomas