Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 18, 2021)
Back in 1998, HBO launched a new series called Sex and the City, and it became a near-immediate sensation. Across six seasons, fans enjoyed the social adventures of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), a Manhattan journalist whose newspaper column deals with the ups and downs – and ins and outs – of life as a single woman.
In addition to Carrie, City focused on her three closest friends. We also spend plenty of time with romantic, innocent overachiever Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), sex-obsessed older PR agent Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) and cynical lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon).
City lasted 94 episodes on HBO and then spawned theatrical films in 2008 and 2010. This 2021 package brings fans all six seasons as well as the two movies. The big screen features already appeared on the format, but the cable series makes its Blu-ray debut here.
With nearly 100 shows, I find too much to watch and finish this review in a timely manner. As such, I’ll pick a few episodes per season for discussion and also link to extended thoughts about the feature films. The plot synopses come from the series’ official website.
Sex and the City: “Carrie and her friends vow to start having sex like men.”
Well, that’s a terse summary! It works fine, though, as the pilot acts mainly to introduce the characters and themes.
I went into Season One never having seen an episode of the series, but I watched the two movies, so I knew where the characters would end up down the road. In that sense, it seems nearly remarkable how much of their journeys we see presaged right off the bat.
As an episode, the pilot seems perfectly serviceable. It establishes the series’ format and tone well and kicks things off with a little mirth, though its need to offer exposition limits its charm.
Secret Sex: “Carrie thinks that Mr. Big (Chris Noth) is keeping her a 'secret,' while Miranda discovers a sex secret about her new man.”
After the basics of the pilot, “Secret” manages to show pretty good development of the characters. It also finds some interesting notions about relationships that feel reasonably honest, with a dash of laughs on the side.
The Baby Shower: “A baby shower for Laney (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) - a wild-child-turned-soccer-mom - gets the girls thinking about their futures.”
At least by the time of the movies, the characters turned into cartoons, but so early in the series, they still feel reasonably honest. “Shower” helps move them along in compelling ways without resorting to too many cheap gags – even though the “stolen baby name” borrows from Seinfeld.
Oh Come All Ye Faithful: “Carrie wonders where things are going with Mr. Big after meeting his mother (Marian Seldes).”
Season One concludes on a moderately dramatic note, as the Carrie/Big situation adds more of a serious tone. As usual, her pals compensate with semi-wacky shenanigans. This turns into a fairly effective finish to the year.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame: “Carrie dates a 'new Yankee' after her break-up with Big.”
It seems pretty obvious Carrie won’t get over Big anytime soon, but “Ballgame” explores her post-Big life pretty well. It stretches baseball terms and analogies a little too whimsically, but it still comes with reasonable entertainment value.
They Shoot Single People, Don’t They?: “Carrie thinks she likes being single. Meanwhile, Miranda fakes an orgasm”.
Given the show’s title, we know not much will come from the characters’ attempts to enjoy single life. Some good moments result – and a brief appearance from pre-fame Bradley Cooper.
Twenty-Something Girls vs. Thirty-Something Women: “Carrie and the girls deal with age disparities in the Hamptons.”
As a horribly superficial 50-something man, I fully appreciate the appeal of 20-something women… to a degree. As great as they can look, what in the world would I talk about to any of them? What I have in common with their fathers?
“Women” looks at this from the female POV and it finds mostly clever and amusing ways to pursue the topic. While I could live without the incessant Big-related melodrama, the show works – especially because it’s fun to see Charlotte act the fool for once.
Ex and the City: “Mr. Big tells Carrie that he and Natasha (Bridget Moynahan) are engaged; and Samantha meets Mr. Too Big (John Enos III).”
As one with more than a few exes in my past, I can say this: yes, exes can remain friends… if things never got that serious. Past a certain point, it becomes tough, if not impossible.
“Ex” explores this topic pretty well. It throws out enough comedy – mainly via Samantha’s escapades – to lighten the tone while it also hits home nicely.
Easy Come Easy Go: “After a shocking revelation, Carrie and Big fall into old habits, leading to a night of passion.”
I have to admit I kind of wish we could go through some Big-free spans, though that might become a dream that never reaches fruition. That said, Carrie’s new beau annoys me, so maybe a Big return would be a good thing.
In any case, “Go” offers a fairly involving tale, though it seems a little less invigorating than the episodes from Seasons One and Two. We do find some interesting guest actors, though, with Bobby Cannavale, Kyle MacLachlan and Frances Sternhagen in tow.
All or Nothing: “Aidan (John Corbett) finally says those three words, leaving Carrie guilt-ridden about her affair with Big.
Carrie should feel no guilt due to how intensely irritating Aidan is. I might wish for some Big-free time, but not if that means more Aidan. “All” manages pretty good momentum, at least.
Running With Scissors: “Carrie's affair with Big puts a strain on her relationship with Aidan -- prompting her to seek out advice from the one person she knows will lay down the law: Miranda.”
With every new episode, we come closer to Aidan’s eventual departure, and that excites me. I like the bits where Samantha meets her male counterpart, and Miranda’s confrontation with a dude in a sandwich costume seem oddly amusing. The scenes that deal with Charlotte’s wedding seem tedious, however.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: “As Miranda tries to find a date for Charlotte's wedding, she decides to tell a little white lie.”
Aidan’s still here - ugh. Issues related to the wedding work pretty well, though, especially when Miranda enjoys an unusually goofy story line in which she pretends to work as a flight attendant to land a date. Despite Aidan’s presence, “Tell” mostly works well.
The Agony and the 'Ex'-tacy: “Miranda's single life becomes a joke while Carrie's birthday party is a bust.”
Kudos to Kyle MacLachlan for the willingness to take on such a sexually flawed character. The part about Samantha’s sexual fascination for a religious figure seems bumbling, but the rest of the show works fairly well – even if Carrie’s birthday party failure becomes painful to watch.
The Good Fight: “Carrie finds herself more cramped than cozy when Aidan moves in with her.”
Oh no – Aidan’s back. Crap.
In addition to that problem, “Fight” tends to feel a bit more soap opera than usual. Not that it becomes a bad episode, but it lacks the easygoing charm that suits the series best.
Change of a Dress: “Samantha's relationship with Richard (James Remar) has her considering monogamy.”
Carrie agreed to marry Aidan? Bad.
Carrie doubting this choice? Good.
I know it won’t happen, but the notion gives me hives as bad as it does Carrie. At least she reconsiders this, and that helps make this a generally good episode.
I Heart NY: “Mr. Big makes a move that leaves Carrie considering what might have been.”
S4 comes to an end with suitably important developments. In most series, Miranda’s baby would act as the major shift but here we get Big’s move west as the largest element. Like much of S4, “Heart” veers more dramatic than earlier years, but enough comedy occurs to leaven the load and turn this into an effective show.
Anchors Away: “Carrie decides that her one true love must be New York City.”
After the major events of “Heart”, “Away” lightens the mood – mostly. It still gets into a bit of melodrama, mainly in the ways it follows the topics from S4, but it manages more comedy. The show balances these two pretty well and moves along character components in a positive manner.
Plus One Is the Loneliest Number: “Carrie's book-launch party becomes a major New York event.”
With a guest spot from Amy Sedaris, more comedy than usual seems probable. However, Sedaris plays too small a role to bring this to fruition.
That said, “One” comes with an easy-going vibe and some good laughs, and the guy Carrie meets seems like the best match for her so far, even if they don’t formally connect n this episode. This turns into a better than average show.
The Big Journey: “Carrie's much-anticipated weekend with Big ends in a surprising reversal of roles.”
Given the disappointment they encounter, the train trek brings a lot of ironic fun. Charlotte’s indulgence with lumpy lawyer Harry Goldblatt (Evan Handler) feels contrived – opposites attract! – but the show still works, and a guest spot from Molly Shannon helps. I like the expansion of Big’s role as well, for “Journey” gives him a conscience not previously revealed.
I Love a Charade: “The girls head to the Hamptons for a memorable wedding.”
A guest spot from Nathan Lane enlivens “Charade”, as he plays a gay man who pretends to be straight. The actual Hampton scenes fare a bit less well, though at least we find hot topless women, so there’s that.
To Market, To Market: “Carrie believes her 'stock' has risen thanks to a hot date with new flame Jack Berger (Ron Livingston).”
Although Season Five boasted a mere eight episodes, Season Six goes crazy. It split into two parts and spanned 20 shows.
We kick off with various character developments – except for Samantha, who remains horny and single as ever. It moves along themes pretty well, though if I never see another shot of Handler shirtless, it’ll be too soon.
Great Sexpectations: “Despite steamy public foreplay with Berger, Carrie discovers it's a lot colder between the sheets.”
The episode feels decent but unexceptional. We find a particularly acceptable show but not one that excels, even if Miranda’s TiVo obsession amuses.
Boy, Interrupted: “Carrie rekindles an old flame, and while it’s definitely hot, it’s just a little too heavy. Meanwhile, Charlotte enjoys the sport of dating, but only as a spectator.”
Hey – Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell appears here! As a major Spice Girls fan, that becomes a bonus.
It seems weird to see David Duchovny as Carrie’s high school boyfriend, as he’s five years older. Of course, it’s a TV show, so I shouldn’t regard age so explicitly, but it still feels odd.
That theme doesn’t really seem great, but I like Samantha’s shenanigans at the exclusive pool. I could live without the cliché antics of the characters’ gay pals, though.
One: “Carrie has an unexpected rendezvous in the exotic world of art. Meanwhile, Samantha goes to great lengths to preserve her youthful appearance “down there.””
The main addition here comes from Mikhail Baryshnikov as Aleksandr, as he becomes Carrie’s new love interest – and indeed her final new love interest of the series. At least as seen here, the relationship doesn’t get off to a good start, as the two seem far too contrived and “meet cute”.
“One” plays it more serious than usual in other ways. It feels unsurprising that the series would turn more dramatic as it pushes to the end, but “One” makes these moments less convincing than I’d prefer.
Footnote: the performance artist seen here looks an awful lot like Jennifer Aniston – so much that I assumed it was her. However, when I searched online, I found no confirmation of this – and since Aniston said in 2008 that she didn’t like Sex and the City, I guess it wasn’t her. Which seems like a shame, as this would’ve been a cool cameo.
Let There Be Light: “Carrie struggles to 'keep it light' after spending the night with Aleksandr.”
My City-obsessed friend hates Aleksandr, but she also loves Aidan, so I question her judgment. I kind of get her attitude, though, as Aleksandr seems like a contrived TV invention more than a real character.
Like most episodes, “Light” mixes comedy and melodrama. Some of this seems leaden but enough of it works to make this a decent episode.
Splat: “Carrie considers a foreign concept posed by Aleksandr - and watches the life she used to know fly out the window.”
I’m starting to see why my friend doesn’t like Aleksandr, as he seems smug and jerky. I mean, I get why Carrie goes for him, as he’s handsome, sophisticated and exotic, but he feels too much like an arrogant d-bag.
Guest appearances from Wallace Shawn and Kristen Johnson add to the show, as does the return of Candice Bergen. On its own, “Splat” feels inconsistent, but it manages to push us toward the series finale in an efficient manner.
An American Girl In Paris: “Carrie moves to Paris to be with Aleksandr, but finds things not quite as she expected.”
The series concludes with a two-part episode, and that seems like a suitable way to end matters – well, to end until the movie in 2008. Not that I think anyone knew in 2004 that they’d leap to the big screen four years later, though.
Inevitably, “Paris” leads toward major melodrama, as Carrie departs the US and finds herself torn between two lovers. No spoilers, but this ends exactly as one would anticipate.
“Paris” leans heavily toward melodrama, without much comedy on display. I guess that seems logical for a series-ending episode, though I think it seems a bit ridiculous that all four of the leads go through huge, life-changing events all at the same time.
No, it doesn’t surprise that the series winds up with major developments, though I admit I would’ve found something more low-key refreshing. Still, we get a decent sense of resolution – at least until…
…2008’s Sex and the City: The Movie. The film doesn’t flop, but it revolves around little more than fashion and melodrama and occasionally feels like self-parody.
2010’s Sex and the City 2 fares even worse, as it becomes complete self-parody. Even serious fans of the show seem to dislike this inane effort.