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SEX AND THE CITY, Pilot Episode
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Kim Cattrall, Chris Noth
Sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw and her 30-something friends share their experiences and thoughts on sex, men and dating in modern-day New York.
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“Sex and the City” happened when TV was getting smarter, and it was as much an origin as a product of the trend. It was June 1998. TV had been around for decades as a form of entertainment. TV shows had existed almost since the creation of the television set. They could be smart or plain, but nobody paid much attention to them as an art or a possible source of quality and innovation, especially in the case of comedy. All that counted was getting the audience to watch every week so that they would buy what they saw during the commercial breaks. In the nineties, with the hits of some intelligent comedies and the ascent of un-censored and riskier shows on cable, TV started to evolve. The last few years had seen the arrival of shows like Seinfeld, The Simpsons or Oz. A year later The Sopranos and The West Wing were born. “Sex and the City” filled a void that had been apparently been waiting to be filled: the smart and sexy comedies for women of all ages. Even more: it created it.
Based on the series of columns by writer Candance Bushnell, that took a stab at relationships and dating in New York, the show put its money on something unique and new on TV: four women, modern and independent, talking about sex and relationships in the busy city of New York. The characters and the tone were smart, funny and adapted to the new era, a world that had lost its innocence and where women were as successful, free and powerful as men. The show was daring and atypical in its cross between comedy and drama (it was one of the first examples of the genre some call “Dramedy”), its fresh point of view and its open use and reference to sex (suggested, shown or talked about).
The Pilot starts with the memorable credits: the jazzy song, the tall buildings and Carrie running around New York and getting splashed by a bus. The intro immediately sets the tone of the series - smart, fast-paced, stylish and sexy – and introduces us to its world - dazzling New York – and its feminine, messy protagonist: Carrie Bradshaw.
The series begins with a fairy-tale narrated by the voice of “sex journalist” Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), thus setting the style of the voice-over narration - always taken from the article Carrie is writing - that will become an inherent part of the series, and one of its most recognizable traits. Carrie’s inner thoughts carry us through every anecdote and story. Thankfully she is witty, funny and likeable, and her cunning questions and reflections on men and life are always playful and well-timed.
The tale is that of a young, beautiful English journalist who moves to New York to find love and happiness. Her prince appears quickly, a handsome and successful investor, and the dream is amazingly realized. They date, have dinner and make love. He invites her to meet his parents. Then something changes. He cancels at the last minute. He retreats, stops calling, and the woman finally realizes: the prince was just a frog, and it was all a charm.
The woman tells her story to her friend, but the listener, jaded enough, is not surprised. A camera pull-back and a cigarette are our first glimpse of our protagonist. Carrie stomps the cigarette, and says: “Nobody had told her about the end of love in Manhattan”.
Meet Carrie Bradshaw: woman, 30-something, independent, writes a column about sex and dating and spends her time examining men and relationships with the help of her friends. Romance, Carrie announces, is dead. In New York today everything is fast-paced, there are more one-night-stands than love at first sight and the older a woman gets the harder it is for her to find a man. Carrie asks her questions to the camera (a documentary style that the series will maintain for a couple of seasons then slowly drop until it disappears completely by season 3), and a series of random people answer in different ways.
Also answering her questions are her three best friends: romantic Charlotte (Kristin Davis), cynic Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and sex-driven Samantha (Kim Cattrall). Their first scene together is at Miranda’s birthday party. A few perfect lines of dialogue paint us a picture so clear that we immediately feel like we’ve known the women forever, and feel comfortable in their universe. Miranda Hobbes, a successful lawyer, is rational, blunt and a skeptic when it comes to men and love. Charlotte York is an art dealer, well-educated, conservative and a little uptight. She is a perfectionist actively looking for “Mr. Right”, she plays by the Rules and always believes in Love. Samantha Jones is the most insurgent and provocative of the group. Defying the traditional role of women in society, she is a confident PR executive who sleeps with a multitude of men and doesn’t make excuses. She’s the advocate of women having fun and practicing their sexuality freely. Finally, in the center is Carrie: sweet, neurotic, jaded yet still somewhat hopeful. It is no surprise that the characters have become so loved and close to audiences worldwide; the four women are interesting, strong, human and flawed, and it is easy to relate to them. The four characters balance each other out perfectly and represent all the faces of the contemporary woman. Their conversations are uninhibited, quick-paced, and always incredibly fun to watch. Their scenes together at lunch or dinner quickly became a staple of the show, starting with this one.
Carrie and her friends have different opinions about single women in their thirties and dating rules, but when Samantha proclaims that women should enjoy their new-found power and have sex like a man Carrie is intrigued. The next day, at lunch with her very gay friend Stanford Blatch - bald, funny and just as neurotic as her - Carrie spots Kurt, an old lover she fell for several times. She decides to try an experiment. Sexy, sharp and flirty, she gets Kurt into bed, then Carrie picks up her things and leaves, like many men do. Kurt is appalled but Carrie couldn’t be more satisfied: she had great sex without hoping for the guy to call the next day. She leaves confident and empowered. As she is concluding that women don’t need love, or men, someone bumps into her and she drops her purse. And that is when He comes in. Tall, handsome and intriguing, Mr. Big (Chris Noth) helps Carrie with her purse and watches her leave stumbling and grabbing her skirt. Their encounter is brief, cute and announces what is to come. They don’t even exchange names, but the chemistry sparks between them.
Carrie meets with her friend Skipper, a dorky and shy young man who has been repeatedly scorned by women, and decides to set him up with Miranda at a party they are going to attend. It is a disaster: despite Skipper’s best intentions, tough Miranda keeps biting his head off. At the party Carrie bumps into Kurt, who has a new point of view about their encounter earlier: he likes the new Carrie, and tells her to call him again whenever she wants. Carrie, confused, asks herself if that is what men secretly want: no attachments, no emotion, just casual women and sex. Just then Samantha pulls Carrie aside to show her the new greatest catch in New York. Carrie waves awkwardly as she recognizes the man who helped her earlier. Samantha has decided to make him his next bait, and goes for it. We can see here all of Samantha’s complexity: she is sexual and assured to the outside world, and she goes after what she wants without fear of what anyone thinks. But when Mr. Big turns down her obvious innuendos, we can catch a glimpse of pain and pride hurt that she quickly manages to hide. And it prompts a question that will remain there for the rest of the series: how much is real about Samantha’s fabulous and un-emotional cover, and how much is just a mask?
Uptown, Charlotte is having a date with another promising future-husband, a prelude of many, many dates to come. She is poised, he is a gentleman, she plays hard to get but agrees to come upstairs. When she refuses his advances – for now – he takes a cab with her and heads to the party downtown, to Charlotte’s shock. He respects her, he says, but he needs to have sex. As for Miranda and Skipper, they head out and Miranda lets him down, but Skipper finds his courage and kisses her. Miranda, surprising even herself, kisses him back. Samantha, rejected by Big, doesn’t have trouble finding someone to replace him: the man who was Charlotte’s date. In their scene at his apartment she seems to have she wanted. When the man says he has to get up early tomorrow and she can’t spend the night Samantha just replies she has to get up early too. A final close-up of her as she lets him kiss her leaves us with all of Samantha’s ambiguity: does she really not care? Or is it all an act?
The final scene wraps up the episode perfectly and marks the beginning of a connection that will push forward six years of a show and two movies. Stranded on the street, Carrie is rescued by Mr. Big. He offers her a ride and she accepts. They don’t know each other and they barely exchange a few words, but she is already falling for him. When she asks him, before she leaves, if he’s ever been in love, his answer becomes the first landmark of the show: “Abso-fucking-lutely” he says, and the car pulls away. The jazz music, the foggy streets and Carrie watching him go: a perfect ending for the perfect beginning of a show.
“Sex and the city” is a milestone in TV shows’ recent history. The fresh take on modern dating and the open exploration of everything relating to relationships, men and sex from the point of view of four empowered, independent and very different women make this show interesting, relevant and easy to relate to. The Pilot, although containing a few elements that will disappear as the series’ style becomes more refined, is a perfect intro to the world, the city, and the women. It is funny, sexy, daring (even more than other recent shows), touching and always a pleasure to watch – and re-watch, and re-watch…
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