‘Sex’ at 20: ‘Shoes’ is a step above the rest

2003 episode high­lights plight of sin­gle women

The Signal - - USA TODAY | LIFE - Colum­nist Kelly Lawler

I’m not lis­ten­ing to Car­rie Bradshaw’s ad­vice any­more. 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 af­ter it pre­miered, 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 Sex has some episodes that now seem ho­mo­pho­bic or racist, just as you’d find, for in­stance, with other 1990s shows such as 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 clichéd, Samantha’s di­a­logue feels un­nat­u­ral, and Char­lotte is just plain tire­some. The show has sim­ply lost its lus­ter.

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. 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 and the City on

HBO 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 has been sub­si­diz­ing Kyra’s life­style, and her other mar­ried friends’, through bridal show­ers, bach­e­lorette par­ties, wed­dings, baby show­ers, kids’ birth­days and other cel­e­bra­tions.

The episode ar­gues that sin­gle peo­ple stop get­ting gifts af­ter they grad­u­ate and yet are still tied to the wed­ding and baby in­dus­trial com­plexes through their friends, one more way in which so­ci­ety pun­ishes peo­ple for be­ing alone. But in this in­stance, sin­gle­dom tri­umphs. By the end of the episode, Car­rie “reg­is­ters” at Manolo Blah­nik, and Kyra buys her the shoes she lost.

It’s not the flashiest or the most beloved episode, but I can’t tell you how many times sin­gle friends have ref­er­enced it as we’ve marched to show­ers and wed­dings through­out our 20s.

It’s some­thing I’m acutely aware of, even plan­ning my own wed­ding, and I know my friends are, too. We re­ally try to avoid be­com­ing fi­nan­cial bur­dens go­ing through one life stage or an­other.

To me, “A Woman’s Right to Shoes” is what Sex was re­ally about. Sure, even­tu­ally Car­rie, Mi­randa, Char­lotte and Samantha found part­ners, per­ma­nent or tem­po­rary, but in­evitably the se­ries was strong­est when it fo­cused on sin­gle women navigating a world built for cou­ples. Its most rad­i­cal as­pect wasn’t the sex and the nu­dity but its in­sis­tence that women needn’t pair off with a man right away to find hap­pi­ness in life. It showed a group of sin­gle women con­stantly push­ing back on a so­ci­ety that didn’t know what to do with them.

This was rad­i­cal in the late ’90s. It res­onates even more in 2018, when women in­creas­ingly are wait­ing un­til they’re older to get mar­ried, or not mar­ry­ing at all.

Sin­gle women are still mak­ing their own way in the world, and they don’t have to pair up to get by. If there’s one as­ser­tion from Sex and the City that lives on, I hope it’s that.

SANTE D’ORAZIO/HBO

Most of Char­lotte (Kristin Davis), Car­rie (Sarah Jes­sica Parker), Mi­randa (Cynthia Nixon) and Samantha’s (Kim Cat­trall) “Sex and the City” tribu­la­tions have not aged well.

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