We all love Sex and the City, or at the very least, love to hate Sex and the City. I mean, the better half of the twenty- and thirty-somethings in New York moved here because of the inspiration Carrie Bradshaw and her crew of Manolo Blahnik-clad misfits gave us. We’ve all sat around with our gals and gays deciding who’s the Samantha (always the slutty one that has two glasses of Prosecco and starts announcing “I’m such a Samantha!”) the Miranda (the smart one) the Carrie (me… I’m the Carrie, always) and finally the poor, sad soul that gets labeled the Charlotte. If you’ve ever worked serving tables and had someone order a hot water with lemon, you can blame Sex and the City. I always did.
Here’s the thing about shows from the past: they rarely stand up to today’s standards of quality, comedy, and most importantly, political correctness or even personal morals. Sex and the City is no exception. Even when I watched the show in its entirety seven years ago, there were moments that made me wonder how they got away with some of the sh*t they did at the time. The show ran from 1998-2004, arguably a great time for television, but also a time before it was customary for us to question the things on TV that made us uncomfortable, offended, or simply confused. While there are many a “joke” that would now be considered to be um…in poor taste…these are five episodes that made me say “Uh…oh no, no, you can’t say stuff like that anymore!”
5. Season 2, Episode 12 “La Douleur Exquise” – Stanford’s Big Moment
It’s supposed to be New York in the late 90s/early 2000s, and the LGBTQ+ representation is lacking. Carrie’s gay BFF Stanford is the most visible gay character on the show, with a whopping 27 episodes out of the 94 that make up the series. 27 episodes sounds pretty good, until you watch them all and realize that most of the time Stanford is just dropping by to make a little quip, call himself a queeny bitch, and then sashay offscreen like me leaving a party the second the open bar ends.
In this particular episode, Big is out of town so Carrie has time to kill, so we’re granted a little glimpse into Stanford’s dating life. The scene is set: Carrie and Stanford chain-smoking cigarettes inside the apartment, tossing back pink cocktails and trading tea back and forth. (If you don’t know what Tea is, it’s like gossip—catch an episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race every now and then.) Stanford takes a sip of his cosmo and reveals to Carrie that he’s been dating—cyber dating, he says wearily. “I have cyber sex on the internet. My name is Rick9Plus. Rick9Plus, how sad is that. So, I’ve been chatting with this guy and now he wants to meet and I don’t know if I should.” Carrie, as any good friend should, asks what Stanford knows about him. “His name’s BigTool4you. He seems hot, it’s exciting, and I haven’t good sex since before Cats was on Broadway.” Well he seems hot and says he has a big dick, and in gay world that’s like scoring a doctor who also has his law degree, an apartment in Paris, and family money out the ass! Only like…gay guys also want to score a doctor who has his law degree, an apartment in Paris, and family money out the ass, you know? Big dicks don’t pay the college loans and credit card debt!
Now, do a lot of gay guys have anonymous sex on the internet? Yes. Of course they do. More than most straight people I know, my gay friends have sex a lot. I mean, I don’t, because I’m riddled with anxiety and self-doubt, but my friends who are blessed with anxiety-free brains, or a good Xanax prescription, do. Here’s the thing though, they don’t only have anonymous sex. Growing up I didn’t really know any gay people, like, at all, so the only gay men I was exposed to were the ones on TV having wild sex in dungeons, insulting everyone around them, generally being rude to each other, and never really having any kind of traditional life. Maybe Sex and the City should’ve reconstructed the way gay men were seen on screen, instead of reinforcing those pre-existing stereotypes. But maybe I’m just being a hysterical homo! You know us! Drama, drama, drama!
Stanford does end up meeting with “BigTool4U,” very romantically at an underwear party at an after-hours club in Chelsea, and they share a very special moment where he touches the waistband on Stanford’s tighty-whities. Ah, just like a modern day Gone With The Wind. We never hear from “BigTool4U” again in any other episodes, and Stanford never mentions how their torrid love affair ended, but hey, they were only the most popular and talked-about TV show on HBO at the time, they must’ve just not had the budget to further invest in gay representation!
4. Season 3, Episode 5 “No Ifs, Ands Or Butts” – Samantha Tackles Racism (Not)
It’s no secret that Sex and the City was completely lacking in diversity. Lacking in the sense that it didn’t exist like, at all. Almost every single episode, one of the girls is dating or having sex with a guest star or two who’s only there for one episode. During the entire series, the girls date three people of color. Maria, from the episode where Samantha “tries out” being a lesbian (lol), Dr. Robert Leeds, played by Blair Underwood, who is the go-to defense answer when someone comments on the lack of representation on the show, and then there’s Chivon.
We’re introduced to Chivon through his sister, Adeena, a restaurateur acquaintance of Samantha’s who also happens to be a woman of color. Chivon and Samantha immediately click, and after a few jokes about how smooth and hot he is, sprinkled in with a couple of nuggets of information about how successful he is from Adeena, the girls start potentially the first dialogue about race on the show…and it’s all bad. After Samantha insists she’s not using “black talk,” she’s using “sex talk,” Charlotte corrects her, “it’s African-American talk,” Samantha fires back with, “I don’t see color, I see conquests,” to which Carrie replies, “talk about affirmative action!” I mean… holy sh*t, what? At this point we’re only five minutes into the episode. Buckle in kids, it’s gonna be a real f*cked-up ride!
As the episode goes on, Samantha ends up dating Chivon, and here is where it gets interesting. When Adeena realizes that her friend Samantha is dating her brother, not only f*cking him, she is very unhappy. “I don’t like you seeing my brother, I don’t approve. I’m sure you’re a very nice person but you’re white, and I have a problem with my brother getting serious with a white woman. I’m never going to approve and my approval means a lot to my brother.” Samantha is aghast at Adeena’s response and immediately takes it to the girls, who begin discussing “his big black cock.” Miranda slyly comments, “don’t you mean big African-American cock?” SO MUCH IS HAPPENING HERE AND IT’S SO BAD. The first and only time we’re going to discuss racism in the show is racism AGAINST Samantha!? No, God, please no.
When Samantha refuses to break up with Chivon and shows up to a club with him they bump into Adeena, where sh*t really hits the fan. She yells at Samantha that no matter how many “Jennifer Lopez dresses” she owns she’ll never be with her brother. Samantha makes some comments that made me shrink into my couch, before she struts off, only to get her hair grabbed by Adeena, leading them into fist fighting in the club.
Again, this is one of the only woman of color to ever be on the show, certainly the only one with an actual story line, and she’s portrayed as violent, closed-minded, and is literally called a loud-mouthed bitch by Carrie in the narration??? NO. NO, Sex and the City, just….no.
3. Season 4, Episode 11 “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” – Roosters & Transgendered People??
When this episode opened with crowing roosters waking up Carrie, I connected. I’ve literally lived in apartments in New York where my rich neighbors with too much money to burn owned chickens and roosters and kept them on their veranda. It’s New York, people are insane. Just this week I saw a man walking down 6th Avenue with a snake wrapped around his neck and an old woman with a parrot on her shoulder shopping at Trader Joe’s. Only Carrie doesn’t just rant about how annoying the roosters are, but also how annoying a group of transgender sex workers that are supposed to work the street outside Samantha’s meatpacking district apartment are! Oh, but also they’re not described as transgender sex workers, we’re introduced to them through Carrie’s narration as follows: “There they were, Samantha’s friendly neighborhood pre-op, transsexual hookers. Half-man, half-woman, totally annoying.” Tasteful, Carr!
There’s so much wrong with this. Imagine Zendaya on Euphoria referring to a group of people as transsexual hookers and it not immediately trending on Twitter. Remember, this is the level SATC was at at the time. The episode goes on with Samantha meeting the girls for breakfast the next morning, where she just digs her ignorant grave deeper. “I’m paying a fortune to live in a neighborhood that’s trendy by day and tranny by night.” Poor, sweet, dumb Charlotte is confused. “Tranny?” She asks. “Transsexuals. Chicks with dicks! Boobs on top, balls down below!?” Samantha answers. “I don’t get the appeal there,” Miranda comments before Samantha babbles some bulls*t about pseudo-straight guys from New Jersey and then they all laugh maniacally like Regina George bullying Katy Heron.
Transgender is defined as someone who identifies differently than their biological gender, while transsexual is someone who physically transitions from one gender to another. You know what they have in common? They don’t like to be called f*cking trannies! Maybe if we weren’t all growing up watching women who inspired a cosmo-and-scooped-out-bagel movement talk so negatively about a vulnerable minority community, we’d be ordering less hot waters with lemon and caring more about basic human rights?
Samantha decides to go down and make friends with the girls, all of whom are women of color, so…yeah, the only women of color in this episode are sex workers referred to as “tranny hookers.” How many rounds of people did this script go through? A lot of people read those words and thought “yes! go for it!!” After Samantha “politely” asks them to quiet down, they agree to move down the block, only to be thanked by Carrie’s pesky little narration: “Samantha always knew how to get her way with men, even if they were half women.” Again, this isn’t the craft services lunch of the day! These are words heard by millions of people tuning in each week, and for years after. Like, think about it a little!
In classic Sex and the City fashion, everything wraps up into a little messed-up bow when Samatha invites the transgender sex workers to a rooftop BBQ and Carrie says things like “I need to see you twirl, sista!” at the woman of color they’ve been talking sh*t about the entire episode, and they all snap their fingers at her joyously. Personally, I want to see this episode rebooted with these three fierce-ass transgender sex workers teaching Samantha and Carrie a thing or two about ignorance while wearing better shoes than them.
2. Season 3, Episode 4 “Boy Girl, Boy Girl…” – Bisexuality Apparently Doesn’t Exist
People mostly remember this episode because it guest stars that guy I only know as Rachel’s hot assistant Tag from Friends, and of course Alanis Morissette, but it’s also the episode where Carrie discusses bisexuality and Miranda cries about being too masculine in her relationship, which is a whole different can of worms I can’t even delve into.
Tag and Carrie go on a date to an ice skating rink (barf, literally never) while skating around and swigging Jim Beam from a flask, which I respect. Tag inexplicably calls Carrie “Carrigan” before listing all of his exes, ending with a guy named Mark. *Scandalous!* We immediately cut to the girls going in on their first serving of granola and berries of the day, and Carrie announces she’s dating a bisexual. Samantha chimes in: “I’m a try sexual, I’ll try anything once!” lol Samantha, l o l. Carrie reluctantly admits that yes, she does have a serious problem with his bisexuality, but he’s just such a good kisser! “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists, I think it’s just a layover on the way to gay town!”
Carrie, the authority on all things LGBTQ+, proclaims as a pride flag rises from the mist behind her. Charlotte, the resident conservative, makes her opinion known, “I’m very into labels, gay, straight, pick a side and stay there!” Miranda tosses in her two cents—”stop kissing him”—before they all scatter away to deal with their urgent $8,000/month apartments and Yves Saint Laurent bags. As Miranda leaves the screen, I wonder if Cynthia Nixon, real-life-out-lesbian-turned-politician, ever stopped for a second and was like, “wait you guys I have to tell you something!” Ah, the eighth world wonder.
At a fancy new club Carrie, makes her concerns known to Tag. “You’re not gay?” she asks. *eyeroll* They end up in bed together, where Carrie starts throwing hypothetical situations at him: “So like..if there was a very beautiful girl on the street, and on the other side was a really good looking man…” He cuts her off and tells her it’s not about sex, just about the person, before they have sex for hours. (Also like, sidenote: I just want to remind you that he is very hot. This has nothing to do with what I’m talking about, but he is very hot.)
Eventually Carrie goes to a party with Tag and his friends, one of whom is Alanis Morissette, and describes the party as a “pupu plater of sexual orientation” before they all play spin the bottle like it’s a cast party after a high school production of Anything Goes. Carrie spins the bottle and it lands on Alanis Morissette, and you oughta know it’s going to be a messy situation. Isn’t it ironic that Carrie kissing Alanis Morissette is what makes her run away from the party with one one hand in her pocket and the other smoking a cigarette, never t0 see Tag again? (Did you get all of those Alanis Morissette puns?? I deserve a f*cking Pulitzer.) There’s literally no wrap up, Carrie just says “that was the last time I ever saw him, I took my old fart ass home.” For the record, and I shouldn’t even have to say this: bisexuality exists, Sex and the City doesn’t know how to accurately portray any character that isn’t an upper-class white woman, Tag is super hot, and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album is still amazing.
1. Season 3, Episode 2 “Politically Erect” – Voting is Stupid
Nobody is looking to Sex and the City for political guidance. If the show were to take place today I would be terrified to learn who each of the girls would’ve voted for in 2016, but let’s face it, it would’ve probably been an overall disappointment. Speaking of disappointments, this episode starts with Carrie dating a hot silver fox who’s running for comptroller. Naturally, she refuses to wear his pin out in the open, and instead hides its under a godawful flower pin. Carrie and the girls are all soon dining al fresco, discussing politics in fur coats. The conversation goes as follows:
Charlotte: I can’t believe you’re dating a politician, you’re not even registered to vote!
Carrie: It’s the undecideds they’re really after.
Samantha: I totally get it, not only is he good looking, but he’s got the power thing going for him. It’s gotta be a turn-on.
Carrie: Oh yeah, I’m dating a potential comptroller, it’s hot.
Charlotte: I want to help out with the campaign.
Miranda: Since when are you interested in politics?
Charlotte: Always. It’s a really great way to meet men! And with Carrie by our side we can just get to meet the inner circle, and all the really interesting donors.
Miranda: By interesting men, she means single and rich.
Carrie: Guys, he’s not running for President.
Samantha: Oh he should! I’d vote for him, he’s really cute.
Samantha: I always vote for candidates according to their looks.
Carrie: I base my decision on the swimsuit competition.
Samantha: The country runs better with a good looking man in the White House!
The conversation goes on pretty much like that, Carrie saying one-off jokes while letting it be known that politics are stupid, Miranda making little remarks that remind us she’s the smartest one of the group, but not smart enough to actually bring up the issue that Carrie’s not registered to vote, Samantha talking about how hot JFK was, Charlotte discussing how she wants to date a hot politician—just the usual stuff! Carrie takes the girls to some political event and reminds them to vote for her politician boyfriend. Miranda asks why they’re voting for him, and Carrie lists some bullsh*t reasons before giggling and saying “it’s because I’m sleeping with him!” Samantha announces she doesn’t believe in the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, she just believes in parties—just typical party convo. After more jokes about how he should be elected comptroller because he’s hot, the whole politics storyline fizzles out. The comptroller-to-be asks Carrie to pee on him before breaking up with her because his campaign manager tells him dating a sex columnist is a bad look. Which is really the most believable thing about the episode.
Listen, I’m very aware that politics don’t have to be a part of everything, but a little mention of how voting is important wouldn’t have hurt anyone. If a show can inspire so many people to move to New York and convince their parents to pay for their overpriced apartments then it probably could’ve inspired some of those same people to vote, ya know?
Am I going to stop watching Sex and the City? Unfortunately, no. I’ll probably make more comments on how f*cked up things are on the show, but I’ll still sit there while the next episode auto-plays. There’s nothing we can change about the media of the past, but at least now we can look at it with a different set of eyes. In 2019, I think we’re all a little better at holding TV shows accountable. Also…just like…vote?
Images: HBO (2); Giphy (14)