Less 'Sex' this year, more uncertainty

Lusty 'City' women are experiencing a crisis of confidence

Television

July 21, 2002|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,Sun Staff

It's Fleet Week in New York, and Carrie Bradshaw and her girlfriends are trolling a Navy party for studly morsels in tight, white packages.

Predictably, it isn't long before Carrie gets her first nibble. She looks out onto the sea of starched white and quips, "This is like the Bermuda triangle for women."

"You're funny," a young, handsome sailor says. "You remind me of my mom."

The scene is a painful but telling moment that crystallizes the feel of the start of Sex and the City's fifth season.

For five years now, Carrie and friends have been cult heroines to women across the country who've cheered them on as they've fearlessly grabbed the world by the, um, horns -- and squeezed. But in tonight's premiere episode, which airs at 9 on HBO, Carrie and her friends are older, more weary and less sure of themselves than they've ever been.

And apart from flashes of unabashed lust that surface occasionally -- most memorably in a hilarious scene in which the friends spot their first sailors of the week -- they hardly resemble the swinging singles of yester-season.

The last time we saw them, Carrie had left her fiance, Charlotte had finally accepted her failed marriage, Miranda had given birth and Samantha had fallen in love for the first time only to catch her man partaking of another woman's "sushi" -- as she now puts it.

Angst all over

The brilliance of the new season is that the show's writers haven't opted to have the girls sweep their heartache under their dust ruffles and launch into plundering New York all over again.

Instead, they're scared, lost and uncertain -- at times, even of one another. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) frets over how the baby has changed her life, while Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is terrified of having her heart broken again. And Charlotte (Kristin Davis) worries she'll never find another great love, while Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is afraid that she's had her two great loves and will never find someone better than Aidan or Mr. Big.

"I think I'm possibly one bad date away from bitter," Carrie confides.

But that's not to say the new season is all gloom and navel-gazing.

In the first episode, "Anchors Away," Carrie explores whether the breakups and the baby have weighed them down so much that they've "missed the boat." The angst continues in the second episode, "Unoriginal Sin," where Carrie wrestles with her new pessimistic self, Charlotte wonders whether she still believes in love and Samantha questions her faith in two-timing Richard.

These are heavy topics to contend with, but the show pulls it off with sharp writing, great casting and just enough sweet moments to remind us that the most important relationships in this series are those among the four women.

Charlotte's gay best friend, Anthony (Mario Cantone), is a scene-stealer who garners some of the biggest laughs in Episode 1 when he tells her she needs to have sex. (When Charlotte protests, he snaps, "You are so not gay.") Anne Meara is hilarious as the excited and inebriated grandmother of Miranda's baby. And Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon and Amy Sedaris are New-York-publishing-fabulous as the fast-talking powerhouses who want to turn Carrie's columns into a book.

'Spot the tummy'

There are moments when the show falters. A scene featuring Charlotte at a self-help seminar stretches on just a tad long, and the puns in Carrie's voiceovers are groan-worthy at times. (At a christening, she says earnestly, "I couldn't help but hope the water would wash away some of my original cynicism.")

Also, it's a little distracting knowing that Parker is pregnant in real life because you have to battle the subconscious urge to play "Spot the tummy." (Although, thanks to talented costume designer Patricia Field, there really isn't much to see. Carrie clearly has tossed out her midriff-baring togs but manages to hide her belly with the help of short baby-doll dresses and flowing peasant blouses. Producers must be grateful for this season's timely peasant chic.)

Above all, the new episodes succeed on a much more poignant level. In the wake of Sept. 11, the newly introspective mood of the season seems to address these uncertain times, but not in a ham-fisted way. As the four friends contemplate their scars and muddle through their confusing new lives, their jadedness seems almost a reflection of the real-life feelings of New York City folk. Their love for New York -- expressed more this season -- is a not-so-veiled paean to the city that's been their playground.

And, after the patriotism that's been ubiquitous in pop culture since Sept. 11, it's refreshing to hear the phrase "God bless America" in a new context -- Samantha belting it out with hearty desire as she gazes out into a room packed with seamen.

'City' souvenirs

For all the women out there who've wanted to walk a New York block in Carrie Bradshaw's Manolo Blahniks, here's your chance.

HBO is reprising its online auction of clothing and accessories used on the show. The auction begins after tonight's episode, and the items include a Nanette Lepore rainbow-striped sundress and a Swarovski crystal pin -- both worn by Sarah Jessica Parker. Proceeds from the auction will go to charities that include HERE New York Assistance Fund, for displaced workers and families of Sept. 11 victims, and Planned Parenthood.

For details, check out www.HBO.com.

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