Sunday, August 3, 2014
Let's Go Sexing: Review of Sex and the City by Deborah Jermyn
Sex and the City ran for six seasons from 23 August 1998 to 22 February 2004 on the US premium cable channel Home Box Office (HBO). Sex, along with The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007), brought greater visibility to HBO as a producer of television programmes. It also brought the network greater recognition. Sex won over fifty awards during its run. But perhaps most importantly Sex and the City brought a greater number of viewers and hence subscribers and money to HBO. In its last two seasons SatC drew some 6 to 7 million viewers, excellent numbers for a cable network.
Deborah Jermyn’s book Sex and the City is the second academic book to take on Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda, and their Manhattan. In four chapters and an introduction Jermyn explores Sex’s authorship, costuming, precedents, generic aspects, Manhattaness, ensemble cast, the traits of its leading characters, and its legacy.
Jermyn’s book, limited as it is by a word count imposed by the TV Milestones series, is not a comprehensive analysis of Sex and the City. There is no episode guide. The archival work done for the book is limited to interviews with creator, writer, and executive producer Darren Star, writer, show runner, and executive producer Michael Patrick King (both recorded at the Museum of Television and Radio (now the Paley Center for Media)) and to interviews with Star, King, and executive producer and actor Sarah Jessica Parker from Amy Sohn’s official guide to the show (Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell, 2004). Jermyn offers limited details on the production of SatC beyond the fact that it was filmed in New York City and a brief discussion of the differences between HBO and “free TV” production schedules. While Jermyn rightly looks at precedents for SatC such as I Love Lucy (CBS, 1951-1960), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS, 1970-1977), Rhoda (CBS, 1974-1978), Golden Girls (NBC, 1985-1992), and the absolutely brilliant Absolutely Fabulous (BBC, 1992-1996, 2001, 2004, 2011-2012), a show, by the way, SaTC doesn't share a satirical edge with, she says nothing about a show which like Sex pushed the boundaries of sex on the small screen, had screwball and slapstick elements, arcs, verbal jousting and wit, and swerved towards fantasy and fairy tale on occasion, David E. Kelley’s Ally McBeal (Fox, 1997-2002). While Jermyn praises SatC for its location shooting she doesn’t mention those previous shows that shot on location such as Kojak (CBS, 1973-1978) and the superb The Rockford Files (NBC, 1974-1980). While Jermyn praises the cinematic qualities of Sex she fails to note those previous shows on the small screen that had a cinematic quality to them including Father Knows Best (CBS, 1954-1960), The Rifleman (ABC, 1958-1963), Peter Gunn (NBC, 1958-1960, ABC, 1960-1961), Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1991), X-Files (Fox, 1993-2002), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB, 1997-2001, UPN, 2001-2003). Finally, while Jermyn praises Sex’s celebration of Manolo Blahniks, Prada, and Vera Wang as feminist—these women, she claims, have enough independence and money to buy what they want—she doesn’t engage the criticism that Sex and the City is a celebration of late twentieth century consumerism and product placement.
The limitations imposed by the TV Milestones series don’t always work against Jermyn. Jermyn focuses on the aspects of the show which have garnered the most attention in academic circles, the fairy tale aspects of the series and the debate over whether the show is feminist or not. Jermyn’s argument that the fairy tale aspects of the series including its ending are more complex than some critics have recognized and don’t undermine the Third Wave feminist qualities of the series has much to be said for it. Sex’s “chat and chew” scenes, those scenes in which Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte meet, eat, share, and commiserate, do exude a sense of sisterhood as Jermyn notes. Jermyn’s book is superbly written and largely eschews “academic jargon”. It is a worthy addition to the literature on Sex and the City and on television programmes in general.
This review originally appeared in slightly different form as “Review of Sex and the City by Deborah Jermyn”, Journal of Popular Culture, 43:3 (June 2010), pp. 662-663.