When contemplating Sex and the City, we are often faced with a pressing question. It isn't "which one are you" – that's easy. Most viewers are a unique combination of the four lead women. I, for example, am Carrie's neurosis, Samantha's sex drive, Miranda's misandry and Charlotte's arse. The question that requires more thought is: which one is the best?
Obviously it isn't Carrie, but for the sake of posterity: is it Carrie, the spectacular romantic anti-hero who continually rejects healthy decisions in favour of obviously terrible ones, and then spirals perfectly towards disaster? Is it Samantha, the top shagger who backs herself harder than every Alpha on Love Island combined? Could it be Anthony, the gay best friend who has the most perspective out of literally everyone, despite being relegated to the stereotypical role of comedian?
Wrong, wrong and wrong again. Firstly, Carrie is a state. Everybody knows this because it is precisely what makes her such a great character. When she first materialised on screen 20 years ago this week, audiences had never been faced with a female lead who was so unlikable, so frustrating and, ultimately, so watchable, because she is a perfect simulacrum of our worst selves. For that reason, Carrie is undoubtedly the show's greatest accomplishment, but she is not the best character. Neither is Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte nor, indeed, Anthony. Look closer and you will find that the best character in Sex and the City is actually... Mr Big.
John James "Mr Big" Preston is a 40-something arsehole with commitment issues who works in the financial sector and looks like the human blueprint for the dad from American Dad. Because he is the catalyst for so much of Carrie's stressful behaviour, we have been quick to categorise him as a baddie. This is false. Big is often viewed as selfish because of his resistance to become more like the wholesome, stable, keen-to-lock-things-down dudes Carrie goes on to dump. Rarely is he viewed for what he is: a reserved but reasonable man with a demanding job who is slow to take big steps in relationships due to a rich history of unaddressed emotional traumas. As you will see in the evidence given below, Big has long been misrepresented as a Bad Guy when in fact he is a hilarious legend.
EXHIBIT A: HIS FAIRLY REASONABLE REACTIONS TO CARRIE’S ACTUALLY QUITE OUT OF ORDER ACTIONS
It stands to reason that the more withholding someone is, the more room they leave for you to fill in the gaps. Depending on how emotionally stable you are, the content of that projection can range from titillating speculation to boundless paranoia that is largely reflective of one's own insecurities. In the case of Carrie and Big, things skew heavily towards the latter.
Example #1: Big possibly has to go to Paris for work, but the details are hazy. He tries to hold off discussing it until he knows more so they can work things out based on concrete facts, but it ends up coming out anyway. The idea of being apart causes Carrie to panic, and she angrily drunk-dials him at 5:30AM while he's on a business trip and calls him an old man. Then she shows up at his apartment in a beret and delivers a monologue about ways they can make it work, before hurling a Filet-O-Fish at his TV and accusing him of moving country to avoid commitment. To this, Big says: "What the fuck."
Example #2: Big isn’t ready for Carrie to meet his mother. In response, Carrie stalks them at church. For some reason he still wants to go on a couple's holiday with her after this, but she ditches him on the way to the airport when he's unable to call her "the one" mere days after he says "we’ll get there, you just have to have a little faith", which was actually an incredibly generous thing to say given she just bum-rushed his mother without consent in God's house.
Very. Bloody. Reasonable.
EXHIBIT B: HE IS BROKEN BUT TRYING HIS BEST, SORT OF, DESPITE HAVING ABSOLUTELY NO MATES
In case you haven’t noticed, Big is weird. He’s a weirdo. He doesn’t fit in, and he doesn’t want to fit in. He's Wall Street’s Jughead Jones. The whole "nobody understands me" resignation to solitude thing becomes far less endearing in the greying realm of middle age, when it speaks less to naivety and more to a very real pattern of disappointment, but still worthy of consideration.
Here is a man who is more comfortable spending New Year’s Eve alone in a restaurant full of people than meeting Carrie's friends for the first time. In many ways, the absolute peak of the age-old stereotype that is Wealthy And Emotionally Repressed Loner Who Is Substituting Much Needed Therapy For Alcohol Dependency. True to form, we rarely see him ruffled, but every now and again there is a glimpse of the anxious freak within, whose essence I believe to be distilled and bottled within this incredibly awkward wave.
EXHIBIT C: CRUCIALLY, HE IS CARRIE’S ONLY BANTER BOYFRIEND
Aiden, I'm sorry, sucks. He’s the human equivalent of raw denim. A painfully neurotypical everyman who just wants to love you. An insufferably American poster boy who probably swerved Spring Break in favour of helping out at the local church with his high school girlfriend of three years. While this may lend itself to comfort and a certain degree of respect, it is not, as we say, fun. Then there’s Jack Berger – an insecure author and crap shag – and Aleksandr Petrovsky, a light installation artist who has never heard of Billy Joel.
Big, on the other hand, is great craic. His read on relationships is "nobody knows shit". He refuses to sleep at Carrie's for ages because he "likes his bed". He reacts to falling in a disgusting Central Park lake full of sewage like it's the funniest thing that’s ever happened to him. When he finds out Aleksandr slapped Carrie in the face he threatens to "kick some Russian ass". He calls Aiden "Daniel Boone". He is sick at karaoke. All of which is to say: Big is lit.
EXHIBIT D: HE DOESN’T GIVE A FUCK
Big is arguably the only character in the series who does not define himself by his relationships or lack thereof. In the grand scheme of things, he simply doesn’t care. Sex and relationships, for him, are variables. They come and go, but they are not the most important or sole focus of his life as a whole. In the context of a series ostensibly about sex and relationships, this makes him an outlier instead of, like, fine?
EXHIBIT E: EQUALLY, HE DOES HAVE A MASSIVE EMOTIONAL BREAKDOWN AT ONE POINT AND MUD WRESTLES AIDEN IN THE WOODS
As we have seen, Big is a whole mess. His #issues rarely reveal themselves, but when they do it’s a thing of true beauty. When anyone else has a problem, they sit in their mate’s bedroom and eat an Oreo about it. When Big has a problem, he drives hundreds of miles to impose himself on Carrie and Aiden's couples retreat in the fucking woods and gets smashed on red wine. He wakes up hungover then has a really embarrassing Eurotrash fight with Aiden, and they both end up smothered in muck before discussing their feelings over a civilised dinner. Legendary behaviour! Catharsis and true resolve! If everyone behaved this way the entire plot of Sex and the City would’ve been done in three episodes.
EXHIBIT F: PLUS THIS IS HOW HE EATS FONDUE
In real life, Carrie and Big wouldn’t end up together. Candace Bushnell, the New York writer who based Carrie on herself, has said as much. We are conditioned to hate Big in direct relation to Carrie, but if you met him on his own terms outside the context of their relationship, I would say he holds up pretty well. Plus, he doesn’t say anything racist.
That said, if we’re truly being honest with ourselves, the best character is probably Magda.