Sex and the City debuted a whopping 20 years ago, and despite being off the air for more than a decade, the show still looms large in the canon of pop culture. It made bonafide stars of its four leading ladies and redefined the portrayal of sex on TV. Despite some unfavorable, and frankly sexist, reviews of the show when it first aired, most critics now agree it was a game-changer, jump-starting the golden age of TV right alongside more "serious" shows like The Sopranos.
To be sure, SATC hasn't aged well in many ways. For a sex columnist, Carrie Bradshaw is remarkably close-minded about queer sexuality and kink. When people of color are featured on the show, it's often terribly tokenistic. When Samantha moves to the Meatpacking District, she refers to her transgender, sex worker neighbors as "trannies." And if Charlotte were around in 2018, let's just say she'd probably be best friends with Ivanka Trump.
And yet, two decades down the line, SATC is still a fierce champion of female friendship. It's unapologetic in its depiction of female sexual desire. It showed audiences four deeply flawed, thus relatable, women trying to "have it all," doggedly pursuing both professional and romantic fulfillment in a big city.
Despite everything, SATC is still good TV. Here's why we still love it, 20 years later.
Eve Peyser, Staff Writer
Watching Sex and the City as a teenager growing up in New York City, it gave me a perhaps problematic view of what it was like to be a single, straight woman in the Big Apple. Everyone on the show is so rich it's wild! But SATC also showed me that sex is something women can and should enjoy, and the show is a beautiful portrait of the power of female friendship.
Looking back on the show now, I understand why many critics are quick to point out how it didn't age well, because our culture has undergone tremendous social change over the past 20 years. That feels beside the point to me; the show has always been on the receiving end of backlash because it is about deeply flawed women, and people look for any and all opportunities to criticize women. As Emily Nussbaum wrote for The New Yorker in 2013, "[ Sex and the City] originated the unacknowledged first female anti-hero on television: ladies and gentlemen, Carrie Bradshaw." The show honestly explored the neuroses that come along with being single, and it shows women who make mistakes and survive them. That's why I like it, and that's also why it has so many haters.
Marina Garcia-Vasquez, Managing Editor
What I really appreciated about SATC was the frank talk the ladies would have in public places—marriage talk at brunch and blowjobs at lunch. Each character brought her own perspective and opinion about one night stands, coupling up, and finding the right partner. The show succeeded in celebrating their differences. And in those candid conversations, we got the feeling that the women were taking charge of their own destinies. At one table we had a lawyer, a publicist, a writer, and a wannabe housewife, and each had their moments of being slutty, feminist-esque, proud, and lost.
There is this idea that with age and experience life will work out, but the ladies from SATC changed that notion. They allowed other women, young women, to peek into the messy, casual lives of professional women trying to make a life for themselves in a big, chaotic city. We saw them fail a lot, but they continued to champion each other and tried to not be judgmental of each other. This was key to me accepting the differences in my own friendships with women and learning to accept all of the individual hot messes.
Janae Price, Editorial Assistant
For the longest time, my mother wouldn't let me watch Sex and the City. She used to lock herself in her bedroom to watch episodes once a week, and her children simply weren't allowed in. Once I was finally of age, my mother sat me down one summer afternoon, as if to pass down some sacred gift. For the rest of that summer, my mother and I binged the series.
I was totally infatuated with the characters and their racy New York City lives. When I first started watching the show, I assumed that it was the white version of Girlfriends—a clever sitcom about four friends navigating life. But once I started watching the show, I realized that each of the characters are messy bitches who are flawed in the best ways, not PG-13 sitcom tropes. (I'm not throwing shade at Girlfriends; It's still an amazing show.)
My favorite episode of SATC has got to be when Carrie and Big get caught having an affair by Big's wife Natasha. Because although the show is centered on Carrie, she is not always portrayed as the blameless, virtuous sun of the SATC universe that all other characters mindlessly orbit around. Her character is rather selfish and one-sided, which I love because it makes the show so much more relatable. Although portions of the show are a bit outdated and cringeworthy—like when Carrie dated a bisexual guy and prodded him with questions as if he was an alien, or when Samantha dated a black guy and suddenly started to incorporate new slang into her everyday lingo—I look forward to sharing this show with my future daughter on a random summer afternoon some day.
Kara Weisenstein, Associate Editor
I started watching reruns of Sex and the City when I was 16. I'd come home from my summer job at an ice cream shop and immerse myself in the glamorous New York City lives of Carrie Bradshaw and her three best friends. I finally watched the series start-to-finish in college, after I got my wisdom teeth removed and was couch-bound and hopped up on pain meds. Nowadays, I use the show as a way to decompress.
SATC is like a security blanket to me, a familiar and comforting presence that reminds me of my own female friends. I'm not gonna lie, it's getting harder to watch as time goes on, which is partly why I'm grateful for loving-yet-snarky Instagrams like @everyoutfitonsatc and memes like #WokeCharlotte. But I love the show's unconditional love for New York City, the way so many episodes end with Carrie sauntering down a rain-slicked sidewalk, espousing her love for the Big Apple as saxophones wail in the background. It's full of wide-eyed optimism that reminds me how it felt being a teenager in St. Louis, dreaming of the big city adventures I'd have someday.
Anna Iovine, Weekend Social Editor
Some moments of Sex and the City are cringeworthy as hell to watch today: the show's transphobia and biphobia, the fact that everyone is white (though that problem is not unique to this show), the archaic pre-Tinder technology. For some reason, though, I always feel a nostalgic warmth when I rewatch it. I first watched SATC when I was way too young, taking advantage of my parents' HBO subscription. Because of that, episodes like the one where Charlotte got with a guy who was obsessed with giving oral really stuck with me. (I can't remember what it's called, but there's a scene where he's eating fruit or something and it's obscene.) Growing up, women learn a lot of slut-shaming and myths about sex that SATC debunked—like that men hate going down on women, to use that specific example. So, for all the bullshit, SATC has some gems, and it remains an incredibly re-watchable show for me.
Allie Conti, Senior Staff Writer
The reason Sex and the City is a good show to rewatch is precisely because it was made before I was supposed to worry about whether or not something was problematic and could just enjoy a TV show on its own merits as mind-numbing entertainment. Sometimes the characters do something that’s homophobic, but when that happens, I try to put things into perspective by acknowledging that I’m a person who’s spent the past ten hours binge rewatching a sitcom about unlikable straight people that’s been off the air for over a decade. Having no life seems like a more logical reason to feel bad about myself than a fictional person being vaguely mean to me!
Anyway, my favorite character is Steve. There’s a sketch on Amy Schumer’s show in which a woman takes her friend on a cheaper version of the SATC bus tour in New York, and the joke is that the tour is bad and depressing. I have been on the actual tour (twice) but wish it focused more on Steve, for sure. It’s relatable when he tries to get rich by winning a halftime free-throw contest at a Knicks game, because I waste time playing HQ every day trying to pay off my debt. It’s very sad when he gets cancer. You can watch the show on HBO or on Amazon Prime.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.