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HBO’s LGBT History: Sex and the City (2008, 2010)

After a week off (festivals sure do take it outta you, but did you catch up on all of our fun NYFF coverage?), we're back to our regularly scheduled programming. Last we spoke, I howled in laughter watching Curb Your Enthusiasm’s “pre-gay” kid, Greg in that show’s current series finale (there’s always rumors they’ll make more episodes, but Larry David seems to be in no rush). This week, we continue looking at another HBO comedy staple, the endlessly parodied, needlessly dismissed Sarah Jessica Parker series, Sex and the City...

We talked about Carrie & co. once already when discussing the watershed gay moment HBO experienced in 1998, but we couldn’t not talk about the gals’ two big screen outings, especially when they so obviously flaunt their gay cred at us. I’ll say this upfront: I love the series and think the first film is a delight, mixing campy humor and pathos like the best episodes of the show (that entire wedding sequence at New York Public Library is oh so great, with its high melodrama and gorgeous visuals matched step by step by the four actresses doing subtle and over-the-top as the scene requires). The second one? Well… the less said about its decidedly tone-deaf cultural imperialism the better; it really all plays out like a parody of Sex and the City (“Lawrence of my labia”? Oy...), complete with a winking “Paula Abdul” gay butler in the Middle East, who perhaps best embodies the way the film awkwardly (and unsuccessfully) straddles the line between tired stereotypes and progressive ideals.

Given the way both films try to cram enough storylines to fill up entire seasons, it’s probably not surprising that the resident Sex and the City gays, Stanford Blatch and Anthony Marentino, feature prominently only in the context of weddings: Carrie’s (failed) one in the first one, and (improbably) their own in the second one. Oh their wedding… Their gay wedding (the film’s words, not ours). I mean, it features Liza Minnelli singing “Single Ladies” and a gay chorus that’s a who’s-who of gay stage and TV stars: Max von Essen! Nick Adams! Kyle Dean Massey! Andrew Rannells! Matthew Risch!

It even makes space between swans and crowns to give Tony-winning actress Kelli O’Hara a bit part! Gay gay gay. That the entire sequence functions as an excuse to make our heterosexual leads reexamine issues of “tradition” and “monogamy,” is only one of the many ways in which the sequel is a lesser version of both the first film and the button-pushing show.

"This wedding is way more than beautiful. It's Lady Di."

"It's a gay wedding. I figured, what's one more little bitch with an attitude?"

"This wedding? It looks like the Snow Queen exploded!"

Of course, Sex and the City’s gay cred never rested solely on Stamford and Anthony.

Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte have become, if nothing else, iconic archetypes that define an entire generation of gay men (if you must know, I think I’m Carrie, but maybe that’s my own narcissism shining through). Even in its casting, the films, know where it’s at. I mean, take the people Carrie interviews for her personal assistant in the first film:

Yes, I was surprised when, upon rewatching, I found that our beloved Annaleigh Ashford (she of Masters of Sex fame, and another recent Tony winner) was featured in a small role alongside the amazing Bridget Everett. And then, of course, there's J-Hud herself fresh off her Oscar win. Gay.

Oh, and then there’s the men. The delicious, always objectified, men:

If there’s one thing we have to give Sex and the City props for is turning the male gaze on its head, having as gay friendly an ogling camera as they come. This is one of those moments where the show’s LGBT legacy need not be restricted to its representational value but its own sensibility (the fashion! the men! the questioning of sexual mores!). This is why I’m tempted to discuss some other upcoming films that don’t quite feature LGBT characters but whose queer DNA cannot be denied: Todd Haynes’s Mildred Pierce, Lange & Barrymore’s Grey Gardens, James Lapine’s Six by Sondheim… do chime in if you have thoughts on discussing these gems.

 Fun Awards Fact: While the show was a hit with both Emmys (seven wins including one for Best Comedy Series) and Golden Globes (eight wins including three for Best Comedy Series), it’s still unsurprising that both films found little traction outside of your People’s Choice and MTV Awards given they’re female-skewing rom-coms of sorts. Thankfully Patricia Field was singled out by the Costume Designers Guild Awards with a nomination for the 2008 film, an award she’d won for the show four times already, and which she’d win that same year but for her work on Ugly Betty. If you ask me, she’d have made a handsome Oscar nominee that year which saw Michael O’Connor win for The Duchess.

Next Week: As if to coincide with the increasingly politicized national conversation (that 2016 election feels both impossibly close and yet interminably far, don’t you think?) we’ll be discussing Outrage an HBO doc on closeted politicians. You can watch it on Netflix

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Reader Comments (18)

Michael Patrick King is entirely responsible for the downfall of Sex and the City. Vapid gay sensibility. Of course this lays the ground work for other vapid gays with power Ryan Murphy and Lee Daniels.

These movies only exist because Sarah Jessica wanted her film career back. And to prove she was a bankable film star she used the Sex and the City brand. Ruining the legacy of the much superior TV series.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

3rtful - totally agree. that man got so far up his own ass re: his show. Sure, he should be proud of some of it, but watching interviews with him when the show was coming to a close showed what an insufferably arrogant man he was, and how shut off he was from anything outside his own little world. This would later become a problem when he faced criticism for the racism on 2 Broke Girls and he clearly didn't get it.

Yes, aside from the lovely male objectification, the 2nd movie is pretty bad. But even that first movie, when the wedding is called off and Carrie's friends literally HAVE TO SPOON-FEED HER BECAUSE SHE CAN BARELY LIFT HER HEAD, they lost me. I mean, I get that she was devastated, but come on. You're not a baby. Feed your damn self.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Loved the TV series, and it deserves more credit than it usually gets for bringing frank talk about female problems, issues, and interests to the screen.
But the movies... an opportunity wasted.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Yup, the second movie was just atrocious. Carrie was even more self-centered than ever before (and continuously acting like a 20-something year old). I swore off Michael Patrick King....until The Comeback The Amazing Second Season. Maybe he's got his mojo back again?

So I'm tempted for the third movie as long as Stanford and Anthony get divorced and hate each other again.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGolden

I choose to see the movies are non-cannon. It helps one appreciate the emotional integrity of the show.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I choose to see the movies as non-cannon. It helps one appreciate the emotional integrity of the show.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I once read that everyone who watches Sex And The City wishes they were Samantha, sees themself as Miranda, dreads becoming Charlotte. When we're all (to our horror) Carrie. This is obviously not applicable past the third or fourth series, when these fiercely intellectual, educated and self-aware women became tragic parodies. The less said about the betrayal of the second movie, the better. Are we to believe that these people had never learned even the most rudimentary knowledge of the Middle East? Michael Patrick King needs to pay.

3rtful - I still hold out hope for Lee Daniels because I love The Paperboy and Precious and because he made Tyra Ferrelll start acting again (the less said about Empire 2 the better... I still watch it (THAT CAST) but it's objectively terrible now).

Please can we all discuss Grey Gardens (documentary and movie) forever? I hope that everyone realises that if only a real distributor had picked up the movie then Sandra Bullock would have a mere nomination and Drew would have an Oscar!? It would have been the ultimate 'career' win - who could root against work like this?

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

I have a certain affection for the first movie, and I've been (slowly but surely) re-watching the entire series on HBO Go. The Carrie/Big is endlessly annoying still.

Re: Outrage - Charlie Crist just announced his run for a Florida congressional seat. He just won't go away!

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBD

I loved the first movie, and Kristin Davis was never better on the show than she was in that film. The second one had some major issues and everyone who ever hated the series (even those relatively unfamiliar with it) pounced. The episodes hold up, and the first movie is a lovely finale. Let's just skip that last bit of mess.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I always feel very divided about this show. There is such a glaring streak of misogyny to the derision it's routinely dismissed with. But as much as I really wanna stick up for what it represents (a grown-up non-repressed woman's point of view on matters of sex and other things) and as much as the first few seasons were witty innovative groundbreaking TV, after the fourth one or so, it just became bad. The bits I caught of the final season were unforgivably hollow. As were both films.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

The show was and still is extraordinary. The first movie is entertaining and good fun. The sequel is terrible. The wedding is just appalling and goes against everything the show and specifically their friendship stood for. The rest of it ain't much better, either.

October 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

kermit - You know they would've category frauded Drew and put her in supporting, and she would've given Mo'Nique a run for her money. And Mo'Nique still probably would've won. But that would've been Drew's career nomination and her finally "joining in her family's legacy."

October 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Kermit -- what Philip said about Drew. In the non-fraudulent imaginary Oscar world we like to live in though, yes, I agree: Drew could have been a possible Oscar winner for that leading performance. It's strange to me that Drew's career didn't really pick up afterwards but maybe she's not that hungry/invested in it anymore after decades of celebrity and lots of money?

October 22, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

oh and on the movies. I have never revisited the second one but the first movie is fine for what it is. But yes the first few season of the show are incredible and there are enough bright spots and beautiful highs in the final uneven seasons to make them required viewing, too.

October 22, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It is sad how much the creative team behind the films (and arguably the last couple of seasons of the show) lost the plot with regard to what SATC's appeal was. It wasn't the fashion and the conspicuous displays of wealth, it was the characters - how strong and human they were. The first movie had brilliant flashes of that but the second... I checked out after the first minute or so of that wedding. It was NOT good. And I LOVED Stanford and liked Anthony on the show.

October 22, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

The 1st movie was a nice little reunion for the fans, it started out as an ode to the series to tie up the loose ends & no one had predicted its phenomenal commercial success!! the 2nd one was a blatant commercial attempt to capitalise on the success of the 1st one, chockfull o products placements & ads, w more costume changes than the entire NY fashion week.

The 4 ladies made the 1st movie for sentimental reason, but their motivation for the 2nd one was definitely the $$$!!! Its no wonder that all 4 o them jointly won the Razzie!! lol

October 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I've seen every episode and I just couldn't love it. It was overall okay with some highlights here and there, but it's a show that never got me warmed. It happens.
I liked the character of Miranda the most, though. C.Nixon played her just great.
I gave up after 30 Minutes of watching the first movie and I never had the desire to watch the second one.

As a HUGE X-Phile (anxiously awaiting the reboot), the second X-Files movie was a great dissapointment for me too.

October 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

I was DEAD SET against the first movie when it was announced -- "What are they going to do? Break up Carrie and Big *again*?" was my response -- and it WAS an unnecessary (although still watchable) epilogue to the incredible series. I do think, The Comeback notwithstanding, that gay men like Michael Patrick King are perhaps not the best creative forces behind female characters (or actresses) in entertainment. It's a faraway-so close sensibility that meshes better in theory than in reality (as Sex and the City 2: Electric Boogaloo demonstrates).

October 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

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