As ‘Sex and the City’ Ages, Some Find the Cosmo Glass Half-Empty


Most weeks, hundreds of people board a “Sex and the City” themed bus in Manhattan that takes them to the show’s most recognizable sites: Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment, her favorite brunch spot, a sex shop in the West Village. The tour usually ends with — what else? — a Cosmopolitan.

“It never gets old,” said Georgette Blau, the owner of On Location Tours. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour entry into an aspirational world many of the riders had been watching for decades, she said.

Twenty years since the series finale of “Sex and the City” aired, a new generation of television watchers has grown into adulthood. After all of the episodes were released on Netflix this month, media watchers wondered how the show — and Carrie’s behavior — might hold up for Gen Z.

Would they be able to handle the occasional raunchiness of the show, the sometimes toxic relationships? Were the references outdated? “Can Gen Z Even Handle Sex and the City?” Vanity Fair asked. (For its part, Gen Z seems to vacillate between being uninterested and lightly appalled about what they consider to be a period piece.)

The show had a very different effect on its longtime fans, many of them a generation or two older. When it aired, “Sex and the City” changed the conversation around how women dated, developed friendships and moved about the world in their 30s and 40s.

Even if some of the show’s character arcs aged poorly, many of its original fans still relate to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, no matter how unrealistic it may have been to live on the Upper East Side with a walk-in closet full of Manolo Blahniks on the salary of a weekly newspaper columnist.

“If Carrie got into therapy, there’d be no show,” said Anna Roisman, a comedian and superfan. “She’d be like, ‘Guys, I am healed.’”

In the ensuing two decades, the show’s super fans haven’t stopped analyzing and discussing it. A genre of TikTok videos dissects why Carrie was a bad friend, and why Samantha was a good one. The show has inspired dozens of podcasts. And in 2021, HBO launched “And Just Like That …” in which the friends — minus Samantha — navigate their 50s. Many fans said that the show had even inspired their decisions to move to a big city like London or New York.

In the first week of the show’s debut on Netflix, people spent 12.3 million hours watching “Sex and the City,” and it was in the platform’s Top 10 television shows in 42 countries, including the United States, according to Netflix.

For Candace Bushnell, the creative force behind “Sex and the City,” the show’s appeal comes from still being relatable while serving up nostalgia.

“There was a romance to dating that younger women tell me doesn’t really exist anymore,” Bushnell said in a phone interview. “Now internet dating and using dating apps — it feels more like a job.”

For Carrie and her friends, dating is more of a pastime: They meet men at gallery openings, cocktail parties, book launches, a Yankees game, the gym, and more. The four of them also have weekly brunches and endless cocktails where they dish about their latest exploits.

Bushnell, who is touring her one-woman show “True Tales of Sex, Success and Sex and the City,” said that the show gave people a new way of looking at their romantic lives.

The test of time is a hard one to pass, and the show’s record is far from perfect. But its frank discussions of sex and gendered expectations seemed to open doors for other shows after it, including “Girls” and “Insecure,” and helped change the image of single women in their 30s.

“Suddenly, single womanhood was glamorous,” said Jennifer Armstrong, the author of “Sex and the City and Us.” “This was no small thing, and I think it remains resonant.”

Before “Sex and the City,” being a single woman was perceived very differently, Bushnell said. “People really felt like there was something wrong with you.”

For longtime fans who are now Carrie’s age or older, the show has gone from aspirational to relatable to recognizable — again, minus those hundreds of pairs of stilettos.

Watching the show now, Marta Barberini, 37, said, “you’re not talking about your future self; you’re talking about your present self.”

Barberini was such a fan that, in 2008, she took the “Sex and the City” hot spots tour. On that bus, she met a friend who would later introduce her to her life partner. The show, Barberini said, was “a turning point in my life.”

The show’s role similarly changed over time for Roisman, the longtime fan and comedian in New York City whose impression of Steve (Miranda’s boyfriend, then not boyfriend, then father of her child and eventually husband) has been widely shared.

Roisman, a self-described proud millennial, said she first watched “Sex and the City” as a child with her parents (“so inappropriate!”). As she grew older, she increasingly related to the characters and felt less alone in the challenges that work and dating brought.

By now, most fans in their 30s and 40s have been through at least some of the heartbreak, fertility issues or professional challenges depicted on the show.

Tanya Bailey, 48, who recently watched Sarah Jessica Parker perform onstage in “Plaza Suite” in London, said she rewatched “Sex and the City” often and related mostly to Carrie’s quest for romantic love.

“She’s had failed relationships, so have I,” Bailey said. “It makes you think that it’s not only you.”


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