Say what you will about the state of pop culture in 2018 (a reality star for president, who met with another reality star in the Oval Office to discuss prison reform?), but some things may have changed for the better.
Take, for instance, our understanding of Sex and the City. The series is now heralded as one of the greatest 30 minute romantic dramedies ever to have graced the small screen—but, as it turns out, the critics didn't always feel that way.
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the iconic show with the delightfully frank title, we did a deep dive into what TV critics had to say about the show when it first debuted in 1998. Spoiler: Not everyone was a fan.
From unnecessary comments about Sarah Jessica Parker's face to calling Samantha "over-the-hill," I couldn't help but wonder, were TV reviews always this subtly (and not so subtly) sexist?
For the full run down, read on.
WASHINGTON POST, Tom Shales
"Sarah Jessica Parker has an in-your-face face. In her new HBO comedy series, Sex and the City, she always seems to be thrusting it forward. She's in love with the camera. Unfortunately, it's unrequited...Parker, with her scraggly hair and jutty jaw, is certainly not the worst thing about this smirky-jerky sexcom, but she usually seems so light and funny that it's dismaying to see her in bad form, looking like a walking flea market and coming across about as subtly as a tsunami."
Yes, this is a real review published in a real newspaper about a real human being’s face (and hair, and jaw).
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, Erik Mink
"From the constant smoking to the constant whining, [Darren] Star, who wrote several of the scripts, has again given his actors and directors dialogue and plot lines that make it virtually impossible for them to do anything but laboriously go through the motions of real life."
If Mink only knew that “going through the motions of real life” would one day become an entire genre called reality TV.
DESERET NEWS, Scott D. Pierce
"A dark, outrageously cynical, cold take on the lives of thoroughly unpleasant people living in present-day Manhattan...What's supposed to be entertainment is wearisome, whiny and annoying."
Remember when all shows about women were touted as "whiny and annoying"?
ORLANDO SENTINEL, Hal Boedecker
"Though stylishly directed, Sex and the City isn't especially funny, and it isn't as campy as Melrose Place in its prime.
Apples and oranges, Hal.
THE NEW YORK TIMES, Caryn James
"On the surface, Carrie's world of art dealers, trendy clubs and supermodels may seem hermetic, but her mating rituals have a universal resonance. The 'toxic bachelors' she runs across have their counterparts everywhere. So do her friends, especially Cynthia Nixon as Miranda, a bitter lawyer with a functional haircut, and Kim Cattrall as Samantha, a slightly over-the-hill public relations woman who thinks she can be mistaken for a model. 'Samantha has the kind of deluded self-confidence that causes men like Ross Perot to run for president,' Carrie says. Like so much of Sex and the City, that's not kind, but it's true.
Ah, where to begin? Should we tackle the characterization of Miranda as the “bitter lawyer with a functional haircut”? Or the description of Samantha—who is squarely in her 30s at the show’s debut—as a “slightly over-the-hill” PR woman? Hard pass.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, Irv Letofsky
"The perception is that there’s a lot of sex in our urban centers, especially New York, since there are so many people there for starters. Which brings us to a reasonable idea for a late-night HBO sitcom, simply titled Sex and the City. But what may be a reasonable, even sexy premise comes out flat, bitter and flaccid.
Using the word "flaccid" in a Sex and the City review? Low hanging fruit, Irv.
BOSTON GLOBE, Matthew Gilbert
"Almost none of the characters is particularly likable—unless he or she is angling for something… More social satire than sitcom, it looks openly at relationships steeped in ambivalence, fear, and the games people play."
If none of the characters are likable does that mean Sex and the City paved the way for TV's anti-hero golden age?
HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Anne Hodges
"It's somehow not as funny or as clever as it's meant to be. It tries very hard to be sophisticated, provocative and kinky. But underneath the big city smug-and-smirk of these junior would-be movers and shakers are some very lonely people."
Yes, but the “very lonely” part is what makes the characters so relatable, right? (Or is that just me?)
USA TODAY, Robert Bianco
"Enough to make you re-evaluate the virtues of celibacy...Here's a thought: Perhaps these whiners can't find great guys because they're not so great themselves."
Here’s a thought: Maybe dating is a complex ritual that gets even more complicated when you introduce powerful women operating within the constrains of a sexist hierarchy.
VARIETY, Phil Gallo
"Single and in their 30s, each is a distinct blend of guile, guts and needfulness, traipsing through the dating world with predictable and even trite results, their chatter constantly hitting on sex, relationships and sex.
If Phil thinks “chatter constantly hitting on sex, relationships and sex” is unusual then he’s clearly not brunching right.
LOS ANGELES TIMES, Howard Rosenberg
"As shamelessly superficial as the crowd it memorializes, but so sophisticated in its approach to shallowness that it's also great fun."
This review, like the show, has many layers. But we'll take it.