The Real Problem with Carrie Bradshaw

There’s been a surprisingly brisk conversation about Sex and the City 2 since the movie premiered, with critics taking out their knives to gleefully bash Carrie and co. for their less than youthful appearance and “Ugly American” adventures. And there have been other more thoughtful writers who step back from the pile-on to wonder why male movies like The Hangover and Get Him to the Greekget a pass for their unabashed raunchiness, while Samantha is eviscerated for speaking out about sexual urges and menopause.

It’s an interesting discussion, and one I can’t comment on myself since I haven’t seen the movie as of yet, and have no plans to right now. I told my friend who lives in another city that I’d see it with her and we could turn it into a drinking game–every time Carrie speaks in a breathy, girly voice, take a shot. Every time she arches an eyebrow, take a shot. Makes a ridiculous pun, squeals so loudly your eardrum shatters, makes a snide, dismissive remark to Samantha: shot, shot, shot.

If we really did this, we’d be wasted an hour into the movie. And this is why I really don’t care for seeing it, because I strongly object to what happened to Carrie Bradshaw as a character.

One of the best things about television is that we can follow a character’s arc over the course of several seasons, and take pleasure in how he or she evolves over time. From when we meet them in the pilot to the series finale, they are still recognizably themselves, but have deepened and evolved in some fundamental way.

I find Carrie Bradshaw infuriating because she does not evolve over six seasons, she devolves. The Carrie of the first two seasons is bright, curious, and engagingly honest about her dating life. She’s a good friend to Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. She plays poker, wears clothes that seem to be purchased from Macy’s, and invents a children’s book character who has magic cigarettes. In one episode, she even tries to put herself on a budget (!). She’s funny, fiercely loyal and a little quirky.

The Carrie of seasons 5 and 6 is a spoiled, self-involved prude who is weirdly judgmental about her friends’ sex lives, considering she’s a sex columnist. To me, this Carrie Bradshaw was a fourteen year old girl in a forty-something woman’s body. She flirts with men in a cutesy “I’m just a girl, aren’t I adorable” sort of way, maxes out her credit cards on Prada and Manolos, and gets bailed out by her friends or boyfriends when she has money problems.

Take season 1 Carrie in the series’ arguably best episode, “Valley of the Twenty-Something Guys”…

…versus season 6 Carrie in “An American Girl in Paris.”

How can a woman who was once smart and no-nonsense devolve into such a prissy woman-child? (I love how the Russian’s daughter shames Carrie and her silliness with just a few pointed looks.)

If you watch those two scenes back to back, even the tenor of her voice has changed. In the first clip not only does she speak pointedly and with a certain edge, her voice is deeper. In the second clip, her voice is so girlishly high that she sounds like Marilyn Monroe.

It’s the same thing with the character’s style. In the season 1 clip, Carrie’s choice of clothing is a reflection of her personality. In the season 6 clip, it’s merely a reflection of Pat Field’s wardrobe budget.

The two Carrie Bradshaws are worlds apart–they wouldn’t even be friends.

I’ve always been bothered by this disconnect, and the fact it was never addressed by the show’s writers. (I’m also bothered by the fact that Carrie never had any professional goals, and her successful publishing career was dropped in her lap like the plot point that it is, but that’s for another post.)

To me this disconnect feels almost irresponsible. If you want audiences to invest time in the characters you’ve created enough to buy the DVD sets and eventually watch the movies, you owe them consistency.

There are two fictional Jacks who just concluded their respective series. Jack Bauer on 24 and Jack Shephard on Lost had a consistent through line from the first episode to the last. They both were very flawed and sometimes completely unlikable, but I always had the sense that the writers for both series had a very sharp and unbending view on who Jack Bauer and Jack Shephard were as people. Despite the insanity surrounding them (terrorists, smoke monsters, etc.), they rarely had a moment when the characters did not seem authentically themselves.

The reason Sex and the City became so popular was viewers  related to the four women, their friendship and their dating dilemmas. As the series became more of a fantasy, the Carrie character was weakened to serve fabulous fashions, celebrity cameos, product placement and a never-ending love triangle. No one on the show stood up to protect the awesome Carrie who flirted with Big via crossword puzzle, staged a Rabbit intervention for Charlotte, or had a genuine, caring friendship with nerdy Skipper. If you watch the later seasons, it’s almost as if she never existed.

I wonder if this is an underlying reason why there is so much animosity towards the movie, that the artifice of the Carrie Bradshaw character is woefully magnified on the big screen. Any semblance of her realness no doubt evaporates in the absurdity of watching her ride a camel clad in $50,000 worth of couture. Why should we care about you? Who are you anyway?

After reading the above, you might be surprised that I would hope for and welcome a third Sex and the City movie. Because I think the creative team has it in them to right their wrongs and give all the characters the proper send-off they deserve. I still believe that Carrie’s true self lurks just beneath the heavily stylized surface. What I’d like to see:

Carrie and Samantha and Miranda and Charlotte in the coffee shop chatting about their lives for 90 minutes. Think of it as a chatty, glossy version of My Dinner with Andre. Because when it comes down to it, this is what everyone loved about this show anyway, the wittiness of the conversations and the closeness between the characters. For Carrie to become real again, she needs to do what she used to do best: talk, listen and be a friend.

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