I am skipping ahead a month so that I can quote Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker): “Men are the new black.” Carrie says this to a disapproving editor at Vogue (Candice Bergen), in defense of an article she has written that was supposed to be about fashion accessories but is instead about failed relationships. You may wonder what Carrie, who dresses as if she had been stolen in childhood by acid-tripping gypsies, is doing at Vogue to begin with. But let’s rest our oars for just a minute on the pondlike repose of Carrie’s wisecrack, as if it were the punch line to a haiku, or maybe even a mantra. Returning after four summer seasons with a “bonus” of six midwinter episodes, has Sex and the City at long last articulated its tetragrammatonic code?
Men are the new black. No wonder Carrie has spent more than $40,000 on shoes. No wonder her latest pair will be ruined when the water breaks for pregnant Miranda (Cynthia Nixon). What, wondered Saul Bellow’s Herzog, do women really want? (“They eat green salad and drink human blood.”) Well, besides shoes, they obviously want more than Aidan (John Corbett) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) can give sex-columnist Carrie. Or Steve (David Eigenberg) can give corporate lawyer Miranda. Or Trey (Kyle MacLachlan) can give MOMA tour guide Charlotte (Kristin Davis). Or Richard (James Remar) can give publicist Samantha (Kim Cattrall).
Granted, Samantha’s a special case. She looks to lease, not buy, as if men were time shares in a condo (when they aren’t merely theme-park rides). But Carrie thinks she wants to live with Aidan, till he asks her to marry him. And Charlotte actually is married to Trey, until he brings back to Park Avenue a cardboard-cutout photo of a baby to make up for the real one they can’t have. And Miranda finds that the bigger she gets with child – “like suddenly there’s a giraffe in the room” – the less likely she is to have sex unless she settles for the child’s father, whom she has declined to wed. And even Samantha is subverted by the bubbles and baubles of romance.
Between visits to gay dance clubs, wedding-dress and crib shops, Vogue, and a maternity ward, there are dog, plant, cell-phone, breast-pump, grape-jelly, and masturbation jokes. When Carrie tells Aidan she isn’t ready for wedlock, he threatens to evict her from her rent-controlled apartment unless she buys it, which she can’t afford because she spent all her money on shoes. Which is why she must write for Vogue, for $4 a word and editor Ron Rifkin in his underwear. Not only that, but Mr. Big has bought a vineyard – and is leaving New York for Napa, as if the Chrysler Building had decided to relocate. Is this an excuse for “going-out-of-business sex”?
Mr. Big makes Carrie listen to Andy Williams sing “Moon River.” You may recall that Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer won an Oscar for “Moon River” in 1962. The movie was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Is this supposed to remind us of Audrey Hepburn as the pixie princess Holly Golightly, or of Truman Capote, the corrupted choirboy who wrote a novel with a different ending and wound up biting the hand of the demimonde that scratched his ears at lunch? Either way, why? Nostalgia for the ersatz? Sometimes, decoding pop culture’s subtext is like searching for Atlantis. It isn’t there.
I’m not, however, to be trusted on Sex and the City. I have big-city daughters who are Carrie’s age. They are funny and attractive, too. But not only do they go to movies, baseball games, all-night delis, and the theater, not to mention ground zero, but they also read actual books and have as many opinions about politics as about men. Only on television would such smart young women never think about anything else except hormones. I have a suggestion. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha should stick around on Sunday nights to meet the men from Oz and get real.
Oz picks up where it left off last February, after a gas explosion closed the prison. It’s open for business again with the same tensions among Aryans (J. K. Simmons), Muslims (Eamonn Walker), and Latinos (Kirk Acevedo); the same drugs and rape; enough full-frontal male nudity to complement Kim Cattrall’s Sex and the City ritual striptease; and the same Harold Perrineau in a wheel chair, reading his divorce papers and reminding us that Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, and Oscar Wilde all did time, as did Jesus, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, and Socrates. In Oz, even the visitors on their way to the prison by bus will be punished for their innocence. In Oz, sex has consequences, violence isn’t rent-controlled, relationships aren’t disposable, and stripes aren’t fashion statements. Neither the doctor (Lauren Velez) nor the nun (Rita Moreno) ever seems to worry about her shoes.
Sins of the Father (January 6; 8 to 10 p.m.; FX) picks up the story of the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, both before and after Spike Lee’s documentary, 4 Little Girls. Tom Cherry (Tom Sizemore), the grown-up son of Ku Klux Klanner Bobby (Richard Jenkins), was his father’s alibi for the murderous explosion. After his marriage goes bust, Tom returns to live with the old man, befriends a black neighbor (Ving Rhames), gets badgered by an FBI agent (Colm Feore), and starts to remember Klan picnics and Bobby’s vicious abuse of his own wife, Tom’s mother. Thirty-seven years after the crime, the son will testify against the father. A remarkably nuanced and affecting TV movie.
The It Factor (starting January 6; 9 to 9:30 p.m.; Bravo) will follow a talented and diverse group of actors for thirteen episodes as they try to find work, any work, in New York City, from audition to rejection or callback, from improv, stand-up, and modeling to indie films, television series, and commercials. What’s scary is how grateful most of them are for the tiniest sliver of a chance to perform in public. Scarier still are the people – the producers, casting directors, club owners, etc. – who decide whether these actors live or die.
Sex and the City
Sundays, January 6 through February 10; 9 to 9:30 p.m.; HBO.
Sundays, January 6 through February 24; 10 to 11 p.m.; HBO.