Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The More I Keep Watching Sex And The City, The Less I Like It: "Season Three."

The Good: A few moments of humor, DVD bonus features
The Bad: All of the characters become unlikable, Repetitive plots
The Basics: An entirely disappointing season of Sex & The City, "The Complete Third Season" has little to offer that the syndicated episodes don't already have.

Sometimes, I wonder why I put myself through such things for reviewing. When my mother got into Sex & The City in syndication, I began getting her in the boxed set DVDs and as she finished them, I would try to get through them. But with the third season of Sex & The City, I think I am finally done trying; life is too short. With Sex & The City The Complete Third Season, the show mortgages all of its likability as all the characters devolve by losing whatever essential traits made them interesting to begin with. Instead, this season is repetitive with character elements that are entirely disappointing. While the season had a few moments I became excited by, the show soon undid the aspects I enjoyed and restored the show to all of the mediocre elements I did not like. In fact, it says something pretty bad when the most pleased I was in an eighteen episode season was when I recognized Kat Dennings in episode fifteen ("Hot Child In The City").

After watching the first and second seasons of Sex & The City (reviewed here and here, respectively), I actually sat down to the DVD set of Sex & The City "The Complete Third Season" with a sense of excitement. I figured it would not be possible for the show to grow in popularity if it simply followed the same bland formula that it beat to death in the prior seasons. And for a few episodes, the show actually had me; it was engaging and I liked where the characters were headed. But by the middle of the season, the show has mostly restored the characters to exactly where they began.

Shaking up the somewhat blase formula from prior seasons, Carrie mourns her latest loss of Mr. Big by dating a politician and then an artist named Aidan. Similarly, Miranda and Steve move in with one another and begin truly working on their relationship. While Samantha continues to promiscuously go through men, Charlotte begins a methodical search for a husband. That search takes Charlotte to a man who degrades her when he has an orgasm and then to a near-car accident with Trey. Trey takes to Charlotte almost instantly and soon the two are headed to the altar to be married.

But the good things quickly dissipate for the quartet. Miranda discovers she has clymidia and she and Steve need to be tested. And when she notices skidmarks in Steve's underwear, she calls it quits with him. And while Samantha continues to sleep around - even getting an AIDS test - Carrie gives in to her lust for Mr. Big and starts an affair with him, behind Aidan's back. And Charlotte discovers her dream husband is impotent . . . after they are married!

Sex & The City actually has remarkably unlikable characters by this point. Carrie is reprehensible, carrying on with the married Mr. Big behind Aidan's back. And the reason is never believably fleshed out. Instead, the viewer gets the impression that there is a sense of inevitability between Carrie and Mr. Big. But because the show has already done this so many times, the viewer feels betrayed by Aidan's appearance and departure. When Carrie appears to be growing, by finally settling on one man and quitting smoking for him, the show becomes a lame soap opera with Mr. Big returning to break them up in the most contrived ways.

In fact, my usual favorite, Miranda, has moments when she, too, grows before collapsing back into a familiar character type. Miranda and Steve have great chemistry and their reunion late in the prior season sets up well their relationship in this season. So why Miranda, who had goals like having a husband and family, gives that up when she and Steve have difficulty keeping a puppy together, is less believable. After all, Miranda is a career-oriented woman who tends to know what she wants and pursues her goals with strength and persistence. To see her give up so easily is disappointing. It is especially distressing because the actors playing Miranda and Steve have great on-screen chemistry.

Oddly, especially for my morals, Samantha actually seems to have one of the best character arcs, despite not having much character growth. Because Samantha is a promiscuous woman who never truly grows or changes (at least in the three seasons I've watched) there is no way for her to regress. So, there are minor victories of character in this season for her when she does smart things like getting tested for AIDS and talking to one of her lovers about how his ejaculate tastes. While her pursuit almost entirely revolves around sex still, this is less disappointing than seeing characters who get what they want only to give it up for the stupidest reasons.

And, unfortunately, this is what Sex & The City "The Complete Third Season" is preoccupied with. After trying to convince viewers that we are watching professional, intelligent women who want relationships, this season illustrates that the characters are anything but. They are cliches; women who never are truly happy or who define their whole existence by their relationships. There is no spark and no originality to the series by this point. Instead, by this point, everything that could be done with the characters appears to have been and now it is just repetition. So, when Miranda and Steve break up, it is entirely unsurprising how fast she gets back on the . . . well, next man to come her way.

Every great show revolves around characters who the viewer may empathize with. Unfortunately, these characters have become tired by this point. In the third season of Sex & The City, the characters are:

Carrie - Heartbroken over Mr. Big's engagement to Natasha, she dates a local politician who wants her to pee on him. She then tries to develop a relationship with a bisexual and finds that too confusing for her. She then takes up with Aidan, who treats her right, forces her to take things slow and for whom she quits smoking. But when she runs into a drunken Mr. Big, she begins to fall for him again. They begin an affair and Carrie seems surprised when he learns the truth and does not want to continue the relationship. This leaves her free to date younger men and smoke pot and escape to Los Angeles to deal with people making a movie based upon her columns,

Samantha - Still going through men like crazy, she moves to an area of New York with a great view, but noisy drag queens in the alley below. She gets an AIDS test, dates her male counterpart, tries her luck with a short man who is not lacking confidence and breaks up with her poor-performing boyfriend because he's nowhere near close to satisfying her in bed. She develops professionally, even taking the party of a New York City socialite who is completely spoiled,

Miranda - Hitting things off with Steve again, she tries her best to make things work. Even as they fall deeper in love, Miranda finds faults she cannot live with. She discovers she has an STD and is embarrassed to have to deal with that and has a phone sex relationship with a guy . . . until she discovers he has a similar arrangement with someone else! As the season winds down, she enjoys the getaway to California. She gets both laser eye surgery and braces this season,

and Charlotte - Her professional life gets even better as her gallery becomes more and more successful. She spends half the season attacking getting married the way she has succeeded professionally and half unsatisfied with the results. She discovers her husband Trey is impotent and she works to rectify the problem, but finds herself inconsolable.

As for the acting this season, Sex & The City has become so formulaic that the performers seem to be sleepwalking through their performances. None of the characters have anything truly different to emote, so their performances blandly continue to portray the same weak-willed, whiny characters who become entirely boring to watch. In fact, the best moments of the season feature the guest stars. Aidan is played by the always-articulate and mellow John Corbett, who plays the role remarkably similarly to how he played Chris on Northern Exposure (reviewed here!). He adds a little flavor to the show that trumps the repetitive nature of the primary cast. But, because he is not a principle cast member and his character is not in the show terribly long, he cannot shake up or save this season much.

On DVD, Sex & The City has commentary tracks on several episodes and a few featurettes on the characters and the entire season. The bonus features do nothing extraordinary as to make the primary programming worth buying.

This season of Sex & The City starts and ends with the same whining viewers are accustomed to, with a few episodes in the middle that are actually engaging. Unfortunately, the show mortgages those moments for a return to the familiar and banal.

For other works that have Kat Dennings in them, please check out my reviews of:
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Charlie Bartlett


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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