It's one of the fittest hits in all of pay cable. The show draws large numbers of viewers because of its quality but also because its talent enjoys -- and takes full advantage of -- more creative freedom than broadcast networks can allow.
That includes nudity, sexual shenanigans and raw language. But "Sex and the City" isn't just raunchy; it's often also witty. And it returns for a fourth frank, funny season tomorrow night on HBO, with two new episodes airing back to back: After that, new episodes bow Sunday nights at 9 and repeat the following Tuesday at 11 p.
The show is a solid success for HBO and a huge personal triumph for Sarah Jessica Parker, who stars as bright and bosomy Carrie Bradshaw, a New York newspaper columnist, and is one of the executive producers. The first new episode in particular is an acting showcase for her; it deals in a direct and sobering way with a subject television usually avoids: Oh, it's still comic, and still racy. But on this episode, Carrie and her three gabby girlfriends loudly doubt the notion that for every person on earth, a perfect soul mate exists and is just waiting somewhere to be found.
For Carrie, the subject comes up at an especially troublesome time: She is turning She waits up until midnight on the eve of her birthday and when the moment comes she announces, "I am officially old. Stung by the conjecture of her friend Miranda, an insecure but bright young lawyer, that "maybe there isn't someone for everyone," Carrie suffers through a birthday party at which she turns out to be not only the guest of honor but the only person attending.
Pathetically, she shleps home with the birthday cake she bought herself, pausing to step in wet cement and be screamed at by construction workers. Turning 35 is definitely more agony than ecstasy. The episode kind of cops out with a contrived happy ending featuring the inexplicably popular Chris Noth, but writer-director Michael Patrick King deserves credit for letting the show get into very dark areas for a sitcom. By having his characters ponder topics deeper than what to wear and who's sleeping with whom, he gives them added dimension.
Carrie and her three friends are affluent, glib, often frivolous and prone to prattle about penises. But they all have their virtues if not their virtue , and each character is very well acted. That's especially true of Miranda, who's played by Cynthia Nixon and may be the most appealing of Carrie's friends, at least in terms of having substance and attitude. Charlotte, shyest of the group, is sweetly played by Kristin Davis, and Samantha, played lustily by Kim Cattrall, is the brashest and brassiest.
She blazes another new sexual frontier tomorrow night by proudly posing for nude photos of the body she works so hard to perfect so that she can gaze back in her later years and marvel, "Damn, I looked hot! In a scene too self-consciously "shocking," Samantha pleasures herself in bed while having lustful fantasies about a hunky priest Costas Mandylor. The "Hallelujah" chorus booms on the soundtrack. No, you definitely wouldn't see that on CBS. And just as well.
Carrie reluctantly agrees to take part in a celebrity fashion show in the second episode, talked into it by guest star Margaret Cho as a pushy fashion maven. Some of the people in this episode are obnoxious freaks -- denizens of the fashion scene in New York and probably among the most self-important phonies in the world. In addition, such real celebrities as Heidi Klum and Ed Koch appear as themselves. What happens to Carrie at the fashion show is just about the worst possible thing that could happen.
But she's up to it and defeats another demon. Parker brings it off brilliantly, suffering poignantly and snatching her little victories no matter how tightly closed the jaws of defeat may be. It's only taken me three years to come around to "Sex and the City," though I rarely tuned in after the first few episodes, which struck me as smug and coy.
As for the characters, it was mostly hate at first sight. But I guess they've grown on me. They've clearly grown on HBO audiences. The show is based on a rock-solid, surefire, crowd-pleasing concept: Men are dying to know what women discuss when in the company of other women, and you don't find that out by watching "The View. Sarah Jessica Parker's show's not getting older, it's getting better.