Is Carrie Bradshaw Still Cool?

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We couldn’t help but wonder: what made us fall so hard for Carrie Bradshaw in the first place? Over the course of six television seasons and two follow-up films, Sex and the City’s lead protagonist held us in thrall. Was it her enviable appearance—embodied in Sarah Jessica Parker’s golden glow, cascading curls, and taut midriff? Her iconic, Patricia Field-designed wardrobe? Her glamorous job as a Manhattan sex columnist and her seemingly bottomless well of sought-after invites, hot dates, and second chances? Yes, yes, and yes. But 22 years after the series’ debut, it’s time to reexamine our now-extinguished ardor for Carrie Bradshaw.

Launched in 1998 on a then-fledgling HBO, Sex and the City, along with The Sopranos, catapulted the cable network into prestige territory. SATC aired for six seasons and centered around the lives of four single female friends. Each roughly embodied an urban archetype: there was Samantha, the louche power publicist; Charlotte, the preppy gallery girl; Miranda, the caustic-tongued lawyer; and Carrie, played by Parker, the fashionable, free-spirited writer. While roughly half of each 30-minute episode revolved around subplots given to Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda, Carrie unequivocally remained SATC’s center of gravity.

It’s worth noting that today’s TV audiences—more diverse, more scattered, and more woke—simply wouldn’t gravitate toward a “Carrie” the way they once did. While single-lady TV heroines like Mary Richards, Rachel Green, or even Elaine Benes have enduring appeal, Carrie Bradshaw always had a shelf life. She’s the product of a pre-Great Recession Manhattan where women were almost uniformly white, well off, and under 40 (save for the slightly older Samantha).

Yet even when viewed within those narrow confines, Carrie also consistently lacked many of her friends’ positive qualities: Samantha’s openness, Charlotte’s kindness, or Miranda’s pragmatism. Carrie’s approach to everything from mere inconveniences to borderline catastrophes was often hysterical—be it getting caught in a downpour, getting a glimpse of her ex at the opera, or (understandably) getting jilted by said ex at the altar years later.

A technophobe with a comical-bordering-on-non-existent grasp of finances, Carrie would have been ill-equipped for a career in journalism circa say, 2008, when the first SATC movie premiered. Lacking discernible assignments beyond her sporadic columns and unable to master basic computer and email functions, Carrie is unsuited, to put it mildly, for a career as a writer in the 21st century. Trying to imagine her dealing with a newly phantom expense account or her industry’s shift to digital isn’t amusing; it’s draining.

While Carrie could be clever and charming, quick with a quip and capable of captivating her share of men, she was, ultimately, exasperating. Nowhere is this more manifest than among her core group of female friends. (Carrie’s condescending treatment of her closest male friend, Stanford, is also glaring. It ranges from her merely selfish, still-problematic inability to acknowledge a man Stanford is interested in, to her downright inexcusable refusal to introduce him to her new boyfriend, Aleksandr—telling him a proposed meet-up is girls-only.)

And then there’s the ladies. Take the time Carrie pressures a beet-red Samantha into attending her book party after she’s had an adverse reaction to a chemical peel. Instead of commiserating, knowing Sam wanted to look good for her, Carrie shames her in front of people at the party, openly cringing. Or when she excoriates Charlotte for not offering her the money she needs for the down payment on her apartment. The fact that Carrie has no savings, no assets beyond her Manolos, and no qualms about hitting up girlfriends to loan her money she doesn’t have a prayer of repaying, is beyond the pale.

Over the course of the series’ seasons, Carrie gradually reveals herself to be frightened, anxious, and woefully self-centered. She becomes the friend you’re most comfortable dealing with only in large groups—at parties, where you can politely excuse yourself after air kisses and banal pleasantries. She’s the friend who gets relegated to acquaintance, and eventually ghosted after too many “me, me, me” soliloquies and too few answered texts. And we know who to blame, at least in part: John James Preston, aka Mr. Big. “A man practically woven out of red flags, Big wasn’t there to rescue Carrie; instead, his ‘great love’ was a slow poisoning,” one critic observed.

Carrie’s obsession with Big was an addiction, leading to seasons of tantrums, indiscretions, and myopia. “Did I ever really love Big or was I addicted to the pain, the exquisite pain, of wanting someone so unattainable?” she asks. Unable to change Mr. Big, only amuse and titillate him, Carrie broke up her best romantic relationship—twice—and precipitated Big’s own divorce. Her antics should have compelled Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte to dump her too, but they stuck by her—tolerant, patient enablers. By the time the first film ends, Carrie and Big have married, after much ado. It is both fully improbable and totally expected.

Once again, we couldn’t help but wonder: what would the series have been like sans happy ending? We’d like to think that Carrie would have grown up a little, gone to therapy, written another book, and ditched the Choos for Birkenstocks. That she’d give the Hudson Valley another chance and swear to never, ever try and order a Cosmopolitan at a McDonald’s drive thru. And that just maybe Carrie, finally chastened and self-aware, would’ve finally become the friend the people who stood by her for so long always deserved.

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