American television doesn’t have many rules, but one of them is that women are either Evil Bitches (Alexis from Dynasty or Carla from Cheers) or saints (Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show or Edith Bunker from All In The Family) Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw accomplished something that was never before (and I bet, never again) played out on television. In season 3 of Sex and the City, our main heroine does the unthinkable, she cheats on the perfect man, Aidan, with the shows main hero, Mr. Big. Watching Season 3 today, it plays differently than when it aired in 2000. Mostly because now we know she ends up marrying Mr Big. This fact means that he is her destiny. One would think that would lesson the blow of her actions…Nope.
When Season 3 played the first time, you could view Big as a villain who is only out to destroy Carrie’s life. But we all know the only person who is hell bent on ruining Carrie’s life, is Carrie. The return of Big occurs in Episode 7 of Season 3, “Drama Queens”, and runs through Episode 11, “Running with Scissors.” I believe this stretch of episodes is the best writing this show ever did. It also was very brave. If you take David Duchovny’s character on Californication, you would expect this story arc. But allowing a female character to behave this way is shocking. Shocking because Carrie is 100% wrong in her actions. Women are rarely allowed to make the wrong choice, unless they are under the influence of a chemical or in reaction to an abusive man.
Claire Danes’ character is allowed to cry at every CIA meeting and have an affair with a suspected terrorist, but its not her. Its the pills that made her do it. She is crazy, that is all. Samantha on Sex and the City is allowed to cheat, but she doesn’t have a man like Aidan. That is the kicker in this story arc. Aidan is a perfect man. He gives Carrie everything she wants, therefore she does not respect him – just like a male character would. If you remember, they even have Carrie wear male briefs for underwear in this stretch of episodes.
Yes, women’s roles have gotten better on television. The Good Wife, Nurse Jackie, The Big C, Weeds, and Revenge. But they have not gotten as human as Carrie Bradshaw. She is flawed, wrong and her stories are always told from the point of view that she is 100% right. The story is told as if Carrie is always right because her friends never tell her that she is wrong. This subversive narrative is so well done that Carrie became a role model for women. Carrie is a writing role model but not a life role model. When I have the task of ranking my favorite series, Sex and the City always comes out in the top 5 because of this. I give all this credit to Sarah Jessica Parker who was brave enough to tackle this story line head on. My guess is, she used her Executive Producer powers to make Carrie be as awful as possible.
I bet even HBO thought this story was too much. In some ways it is, only because it points out the weakness in how other shows write for female characters. Women have affairs as well as men. It is such a simple statement, but is rarely seen on television. It has been 17 years since this played on television and yet my heart still breaks for Aidan. That is powerful writing, especially when now I know that the person she cheated with is going to be her husband. Revisiting a show can be just as exciting as watching a new one. A well written show will make that experience all the better the second, third, fourth time around. Watching someone make a mistake is so much more rewarding than watching people be perfect and unbelievable on television. Humanity is always the right choice, even when the choice they make is wrong.
SCOTT RYAN IS THE AUTHOR OF THIRTYSOMETHING AT THIRTY:AN ORAL HISTORY, THE MANAGING EDITOR OF THE BLUE ROSE MAGAZINE. FOR MORE INFORMATION CLICK HERE.