RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Twenty years ago today, a TV show debuted that reverberated far beyond its setting in Manhattan.
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MARTIN: Yeah, we're talking about "Sex And The City." When it aired, it set a new tone with its uncensored dialogue and focus on female friendships.
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KIM CATTRALL: (As Samantha Jones) At my age, my mother was saddled with three kids and a drunk husband.
SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) You just have three drunk friends.
CATTRALL: (As Samantha Jones) By choice.
MARTIN: In its six-season run, it became one of HBO's first big successes as a network. Audiences tuned in to learn about sex, relationships and modern dating in New York City as told by columnist Carrie Bradshaw.
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PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) I couldn't help but wonder - when did being alone become the modern day equivalent of being a leper?
Is it still possible to believe in love at first sight?
Can you be friends with an ex?
MARTIN: Here to talk about how "Sex And The City" has endured as a cultural phenomenon, we have NPR's Linda Holmes with us. Hey, Linda.
LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: I have to say, just full disclosure, I loved this show. It does feel a little painful to go back and listen to some of the stuff now (laughter).
HOLMES: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: So let's talk a little bit about that, though. There is an audience for this show, even today. Why do you think it's endured?
HOLMES: Well, even though "Sex And The City" felt very contemporary at the time, it's dealing with a lot of really classic archetypes.
HOLMES: For a lot of people, you can plug yourself into those types, even if it's...
MARTIN: And people did.
MARTIN: It was a thing for a while.
MARTIN: Who are you - Miranda, blah, blah, blah?
HOLMES: And that's true even if it's different ones in different episodes or different ones at different times in your life. But I think another key to this show is that they were very successful striking a balance where the emotional and relationship stories felt relatable to people. But the aesthetic is all fantasy.
MARTIN: Right. It's attracted a new generation, which is kind of amazing. Millennials are digging "Sex And The City."
HOLMES: Well, you have to remember that before there was "Sex And The City," there were other shows like this, right? This is a formula that goes back to shows like "Living Single" and even "The Golden Girls" is basically - and I'm not the first person to point this out.
MARTIN: (Laughter) Is that a stretch? No?
HOLMES: "The Golden Girls" - go ahead and do the work yourself. "The Golden Girls" is to some degree the same show as "Sex And The City."
HOLMES: So these shows about groups of women and groups of friends, but especially groups of girlfriends, it's kind of a classic formula. You saw it again later with "Girls." So now that you're in this universe where everything on television lives forever whenever you want to watch it, it does have a binge appeal to people who are looking for something fun to watch.
MARTIN: Let's talk for a minute about how it doesn't stand the test of time. Some of the conversation topics that were super taboo back then just seem kind of pedestrian now. Maybe that's just a larger statement about our culture.
MARTIN: How else do you - when you look at it now, when you watch it now, what makes you cringe?
HOLMES: Well, they really wanted it to be a love story about New York City, but it's a New York fantasy for a very specific and narrow little bit of what New York is. They're all white women. Most of the people that they're close to are white people. You know, if you're not an able-bodied, white, straight woman, you may find this show a lot harder to tap into or something that you tap into differently. The character of Stanford, who was Carrie's best friend, Charlotte also has a gay best friend...
MARTIN: The gay best friend.
HOLMES: The gay best friend - the ones on this show are kind of the advice giving, your fabulous gay best friend - that trope a lot of television has kind of outgrown.
MARTIN: Also it was totally realistically impossible for Carrie Bradshaw to afford all those clothes and shoes. She's a freelance writer in New York. I do not understand this inconsistency.
HOLMES: Well, again, that's where you get into the fantasy element of it, which, on the one hand, doesn't really matter, right? Much of television is fantasy. But when you're talking about something that's tapping into an idea of New York City that has no realistic notions of the economics of the city, then it actually does begin to implicate different ideas about why is this the idea of Manhattan that's more sparkly for people and more kind of appealing but not having any basis in reality?
MARTIN: Thanks so much, Linda.
HOLMES: Thanks, Rachel.
MARTIN: NPR's Linda Holmes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.