Unlike those who gathered en masse with cosmos for viewing parties, I used to cry myself to sleep each Sunday night after watching “Sex and the City.” I distinctly remember sitting in my Upper West Side apartment and happening upon the HBO program for the first time while I was eating Chinese takeout one night. Alone and single as I watched it, the tone of the show to me read less like a love letter to New York City and the empowerment of female friendships than a reminder of what a vast, lonely and vacuous metropolis it seemed to be at so many moments.
Nevertheless, it became appointment television for me, but in an appointment for an annual Pap smear kind of way — you know you have to do it, the anticipation can seriously drain you, and you’re so relieved when it’s over that you instantly have a brighter outlook on life because you know you won’t have to do it again for at least a little while.
During the show’s heyday, the same chain e-mail quiz regularly appeared in my inbox. “Are you a Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte or Samantha?” No result made me happy, particularly since the insinuation was that I was supposed to aspire to be like one of them in my late 30s or early 40s, or that maybe I was necessarily already like one or more of them.
In their never-ending quest to be among Manhattan’s one-dimensional hip crowd that endeavored to see and be seen at nightclubs and restaurants with as much substance as my cuticles, and wearing some of the most atrocious ensembles ever pieced together, there was little about any character that I found appealing or even remotely believable. Certainly not Samantha’s implausibly disease-free nymphomania, Miranda’s Medusa-like charm, or Charlotte’s inane, lightning-fast conversion to Judaism (or the Park Avenue pad she got in her divorce settlement — for how long could she possibly afford the monthly maintenance on her art gallery salary, pray tell?).
But most especially, not Carrie, who had nothing more to her name than a formulaic newspaper column, studio rental apartment (which she later bought thanks to a loan from Charlotte — because we all know that borrowing large sums of money from friends ends well), overpriced shoe collection and string of spectacularly failed relationships.
Each time after Mr. Big mistreated or dumped her, I would scream the definition of insanity to her (OK, at the TV) to no avail (full disclosure: this, from an admitted and proud member of Team Aidan). It was no better on the silver screen when Big left her at the altar (no matter the missed cell phone call the night before). And it was so bad, in fact, that I’m still too upset to see the sequel.
Last week I tuned in as Oprah told Barbra Streisand in a clip from an old interview that her definition of a true star is someone who inspires others to want to do and be their best.
Fast-forward a few years past Carrie Bradshaw, and Liz Lemon from NBC’s “30 Rock” has emerged as that star for me. The line is blurred between the fictional Liz Lemon and the real Tina Fey, of course, but that’s part of the charm.
In that neither Liz nor Tina (Lina) is a size zero, and the only designer either probably lays claim to with any amount of pride is Frito-Lay, they’re both kind of my heroes. Lina is like a modern-day, less-toxic Carrie Bradshaw.
She might be devoid of glamour, but at least with Lina, you know what you’re getting: a seriously successful woman in an apartment commensurate with her stature in life, admirably executive-producing a network television show in a genre dominated by men.
Liz is mostly pitied by her friends and co-workers, but she has enough self-awareness to take action and go after what works for her — an adopted baby, a long-distance relationship and, every now and again, a good sandwich followed by a piece of cake. She’s reinvented New York into a cozier, more manageable city where a significant career and a semblance of a satisfying life seem attainable.
When Tina received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor earlier this month, her career was highlighted on stage, and it seemed that the weight of her body of work was a telling juxtaposition against the ever-shrinking frame of Carrie Bradshaw over the course of the “Sex and the City” series.
What’s looking good in a pair of fleetingly fashionable pair of skinny jeans when you have enough talent to send someone to bed still chuckling instead of clutching a Kleenex?
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