Friday, September 30

Season Five, Episode Five: Plus One is the Loneliest Number

The Summary:

Welcome to our fresh new episode, my friends! And what a fresh new episode it is! Miniature cupcakes, fetching men with great eyebrows, radical plastic surgery... this episode has it all! (And file that "has it all" language away for future reference, as we shall surely come back to it later. So glad to know that language about ladies "having it all" from the 1980s refuses to go away already!)

So let us begin, as is our wont, with Carrie. Carrie is about to have her book published, and is super, super excited about it. (As is her publisher, as ever played the charming Amy Sedaris. Even when she is not crafting, Ms. Sedaris is a delight.) Said charming publisher is having a huuuuuuge blow-out party for Carrie's book launch, which is all glamour, flowers, and fetching little cupcakes. Oooh, can I come to this fictional party? It looks like such fun!

Except, of course, said fun is tempered by Carrie's sadness that she will be going to her fancy-schmancy party--and is, by extension/in general--alone. Why, she wonders, when she has so much to be grateful for--a darned-good writing career, a lovely apartment, fantastic friends--is it that the one thing she is missing (a good fella) looms so large? Ummm, because human nature is the very dickens, and we cannot be content even with a room crammed with fun comestibles like cupcakes, and fun people like Isaac Mizrahi? Yes, I thought that might be it.

Carrie's discontent is further, um, discontentified after she meets one Jack Berger, fellow writer, at her publisher's, who (in no particular order) a) is adorable, b) has better eyebrows than I will ever have, and c) is extremely verbal, sardonic, and amusing. Helloooooo.

So Carrie and Jack chat, they go for a walk, it is all very flirtatious and delightful... until Carrie asks Jack to come with her to her book launch party, and Jack then discloses the intriguing piece of information that he has a girlfriend. I SEE. And this did not come up sooner because...? (Hey, I said he had great eyebrows and was fun to talk to, I didn't say he had great social skills, or much of a conscience!)

Carrie is bummed. I am bummed. Bummed-ness... it reigns supreme. Both of our moods are improved, however, when Carrie ends up having a super time at her super party, and has the good sense not to rise to the bait of Jack showing up to her party sans girlfriend. She is pleasant to him, but entirely unflirtatious. Well done, Bradshaw! I guess getting involved in an adulterous love triangle that one time actually did teach you something, after all! Men who are already taken--not wise to become entangled with!

Meanwhile, Miranda is back to work after her maternity leave (nice that unlike many an American woman, Ms. Hobbes actually gets some significant maternity leave--four whole episodes worth! How many other American moms can say as much?) And as Carrie's voiceover tells us, she is "politically incorrectly happy to be there." So--yay, work! (Blogger pauses to note that unlike many an American mom, Ms. Hobbes can actually afford full-time, high-quality child care while she is at work. Handy!)

Miranda's first day back in the office is complicated by a call from one Walker Lewis, whom she had a pleasant one-night stand with whilst she was pregnant. (As one will.) He would like to see her again. She would like to see him again, too, but is uneasy about disclosing her new mommyhood to him. So she takes him to Carrie's party (good!) but neglects to mention that she is now a parent (bad!) But then she does tell him she's had Brady (good!), takes him home for (what she hopes) will be a steamy tryst... while Brady is there... and sans nanny (ill-advised!)

Shockingly, that doesn't go too well, and Walker leaves Miranda mid-tryst. (Buh-bye, Walker!) Miranda then admits to herself (and to the baby, who does not seem in the least upset about disrupting said tryst... and why should he be, really? Someone that cute should not really be upset about anything.) that she can't live exactly the same kind of life that she had lived pre-baby, because "she wasn't the same person. She was plus one." Miranda's storyline in the episode thus ends with some hard-core baby-snuggling. (All together now--awwwwwww.)

Charlotte, meanwhile, is dating some super-preppy guy who looks like he stepped out of a Ralph Lauren catalog, and about whom... we know pretty much nothing else. (Sorry, Handsome Blond Man! I am sure you have many other interesting and delightful qualities, independently of handsome-ness, I simply do not know what they are!) The thing about her dating this gent is 1) she is, in fact, dating him, even though she is, in fact, still married, and 2) she is, in fact, dating him, even though he does not, in fact, know that she is still married. (Sweet cracker sandwich, Miss York!!! And I thought Jack Berger was acting shady!!!)

This precarious situation officially explodes when Charlotte's monstrous former mother-in-law, Bunny (who still has keys to her apartment...?), comes into said apartment unexpectedly one morning to assess the MacDougal homestead... and finds Charlotte and her preppy lad in the midst of said homestead. I see. Bunny quickly discloses to the Preppy Gent that Charlotte is still married--Preppy Gent is pissed and quickly dumps Charlotte (don't blame him!)--and Charlotte quickly kicks Bunny out of her house, and equally quickly decides to move forward with the divorce. (Good call, Miss York!)

Samantha Jones, meanwhile, is getting her usual round of Botox done [blogger pauses for a minute to at once be sad that this is something which someone who looks like Kim Cattrall would actually do to her face, and to kind of appreciate the realism of noting that this sadly is something which someone who looks like Kim Cattrall would actually do to her face.] Her doctor suggests she take things a step further and get a "freshening chemical peel," which she does. And afterwards looks... like she's gotten a layer of skin burned off her face! Surprise, surprise!

Sam is desperate to lie low and not go out in public until her face looks more... face-like, but in the end sucks it up and soldiers on to go to Carrie's book party, hoping that her awesome, black-widow style hat, with its cracked-out veil, will cover all that needs to be covered. Hmmm. Somehow I am skeptical about that.

And rightly so, as eventually Sam doffs her hat, and spends the party defiantly showing off her ravaged face, saying that since women are severely pressured by society to get plastic surgery, people shouldn't be squeamish about facing the actual realities of plastic surgery. I... guess that's taking some kind of interesting stand? But personally--I still prefer THE HAT. (Basically, because I always prefer hats!)

Oh, and did I forget to mention that there is a subplot in this episode about Enid, Carrie's scary boss from Vogue? Well--there is a subplot in this episode about Enid, Carrie's scary boss from Vogue! Carrie learns that Enid, being a high-powered career gal and all, doesn't have time to properly devote herself to a real romantic relationship. (Enid: "I don't have time for a full-time man. I have a full time job.") [Blogger pauses to note that even that beacon of progressivism Helen Gurley Brown, circa 1962, was arguing that women might just be able to combine being employed and having a fella, but whatever.] So instead, she shares her man with another woman, in some complicated geographical set-up that I'm not sure I (or Enid) fully understand.

Okay, so I am totally fine with people managing their personal lives however works best for them... so good for you and your fellow romantic-triangle members, Enid! Except, wait, nope, sorry, scratch that--we learn, as the episode unfolds, that Enid is actually not happy with this arrangement, is madly jealous of this other woman, and is generally making a pig's breakfast of her personal life. Of course, I am told this is very common among women who fritter away most of their time on silly things like careers. Sheesh. Career girls! When will they ever learn!

The Analysis:

Random Fun Fashion Designers Watch:
For no apparent reason, Isaac Mizrahi shows up to Carrie's book party. He is charming. I own some of the stuff he did for Target, and have his book. I also think his hair is fun. That is all.

Fictional People Whom I Have Crushes On, Part 1,453 Watch:
And let us officially add Jack Berger to the list! This is a smidge inconsistent of me, I admit, given that Jack is pretty clearly Bad News from Day One... and goodness knows, I've given Carrie a hard enough time on this here blog for relentlessly pursuing Big, even though he was very clearly Bad News from Day One. (Do we need an abbreviation for that? BNFDO? Make that one happen in our culture, people! It can be the new LOL or WTF!)

It's not that Jack's a bad guy, exactly, but more that he has some decided Shadyness Issues which he needs to work on. Maybe... don't flirt with other ladies when you have a girlfriend already, sir! There's one to think about! However, I will excuse Jack (and myself, for liking him) by contending that he genuinely seems knocked sideways by Carrie--he doesn't expect to end up liking her as much as he does, and is careful to (eventually, awkwardly) put the brakes on their flirtation by revealing his whole girlfriend-having status... shady, but it could be sooooo much worse! (I am, after all, comparing him to Big, who is a world-class emotional sadist/shady guy extraordinaire.)

Perhaps I am defending the indefensible here, but I am so pleased to see Carrie with/around a guy who is bookish, sarcastic, hyper-verbal, and amusing for a change. (We are very pro-bookish/sarcastic/hyper-verbal/amusing here at BOCS. And by "we," of course, I mean... me.) For the time being, at least (before he really blots his copybook--which, rest assured, he most certainly will), all of us here at BOCS (by which I mean, of course... me) are SO Team Berger.

People of Color Watch: And in this episode, we have... two! The lady with whom Enid is sharing her gent is Asian-American. She is, of course, both beautiful, and mute. (As I am told all Asian-American women are.) I guess it's nice, at least, that she is age-appropriate for the man she (and Enid) are both seeing, however...? That is something...?

We also have an African-American female limo driver, who takes Carrie home after her book party. Carrie is feeling a little sad and lonely leaving her party solo, so of course it is the task of this Magical Lady to help Carrie feel good about herself! She takes Carrie out for hot dogs! She proudly tells complete strangers about Carrie's literary accomplishments! Awwww. Thank you, random magical sidekick-of-color, who seems to have no life, or interests, or personality of her own, independent of making white ladies happy! Whatever would we white gals do without you? Good luck with all of your own personal endeavors and interests. Oh, that's right, I'm sorry--you don't have any!

LGBT Folks Watch: The usual suspects, I'm afraid--Anthony, Stanford, and Stanford's new boyfriend, Marcus. All faces we have seen before, and all gentlemen, of course (what is this "lesbian" thing of which you speak?) but on the plus side: 1) Marcus is PRETTY, 2) I like seeing Stanford happy, with a nice man who clearly adores him, for once in our lives, 3) Anthony is always amusing. And goodness knows, we need to take our amusement where we can find it!

Melancholy but Ultimately Uplifting Musings about Singlehood Watch:
So this episode spends a lot of time reflecting on what it means to be single well into one's adult life, celebrating exciting life milestones sans partner. Goody! You know how I feel about episodes which tackle Singlehood As a State of Being/Issue... in that... I am in favor of them!

I think the episode does a very nice job unpacking Carrie's complicated feelings about being sans fella, as she gears up to celebrate a huge step forward in her professional life. I appreciate, for one thing, that the episode does spend as much time as it does showing Carrie's sheer joy at the pending publication of her book... her work clearly means a lot to her, and seeing her just genuinely being happy that she's reached this new professional milestone is pretty darned cool.

The ladies' working lives are always kind of lurking on the edges of the show (which is fine, the show isn't about their jobs, but rather about their luvvvv lives)--but I still do appreciate when the series takes the time to highlight the fact that these are women who love what they do, and take pride in it. Because (for those of us lucky/privileged enough to get to do work that we love), said work is a really important part of our lives and our identities--and it is a pleasant thing, to see the show reflect that.

The episode also does a nice job, I think, in balancing out Carrie's glee about her professional accomplishments with her genuine sadness about not having someone to share this awesome new time in her life with (in a romantic-partner sense, that is--as always, her friends are there, front and center, even those who are grappling with Horror-Show-Type Skin Problems.)

Meeting Jack, whom she (within the space of about fifteen minutes) has the chance to become really fluttery and excited about, and then find out is already taken, is a major bummer for her. (It is a major bummer for me, too. Stupid universe/writers! Don't go raising our/my hopes like that!) It unleashes a whole chain of "maybe I won't ever meet a guy like this, who isn't already someone else's guy" reflection in Carrie. Said reflections are messy, and I think the episode does a nice job of leaving them pleasingly untidy and complicated and unresolved. The episode leaves us with Carrie candidly admitting that she is lonely, a little wistful that Jack is off the market--but nonetheless fundamentally happy with herself and her life, reckoning that she's still got things pretty darned good, even without her desired plus one. Not bad!

"I Had a Baby... But I'm Still Allowed to Have Sex!": Motherhood Madness Continues Watch: I do continue to like what the show is doing with motherhood here. (Leaving aside, of course, its easy glossing over of the fact that as hard as Miranda's adjustment to new mommyhood is, it is made that much less hard by her having an awesome job that provides good solid maternity leave--and a full-time nanny on the home front, to make said awesome job possible.)

Miranda is still having a tricky time figuring out how to balance being a mother, and a worker, and a single lady on the prowl. At the beginning of the episode (much as she had done at the beginning of this season), she keeps insisting that she doesn't want anything to change, now that she's a mother--she doesn't want her friendships to change, she doesn't want her work life to change, she doesn't want her sex life/romantic relationships to change.

But of course--they all have changed, and this episode forces her to recognize that. Bringing gentleman callers home with an infant in the house? Logistically difficult! Nice to see the show at once acknowledging that becoming a mother does not mean that Miranda is no longer interested in having a sex life (as her defensive "mothers are still sexual beings, people!" quote above makes clear), and that pursuing said sex life is going to be different (and in some ways, trickier) than it had been before. Realism! I am a fan of it.

"It Was an Impulse Purchase!": Ladies Mucking About With Their Faces Through Surgery Which is Plastic Watch: So I have ambivalent feelings about the "Samantha/plastic surgery" plotline in this episode. May I talk you through my ambivalent feelings about said plotline? Thank you, it is much appreciated.

I Am Pro: Samantha wearing a crazy-pants hat to Carrie's book party. That is always a delightful thing to do, horrific plastic surgery mishap, or no.

I Am Also Pro: The episode acknowledging the pressures which women face (if you will forgive the "face" language here) to look perpetually young and unlined, and the lengths to which they will go to try to achieve said look. Our culture does have a really messed-up attitude towards aging, does exert tremendous pressure on women to remain magically unwrinkled despite their years, and is tremendously ageist. So nice to see the show acknowledging that--that even a drop-dead gorgeous woman like Sam is distinctly anxious about looking "old."

I Am Con: I do, however, have a leetle bit of a problem with Sam defending her right to show off her plastic surgery scars as somehow an empowering and defiant act. I guess it kind of is, in that it at least forces people to grapple with the ugliness and pain associated with women trying to meet our society's bizarre standards of beauty? But on the other hand... could we have perhaps moved one step beyond "I am going to force you to look at what your pressure to look 'beautiful' has made me do!" to "Your pressures to look beautiful are rubbish, and I am not going to get a chemical peel, I am going to have crow's feet, and you can JUST DEAL WITH IT." Perhaps this is a bit too much to hope for? It seems that it is. Ah well. I think the episode is a good PSA for not getting chemical peels, however--yeouch! I'll take my pending/emerging furrows and lines, thankyouverymuch. Youthful skin be damned, I will have wrinkles and wear bizarre hats with veils, instead! Hooray!

Notable Quotables:

Carrie, as she swans into the gorgeous room where her book party is about to be held, which looks like Wedding exploded all over it: "There is one day that even the most cynical New York woman dreams of all her life. She imagines the dress she'll wear, the photographers, the toasts... everybody is celebrating the fact that she's finally found... [dramatic pause] a publisher." Thank you, SATC, for our daily dose of subverting-female-wedding-fantasy culture. It is much appreciated!

Carrie, musing over one of the many vexing facets of human experience/our irritatingly irrational desires and drives: "Why do we let the one thing we don't have affect how we feel about all the things that we do have? Why does one minus a 'plus one' feel like it adds up to zero?"

Carrie to Enid, about her balancing of her professional and personal lives: "I was worried that we--women--only get one or the other [i.e., a romantic relationship or a career] but... you have it all!" (Are you bloody kidding me? Carrie was thinking that women have to pick between love and work? Am I living in a New Woman novel of the 1890s, in which a lass must choose between shrinking her ovaries by pursuing higher education, or marrying a strapping, domineering gent who does not approve of book-learnin'? And Carrie is using "having it all" language? Am I living in a 1980s commercial, which insists that women can do everything (have a fulfilling career, a loving marriage, well-behaved kids, and a squeaky-clean house), but must do so without any institutional support or any changes in men's roles? I do hope not, on both fronts!

Enid, sharing her life lessons and tips with Carrie: "That's the key to having it all--stop expecting it to look like what you thought it was going to look like." If we take that in the spirit of "being a grown-up is sometimes trickier than one might expect, and not every childhood fantasy we ever have comes true... but life is still awesome, nonetheless!" then I endorse it. If we take that in the spirit of "I am putting up with my man's philandering because I feel that I, as a woman who dares to have a high-powered career rather than dedicating every waking moment to him, have no alternative to said philandering"... then I do not endorse it!

Bunny to Charlotte, as Charlotte tries to forcibly, physically eject her from her apartment: "Don't you hustle me out, young lady. This is Chanel." Bunny may be a nasty piece of goods, but she has a point there. Respect the Chanel, York!

Next Up...?: "Critical Condition," in which Carrie is obsessing about something Aidan-related (ARE YOU BLOODY KIDDING ME? Two seasons spent obsessing about him when he was actually physically present is not enough? Now we must obsess about him in his absence, as well? Does John Corbett at least get some royalty checks out of that?), Miranda is obsessing about something baby-related (that one I will let stand as... new mother), Charlotte is obsessing about something divorce-related (which I will also let stand as... divorcing), and Sam is obsessing about her pending haircut (yet another one I will let stand as... haircuts. Important.) My knives are drawn for Bradshaw and Bradshaw alone this time. SNAP OUT OF IT, WOMAN. Obsess about something besides Aidan and Big for a change! Something like... Jack Berger, perhaps? Which would still be inappropriate and unhealthy, but sooo much more fun.

Friday, September 23

Season Five, Episode Four: Cover Girl

The Summary:

Oooh, this episode is partly about books! Yay! I love books! I mean it's not primarily about books, so much, but there is a big scene which takes place in a bookstore, and several of the major plot points center on books in some way... so I am going to call this episode in favor of books. Wahoo! Goooooo, Team Books!

ANYWAY. To move on from books (if such a thing is ever possible...?) We begin with Carrie, who is thinking about the cover for her, well, BOOK. (So I guess we're not really moving on from books. Excellent!) For said cover, her publishers have proposed that they photoshop her head onto a model's body, and have "her" standing naked in the middle of an NYC street. Even though this idea is proposed by the lovely and amazing Amy Sedaris (whom I am sooooo glad is still here--yay, hopefully well-paid cameo appearances by delightfully wacky, off-beat stars!), Carrie, unsurprisingly, finds this concept everything but loving and amazing. Good call, Bradshaw, and well done putting your Manolo Blahnik heel firmly down on this one. Next!

So Carrie laments to Samantha about her Book Cover Woes, and Sam 1) being Carrie's generous friend, and 2) being a high-powered publicist muckety-muck, offers to help Carrie craft her cover look, gratis. Awwwww. How nice of her!

Except, of course, this niceness quickly devolves into sourness and unpleasantness as 1) Sam and Carrie learn just how different their concepts of what a "sexy but tasteful" book cover might look like are (Carrie: more in the "artsy Vogue photo shoot" vein. Sam: more in the "make the heels on those furry mules HIGHER, dammit!" vein. I see.), and 2) when scooting over to Sam's office for a business meeting, Carrie walks in on her giving a blow job to a Worldwide Express guy (so named so that neither FedEx nor UPS would sue, one supposes...?) Of course she does, I am told that this is behavior which high-powered female executives often engage in outside of cheap pornography. [At this point in the proceedings, Head and Desk stage a touching reunion.]

Carrie is appalled by what she has seen, and treats Sam oddly in consequence, all the while pretending that she is not appalled by what she has seen, and is actually completely non-judge-y about it. (While being, in reality, totally judge-y.) Sam is not fooled by said facade of non-appallment and non-judge-y-ness, however, and finally gets Carrie to admit that she did judge Sam for engaging in a random sexual act, with a stranger, in her office, with the door unlocked for the love of Pete, woman, have you no common sense.

Sam, who had previously been all "how dare you set boundaries on my sexual freedom, I shall wear no scarlet A in your presence, my puritanical friend!" about the incident, eventually confesses to Carrie that sometimes she judges herself for her sexual behavior, and that her break-up with Richard is still messing with her head/mucking about with her behavior. Hmmmm. As we shall discuss in the analysis, I... don't know quite how to feel about that! All I know for sure is that this episode makes me super glad that the most embarrassing thing anyone has ever walked in on me doing in my office involved me eating a muffin--and no, that is not a euphemism for anything, clean out your mind with soap!

Anyway. Are you ready to talk about Miranda and Charlotte now? Good, I hoped you might be. So Miranda, panicking about her "excess" "baby weight" [blogger pauses to note, once again, that Cynthia Nixon looks totally awesome in Season 5, and always, and that all of this falderal about her being somehow portly is totally annoying and ridiculous... also the very concept of "baby weight"--stupid. Baby-having changes women's bodies, and that is okay, people], has decided to join Weight Watchers. Okay, if you must... that seems like a moderately more healthy decision than going on the No Food diet, or similar.

While at Weight Watchers, Miranda meets the charming Tom, who is fetching, sarcastic, and pleasantly unpretentious. Soooo... you know instantly that everything to do with him is inevitably going to end in tears, do you not? Ah, dear readers, you are quick studies! The writers can pull nary a bit of wool over your eyes.

Because it turns out that 1) Tom overeats whenever he gets criticized, and 2) Miranda decides to offer him some constructive criticism about his cunnilingus technique. (Yes, I did just type that/you did just read that.) It seems that he... how to put this delicately? [Blogger pauses, and realizes that there is no way to put this delicately.] It seems that he does not remove certain essences off of his face after performing this act, and before kissing Miranda. I see. I would do my usual "I am told that is very common" here, but... I kind of hope that it is not.

So Miranda--armed with advice from her friends--while praising Tom's dexterity to the skies, suggests that they introduce our friend The Tissue into the bedroom. Tom, of course, promptly freaks out, and breaks up with Miranda. Boo. Ah well. Saw that one coming a mile off. Buh-bye, Tom! Godspeed working on... um, everything in future!

And... onto Charlotte. Not much to say here, except 1) (I don't know why I am numbering bloody everything in this post, but it just feels right) Charlotte has been reading self-help books, to, well, help her make her way through her divorce. Good for you, Ms. C, that seems like a healthy and productive step, if you're finding said books helpful!, and 2) when she sees the kinds of people who peruse the self-help shelves in her local Barnes and Noble (yay! BOOKSTORES), and finally registers the fact that her bookshelf is now filled with missives which prominently feature the words "desperate women"--she decides to stop reading self-help books, cold turkey. And throws one such book out of her apartment window, to symbolize her liberation from the genre. Great idea, except 1) YOU COULD KILL SOMEONE, and 2) libraries need donations more than random passers-by on the street need brain damage...?

And--brace yourself--there is an ACTUAL STANFORD SUBPLOT IN THIS EPISODE. Yay! I love Stanford, and we see not nearly enough of his delightful self. So Stanford has a new boyfriend, who is 1) a dancer, 2) gorgeous, and 3) very sweet. Is it possible the writers feel a flicker of guilt for all the humiliation and sorrow which they have heaped upon Stanford's head over the years...? Can it be true...? Perhaps we can dare to dream...?

The Analysis:

LGBT Folks Watch:
Stanford, and his lovely boyfriend, Marcus. Yayyyyy!

"I Will Not Be Judged by You, or Society": Condemning Ladies' Slutttttttiness Watch:
As alluded to before, I am a wee bit conflicted about the plotline in this episode about Samantha and her slutty, slutty ways. Shall I take you inside said conflict, very likely against your will?

On the One Hand: Carrie is totally right to judge Samantha for giving a random guy a blow job in her workplace, with the door unlocked, because that is ridiculously stupid and unprofessional.

On the Other Hand: Maybe Carrie isn't totally right to judge Samantha on the grounds of engaging in casual sex with someone she doesn't know? That's just kind of Sam's thing, and who are we to condemn her for it...? Everyone involved is consenting adults, so who cares...?

On a Non-Existent/Mutant Third Hand: Can we split the difference between "I don't want to slut-shame anybody, darn it!" and "It is kind of gross to engage in lewd acts in the middle of the workday, within mere feet of other people, who are innocently trying to do their (non-blowing) jobs" and say that what seems the most disturbing to me here is that Sam propositions this gent, not, it seems, out of genuine desire, but more because she still feels sad and confused about Richard, and just wants to feel something and to be with someone, even if it is only in that fleeting, casual sort of way. Yup, I think I can live with that one. And, with a sense of happiness and relief--let us therefore move on!

Icky Discussions of Weight Watch (See What I Did There? Weight... Watch? In An Episode Which Features Weight Watchers? PUNS): Various things about this episode, and how it grapples with the issue of weight, make me uncomfortable. Shall I enumerate these for you, very likely against your will?

1) I have this prickling, uneasy sense that one of the many things which dooms Tom as a romantic prospect for Miranda is the fact that he is overweight. I don't want to be too quick to judge and condemn the writers here (okay, let's be truthful, I love to judge and condemn the writers, both here and everywhere), because, to be fair to them (see! I try to be fair!), Tom's primary flaw is that he turns out to be loopy, rather than that he is "fat." And goodness knows, the show has exhibited a veritable parade of loopy men over the seasons, most of whom were most certainly not fat. And yet... I am still somehow haunted by the sense that there's just no way that the show, the season, or even the episode, would have ended with Miranda with a fat boyfriend. And that is lame. Lame, I say!

2) Also lame is the fact that Charlotte's first clue that reading self-help books might not be for her is finding a plump woman crying in the self-help aisle of B & N, and proclaiming that such books have really helped her. We are clearly meant to take away from this that the trim, pretty Charlotte most certainly does not belong in the same category as this untrim, not-conventionally-attractive woman--and that is lame. Lame, I say!

Yet More Anxiety and Neuroses About Age Watch: In tussling with Samantha about what would and would not be an appropriate look for her book cover, Carrie proclaims (as Sam tries to push something equal parts sheer and skimpy on her), "It's time for ladies my age to cover it up." Shall I confide my responses to this statement to you, very likely against your will?

For one thing, that is kind of rich coming from someone whose navel I have (literally) been gazing into all season, and who ends up on her book cover wearing only a shirt and high heels. For another thing, as someone who teaches college kids, I would like to proclaim that it is time for people of every age to cover it up. I do not want to know one single, solitary thing about my students' underwear, at all, EVER. And yet, given their choice of attire, somehow I do. And that is WRONG--pedagogically, ethically, sartorially, and in every other way imaginable.

And for yet another thing... hmmm. While not myself being a fan of anything in the "Let us show yet more skin! More, I say, more! Let complete strangers see the small of my back, why not?" school of fashion, I do resent a leetle bit the idea that this is an age-specific thing. If a twenty-something starlet wants to wear a low-cut dress, fine. If Helen Mirren wants to wear a low-cut dress, equally fine. (Helen Mirren can do basically whatever she wants, of course, since she is quite ridiculously awesome.) Shouldn't what one wears perhaps... be about what makes one feel comfortable and confident and great? And not about issuing all the over-35s with mandatory turtlenecks...? Maybe, possibly, perhaps...?

Notable Quotables:

Stanford, when Carrie is fretting about being judgmental: "We all judge, that's our hobby. Some people do arts and crafts, we judge."

Stanford, entering the room as Carrie is changing into and out of potential cover outfits: "Nothing in here I haven't seen and ruled out in junior high!" (Have I mentioned that I love Stanford?)

Next Up...?: "Plus One is the Loneliest Number"--an episode which I will candidly tell you right out of the gate that I really, really like, for the following NUMBERED reasons: 1) because it introduces Carrie's newest love interest, sardonic writer Jack Berger--with whom I am very much taken, meself, 2) because it features lots and lots of cupcakes with little sugar shoes on top of them (two of my favorite things, in one delicious package!), 3) because it includes Samantha Jones wearing a wacky black hat with a MASSIVE veil, which makes her look like the oldest living Confederate widow, and 4) because it reveals to us that the writers have not yet broken up Stanford and his charming boyfriend. Good news, all around!

Friday, September 16

Season Five, Episode Three: Luck Be An Old Lady

The Summary:

Are you ready to head off to Atlantic City, dear friends? (Something which, loyal and devoted Jersey Girl that I am, I must confess that I have never actually done. Don't tell anyone, they might revoke my official Proud New Jerseyian Badge!) I do hope so, for it is off to my dear native state we are, where the ladies will wear unfortunate belly shirts, gamble more money than they likely ought to, and angstily obsess about a wide variety of issues. To the casinos!

So do you remember how we left Carrie, at the end of our last episode, feeling more hopeful about the world (in general) and her romantic prospects (in particular)? Yeah, scratch all that, she has since plunged right back into all things Cynical and Skeptical. (Le sigh.) With her dating life looking particularly bleak, Carrie is getting ready to just throw up her hands and give up on luvvvvv altogether. Why risk the rejection and hurt and boredom of the dating world when she knows she's always going to have a lovely time hanging out with her friends? (Samantha's two cents on that one? "Aw, honey, you're cute, but I'm never going to fuck you.")

In the spirit of renewing her posse's (currently rather frayed) bonds of friendship, Carrie proposes (and then forcibly insists on) a group trip to Atlantic City. Her friends are mired in a variety of their own crises, but eventually agree to go, nonetheless. Pack your bags, friends and your various issues--we are on the move!

Miranda is actually super happy to go, as it will be her first solo trip away from home since she had young Master Brady. She loves the little mite, but hot damn if she is not looking forward to getting to sleep uninterruptedly the whole night through, and actually get to read that pile of New Yorkers which have been forlornly accumulating on her nightstand.

Her only point of unease is that she's still not happy with how she looks, post-baby--living in our culture of constant "How I Got My Bikini Body Back TWO MINUTES Postpartum" magazine covers, Miranda is unsurprisingly self-conscious that just after having a baby she... looks like she just had a baby. (Because she did just have a baby, for the love of Pete.) One night in the casino, some jerk makes a crack about her "fat ass," and her friends round on him like the Furies in a particularly cranky mood. And quite right, too! Darned jerks! Shut (what I believe the kids today call) your pie holes! (And on a separate note--pie.)

Charlotte, meanwhile, is about to turn 36 (about which... mavel tov, Ms. C! Or, wait, you're not Jewish yet, so, um... Protestant congratulations unto you!), and is royally freaking out about same. Convinced that men are more interested in meeting 35 year olds than 36 year olds (?), Charlotte has decided to let her birthday slide this year. I see.

Terrified of becoming, as she puts it "an old maid," whilst in Atlantic City, Charlotte decides to 1) wear as little in the way of clothing as humanly possible, and 2) flirt with any and every man who looks her way. Does this nab her the man of her dreams? Um, is the series over yet? Of course not, on both fronts--so the episode ends with Charlotte still uneasy with the fact that she is growing older and as-of-yet unwed (though happily having thrown out the god-awful lame dress which she'd slapped on at one point. My eyes, oh, my eyes! How they did suffer from it!)

Samantha, meanwhile, is still with Richard (head, desk, I believe you two have met?) He's also in AC while the ladies are there, and Sam spends a goodly proportion of her trip running after him, terrified that if she leaves him alone for more than two seconds, he'll cheat on her again. After gadding about like an anxiety-ridden whirling dervish several days, Samantha decides to break up with Richard, again. For good. He reminds her of his charming promise that he will try not to cheat on her (ah, a promise to warm the heart of any lass!), tells her he loves her... to which Samantha sagely replies "I love you, too, Richard. But I love me more." And... Jones out. Buh-bye, Richard! See your slimy face in Season Six!

So what has Carrie been up to while all of this is going on? Musing about what it means to grow older and be alone, musing about the meaning and significance of friendship, musing about love and the lack of it. (Oh, and also wearing a fringed belly shirt makes I think may have rendered me temporarily blind. Will nobody think of my eyes???) Beginning the episode thinking "Love! Bah humbug! Pshaw, I say to love--pshaw!", Carrie ends it by thinking that maybe love is still worth aspiring towards, after all. In a show centered around its heroine's romantic quests... I cannot say that this shocks me! Let's see if we can keep that fragile sense of hope and belief alive until the beginning of our next episode, hmmmmm?

The Analysis:

People of Color Watch:
Carrie's renewed sense that maybe love is something worth fighting for, after all, is in large part inspired by listening to a (clearly long-standing) couple having a charming conversation one night while she is out on the boardwalk. Both the gent and the lady are African-American... and are actually dressed in the way in which normal people would dress, to go walking on the boardwalk on a chilly evening. It seems someone is thinking of my eyes, anyway!

Old Maid Language, How Delightful It Is! Or, Sorry, Is Not, I Meant, Is Not, Watch: I do appreciate the fact that this episode actually does consciously reflect on the fact that there is a significant linguistic disparity in how single women of a certain age, and single men of a certain age, are referred to in our culture. After Charlotte's "I must avoid old maidhood as though it were the Black Death!" speech, the other ladies muse over just why it is that men get to be "bachelors," whereas women have to be "spinsters." Ooooooh, I know, I know! Call on me, call on me! It's because... our society is messed-up and sexist and has really weird ideas about female aging! And... one point to me, I think. (And to the writers, for explicitly engaging in a candid discussion of sexist double standards. Points for everyone!)

"Charlotte's Thirty-Faux Birthday": Female Aging in Our Creepy, Youth-Obsessed Culture Watch: Perfect timing for me to talk about this particular episode during this particular week, as my particular self just turned the particular age of 30 (please send your gifts to Back on Carrie's Stoop, care of the Cranky Feminist Bloggers Network. What I really want this year? For that ghastly-sounding SATC prequel show to not actually get turned into a real live television program. Please please please, universe, work with me on this one!)

I think the episode does a really nice job of representing Charlotte's queasy distaste with the idea of getting older in a culture which insistently links women's sexual desirability with their youth. Hoping to get hitched and have herself some youngsters, watching her age tick upwards causes some distinct panic over in the Land of York.

And the writers do a good job of handling that panic, I think--once again, they're not mocking Charlotte for having the desires which she does--they respect the fact that getting married and having a family are high on her list of priorities--but they do nonetheless raise questions about how she chooses to cope with this newest milestone in her life (maybe trying to change her entire personality, and lying to herself and others about her age is not the best way to go?), and implicitly criticize a culture in which a woman like Charlotte (who is a smart, interesting, good person) is made to feel that her "stock" is falling in the dating "market," simply because she's no longer 25. Wow. My 30th birthday present? I think I just got it, right there! (I wonder what the writers will dream up for me for Christmas? Ooooh, I hope it's a pony!)

Valuing One's Own Mental Health Above Gentlemen Who, Though Admittedly Are Snappy Dressers, Have No Moral Compass or Ethical Principles Watch: The breakup between Samantha and Richard was inevitable, of course--the writers would never keep Sam off the market for too long--but how much it delights me to see it take place, nonetheless. Richard is (and always has been) so clearly Bad News, that it is a pleasant thing to have Samantha tell him to take a hike--permanently, this time. (Okay, permanently till Season Six, but still--progress.)

It's interesting to see Sam's journey here, from thinking that she can
totally cope with her dashing boyfriend occasionally cheating on her, to realizing that she just can't--that spending her entire life wondering when his next infidelity is coming will give her multiple ulcers, and cause more grief and pain than being with him is worth. Now if only we could have gotten Carrie to have a similarly healthy attitude towards Big earlier on... oh, wait, then we pretty much wouldn't have had a series! My mistake! Carry on with your self-destruction, Bradshaw!

"My Ass is Fat Because I Just Had a Baby, You Asshole": Grappling with Women's Bodies in a Realistic Way, Thank God Watch: Love this episode, too, for the way it continues to muse over Miranda's post-baby life. (I am just full of love, here--perhaps it is because they set this here episode on my beloved home turf? That may be it!) I enjoy how it shows Miranda and Steve's ongoing, awkward adjustment to parenthood (Miranda, trying to persuade Steve that he can take care of the baby all by himself while she is away: "Look, we're both afraid we're going to kill the baby. Monday through Friday, I try not to kill him, Saturday and Sunday, you try not to kill him.")

They both adore the wee lad, but that does not mean that they are not both scared out of their bloody minds by the responsibilities of parenthood, and eager to take some breaks from it. (Sinking into reading The New Yorker uninterrupted on the bus into AC, Miranda has clearly achieved a state which, if not quite nirvana, is certainly next door to it. She has clearly not read a complete sentence in months, and she is happy to do so.) Love the acknowledgement that parenthood... can be stressful and challenging! And that sometimes parents stand in desperate need of what I believe is sometimes unfortunately called "me time"!

I also appreciate that they directly tackle the fact that Miranda's body has (gasp!) changed from having had a baby, and that that's hard for her, given our culture's general body MADNESS when it comes to the ladies, including the pregnant and post-pregnant ones. Cynthia Nixon herself was enceinte when Season Five was filmed, and, needless to say, looks totally gorgeous--but not at all wire hanger, "what is this thing you call 'flesh'?" like. Neat to see one of the main heroines of a major tee-vee show looking plausibly like a woman adjacent to motherhood, who did not immediately follow birth with either lipo or a Pilates class. Well done, my SATC pals!

Also nice to have one of the big moments of the episode be the ladies bawling out a guy
en masse who dared to taunt Miranda about her body. Fun for them (and for us) to see them attacking a gent for thinking he has the right to say anything about any woman's body, and particularly for mocking a woman who's just recently given The Birth. (Of course, this scene takes place with Charlotte wearing a dress in which you can see every bit of her clavicle and sternum in quite painful detail, and Carrie wearing a belly shirt which reveals not one inch of non-toned skin... ah, contradictions. Why must you always be present, hmmm? Can we never persuade you to take the day off? What can I do to persuade you to get lost? Would it help if I wore an unflatteringly-cut glittery belly shirt...?)

Notable Quotables:

Charlotte, after Carrie suggests that they just "skip all the drama" of relationships, and just focus on their friends: "But I don't wanna skip all the drama. That's life, that's everything, that's relationships and anniversaries and kids... And I want all that, in addition to my friends."

Next Up...?:
"Cover Girl," in which Carrie judges Samantha for being so sluttttty (bad), much amusement is derived from Miranda dating a nice gent she meets at Weight Watchers (also bad), and Stanford has a beautiful new boyfriend, who actually seems really, really nice (and... we have suddenly swung to the good! Success in our time!)

Friday, September 9

Season Five, Episode Two: Unoriginal Sin

The Summary:

Who's ready to go to a christening? You are? Well, aren't you in luck, because off to a christening we shall soon be! But not before we get some angsty stuff about The Hopelessness of Existence and The Bleakness of Life in first. Le sigh. Why must you smother every ray of sunshine with a dark cloud, writers? Why, I ask thee--why???

Anyway. The beginning of the episode finds Carrie, as she tells us, "one bad date away from bitter." She is feeling rather hopeless about her love life, fed up with the overall mid-thirties dating scene, and generally full of Gloom, and its close friend and companion, Doom.

And as is so often the case, just as she is beginning to think that life is all lemons, the universe goes and dumps a bucket of lemonade over her head (thanks, universe!), when she learns from her editor that a publisher is interested in collecting a selection of her columns into a book. And that the editors at said publishers are played by the charming Molly Shannon, and the brilliant Amy Sedaris. (Lucky lass, that Carrie Bradshaw!)

Her task now becomes the writing of a preface, which will set the overall tone of her pending book--is the book hopeful about love? Not hopeful? Semi-hopeful? Demi-hopeful? Carrie is not sure, and keeps finding herself totally stuck whenever she tries to hash that out.

In the end, however, a combination of attending Brady's christening (about which, more anon), and spending some quality time with the ever-sunny Charlotte (about which, also more anon) convinces our Ms. Bradshaw that there is tentative cause for hope in the universe, after all, and that as such, she can write an upbeat preface for her book in good conscience. This is what we like to hear! Three cheers for hopefulness, no matter how wan of a strain of hopefulness it may be!

So what was all that which I just said about wee Baby Brady getting himself baptized? Miranda is not religious at all, and Steve is a distinctly lapsed Catholic... but lapsed or not, he makes a big push to get their wee lad baptized, nonetheless. When Miranda brushes this off as a patently ludicrous notion, Steve sensibly points out that it's a nice ceremony, will give their friends and family a chance to gather to celebrate the bundle of adorableness that is Brady, will score said adorable Brady bucketloads of presents, and is also an opportunity to have CAKE. So... baptism it is!

Rather to her surprise, Miranda 1) finally ends up meeting Steve's mother (who, to our pleasant surprise, turns out to be the hi-bloody-larious Anne Meara), who, it transpires, is an amiable, if also perpetually tipsy and foul-mouthed, lady; and 2) finds herself moved by the ceremony and the chance to officially make her good buddy Carrie Brady's godmother. Also, the post-baptism cake looks DELICIOUS. Victories all around!

Charlotte, meanwhile, has fallen under the spell of a creepy self-help guru, who is some kind of unpleasant blend between Suze Orman, and that nutty woman who wrote The Secret. (For the record, I have nothing against Orman's books or ideas--I value someone telling me in words of one syllable what the Sam Hill to do with my meager cash as much as the next clueless, math-is-my-doom humanities person does--they just made this episode's creepy guru look like her is all.)

So this nutty guru's whole shtick is that if you believe that good things will happen to you hard enough... said good things will actually come to pass. (In that case, where is Jon Stewart with my daily delivery of vegan donuts, hmmmm?) Charlotte tries to sell Carrie on this idea, and she is, understandably, skeptical about it. She nonetheless agrees to accompany Charlotte to one of the creepy guru's lectures... where, it transpires, she becomes more skeptical still.

After Charlotte tentatively asks the guru why it is that even though she believes in love and hopes for love, she has not yet found love, and the guru nastily shuts her down by saying that she just must not be trying hard enough, Carrie sticks up for her. Charlotte is doing all in her power, Carrie notes, but sometimes, even that is not enough.

Depressing, I suppose, but I am much happier to settle on a "sometimes bad things do happen to good people" type message, than I am to queasily hover over a "if you don't get everything you hope for in life, it must be because you are somehow fatally flawed" type message. Because (looking to both my left and my right) I cannot help but notice that neither Jon Stewart, nor my donuts, have yet arrived. Alas! Another bubble burst, another dream shattered!

Samantha, meanwhile, is back with Richard. (As Charlotte puts it, "Richard whose death we've been plotting?") He fed her some rubbish line about how he got scared of their emotional closeness, and as such went running off to sleep with other ladies. (Of course, I am told this is a very common reaction to any form of masculine emotional discomfort.) He says he loves her, and will do his best not to cheat on her anymore. Samantha: buys this line. Her friends: do not. I: side with her friends.

Sam spends the entire episode 1) admiring the gorgeous diamond which Richard got her as a "we seem to be back together again, apologies about the whole 'cheating' thing" present, and 2) worrying that her friends are right (hint: THEY ARE), and that Richard is a sleazeball who is not really that sorry about having cheated on her in the first place, and fully intends to do so again. But at the end of the episode... Sam is still with him. Good call, Jones! I am sure that is going to work out reeeeeal well. (Hint: IT ISN'T.)

The Analysis:

Radically Inappropriate Garments to Wear to Religious Ceremonies Watch:
So Carrie wears a very low-cut black dress to Brady's christening (black? As someone who has worn black dresses to weddings because Vogue said I could and I have a couple of really nice black dresses, okay?, I will let that one slide, but very low-cut? Must we? You are going to be in all the christening pictures, missy, I do not need to see acres of your flesh in said family snaps.) She also wears a cracked-out fascinator, however, which gave me pleasant flashbacks to the Royal Wedding. Le sigh. No one does cracked-out pseudo-hats like the British do cracked-out pseudo-hats.

"He Got Scared?!?": Male Excuses for Infidelity Being Total Bullshit, and Pleasantly Being Identified As Such, Watch: So I must say that I love and welcome the fact that Richard's whole "well... I just couldn't handle emotional intimacy, so therefore my screwing-around on you is totally justifiable, and also, I am probably going to do so again in the near future" is regarded very negatively by all of our ladies (except for the willfully clueless Sam.)

Given the ways in which the show has, in the past, sailed perilously close to actually endorsing a biological-determinism-style "men are just different, sometimes they simply cannot help their manly selves!" permissiveness when it comes to radical male misbehavior... I am glad to see the writers clearly showing us that Richard is a jerk, Sam is being naive and rather foolhardy to trust him again, and that her friends are quite right to think he is an unpleasant gent she would be better off without. I do like to see a spade called a spade/a cheater called a cheater!

"From a Bakery in... Queens": Denigration of the Boroughs, and By Extension, Some Icky Class Politics Watch: As aforementioned, I think Anne Meara is delightful, and she takes every scene that she is in as Steve's loopy and inappropriate mater and walks clean off with it. (And that is with Cynthia Nixon in the room... so no mean feat!)

However. Putting one's praise for Ms. Meara to one side, I will take a moment to sourly note (I do love me some sour noting!) that there does seem to be something rather troubling, in the ways in which her Queens-based self is represented. For one thing, the fact that she is, in fact, from Queens, is the source of much bemused comment and not a few jokes, and Queens itself treated as an alien and bizarre landscape by our leading ladies. Please, my friends. Manhattan is splendid, but from what I've heard, it's dizzyingly pricey self is not the beginning and end of the known universe. Give the anti-Borough thing a rest. (Not that they will, brace yourself for some potent anti-Brooklyn rhetoric anon!)

Steve's mother also seems to be persistently coded as "vulgar" and "low-class" in some ways which I find rather problematic. She drinks like a fish. She curses in church--in front of the priest. She wears an unflattering, circa 1950 hairnet in public. She goes on a rant about how she doesn't have a problem with her African-American daughter-in-law, which makes it clear that she really does have a problem with her African-American daughter-in-law. And having one of the very, very few non-affluent, non-posh-Manhattanite characters be a drunken, cussing racist with zero fashion sense... somehow does not sit quite right with me. Ah well. Plenty of more opportunities for me to be thus offended because Steve's mum... will be baaaaaaack!

Notable Quotables:

Carrie: "Maybe it's not advisable to be an optimist past the age of 30." (Fie on that, missy, I turn 30 in a few short days, and I'll be darned if I'll give up my Pollyanna-like, sunshiny attitude for love or money. I will cling to it with both of my increasingly withered hands--cling to it, I say!)

Miranda, on what Steve's mother is like: "Imagine Steve... in a wig... drunk!" She is also a redhead, I feel compelled to note, and therefore that much more AWESOME.

Next Up...?: "Luck Be An Old Lady," in which the ladies (I refuse to use the word "old," these women are in their thirties and forties for the love of Pete) venture to my beloved native state to enrich its national economy through gambling. Woooo! Gamble recklessly, women of NYC! Pour money into Atlantic City's needy coffers! Oh, and in addition to that, there is some stuff about aging and loneliness and new motherhood and creepy, cheating boyfriends. Sounds like a whirligig of Jersey fun to me!