There’s no denying Sex in the City, and the narration of Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic role in the cultural zeitgeist. Running from 1998 to 2004 Sex and The City, and its four primary cast members found a home on HBO as a flagship series. Privileged, restrained, I want a ring, Charlotte – Kristin Davis. Sex-positive ‘try-sexual’, Samantha –Kim Cattrall. Career-driven cynical nerd, Miranda – Cynthia Nixon. Fashion plate, and romantic sexual anthropologist, Carrie Bradshaw – Sarah Jessica Parker, who serves as the series protagonist, and ever-evolving narrator through which we see the world of Sex in the City.
The show received praise and awards as well as scathing reviews. As the Hollywood Reporter put it in 1998, “Dating columnist Carrie Bradshaw is a mouthy character who delivers a lot of narration to help us find our way through the sour polemics of women-vs.-men warfare to the gags.” And Carrie is chatty. She’s also brash, opinionated, and cynically optimistic. And we love it. SO much so, that our love inspired a reboot – but more on that later. We crawled into her head, guided through the changes, the inner thought processes of all of the characters through Carrie’s narration. S. J. Parker’s delivery is questioning and answering by turn. Weighing out problems and finding solutions. Its primary purpose is to tie together the storylines and weave plot points into a single narrative.
Is Carrie Bradshaw a reliable or unreliable narrator?
It’s a question that has inspired Phd theses and has made me speculate whether the writers were in the same boat. Theoretically, Carrie is a first-person omniscient – appearing to know the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of all the other characters while also being a character herself. Her know-all, omniscient powers are explained away in the first episode, “And I have terrific sources. My friends.” Even in the context of a columnist who might be writing with some hindsight, the information she has access to stretches the limits of credulity.
A theory touted by Sarah Jessica Parker herself is the Carrie Bradshaw’s gal pals in high fashion are a figment of the columnist’s imagination. That would explain how she still has any friends left after she continuously spills their innermost secrets to the world via her column. Although this theory makes some of the storylines questionable. How does she get the money to buy her apartment, if not by browbeating Charlotte? Did she imagine Miranda’s baby, and who did Aiden Shaw help off the bathroom floor? Questions abound.
Bending the Camera to the Narrator’s will
In season 1 episode 8 Carrie meets Mr. Big’s ex-wife, (there may have been stalking involved) and later pontificates through voice over about the third person in bed with them, his ex-wife. “What Mr. Big didn’t realize was that the past was sleeping right next to me,” the camera obliges, showing us the three of them in bed together. Suggesting that the world is created through Carrie’s narration, rather than her narrating the world. It’s the kind of narrative concept that shows like Mr. Robot and Scrubs would play with later. Mr. Robot taking it to whole new levels.
Sex and the City’s Neat and Tidy Narration Tie Up
One risk narration may carry is sounding too formulaic, too crafted. If these words are the inner reflections of the main character, then why do they sound so polished? Does everyone else walk around with the smooth musings of an articulate narrator in their head? I had to ask myself, Am I The Crazy One? See what I did there…
Sex in the City rather deftly deals with the possible problem by merging the narration with Carrie’s column. Her life, and perhaps the whole world, seems to quite literally revolve around her query of the week, but it works. Even if it’s no wonder Carrie is labeled a narcissist by many. Following on the high heels of Sex in the City, J.D.’s narration in Scrubs was originally envisioned as the musings of his journal and Gossip Girl is essentially maintaining (a very niche) online column. Bridget Jones’s Diary? It’s in the name.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
The first season has scenes where Carrie looks into the camera, talking directly to us. As a narrative device, breaking the fourth wall can work, (see Fleabag, Mr. Robot, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) but it was jarring in Sex in the City and was quickly dropped by Season 2.
Carrie Bradshaw’s or Sarah Jessica Parker’s narrative evolution
Season 1 Carrie smokes a cigarette, often in her underwear, pondering in a curious but somewhat cynical voice over. Grimacing intently at her computer as she sorts through her own musings. Sometimes staring out the window at the city like an astronomer looking for signs of life in the stars. By Season 6, Carrie has a singsong, fairy-tale quality narration, she sits by sunlight, her hair quaffed, perhaps with a jaunty flick to its ends, she’s mostly dressed impeccably, sipping on an iced tea or some unknown clear liquid (water or vodka? You decide) As Carrie herself asks in Season 1 “How the hell did we get here?”
According to the cheat sheet, Sarah Jessica Parker didn’t enjoy the narrative portions of her job, finding the time spent recording the monologues lonely and reportedly recording most of them in just two days. SJP was the only member of the main female cast to never do a nude scene (written into her contract), she doesn’t like swearing, and “If something is really vulgar, I have conversations with the writers where I say I’m not comfortable with that. It doesn’t mean they’ll make the change, but we do discuss it.” As a credited producer and the major name attached to the show, perhaps the actress’s world views impacted the direction the narration took, or maybe it was just a natural evolution.
And Just Like That – Rebooting Sex and the City
Sex in the City was a 90’s unicorn, a show starring women, about women for women, whose women narrator talked about sex, love, and relationships. With a revival on HBO Max, And Just Like That, the new Sex and the City reboot is streaming soon. Whether it’s symptomatic of the rumored spats onset between the main four cast, a genuine desire from Kim Cattrall to move on from her iconic character, Samantha Jones, the reboot will not include the only character whose happy ending isn’t a wedding to the man of her dreams.
The And Just Like That teaser trailer gives a possible glimpse into the reboot’s direction, with grittier city visuals and noises more in keeping with season 1. A fairy-tale narration from Carrie more in keeping with seasons 5 and 6 and, oddly, a typewriter punching out the words “And just like that…” There are rumors of a more diverse cast, maybe a divorce (although the show is famous for false flag leaks to throw the fans off the scent), and potentially a podcast that may or may not serve as the new vehicle for Carrie’s narrator storytelling.
If they mix it up enough (perhaps by confirming SJP’s theory that Carrie is the only character that exists on the show) then we might need to revisit the intriguing world of Sex and The City narration through the reboot.
Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist, whose TV and film narrations have been heard on Discovery, Netflix, the major networks, in IMAX, the Smithsonian and the White House.