Sarah Jessica Parker has an in-your-face face. In her new HBO comedy series, "Sex and the City," she always seems to be thrusting it forward. She's in love with the camera. Unfortunately, it's unrequited.
Parker, with her scraggly hair and jutty jaw, is certainly not the worst thing about this smirky-jerky sexcom, but she usually seems so light and funny that it's dismaying to see her in bad form, looking like a walking flea market and coming across about as subtly as a tsunami.
It took some sort of perverse talent to make her unattractive, although the producers were clever enough to insert a shot of her in a wet clinging top during the opening credits.
"Sex and the City," premiering tomorrow night at 9 on HBO (with the first two episodes also airing tonight at 9:45 as a special "preview"), is the latest creation from onetime wonder boy Darren Star, who invented "Melrose Place" for Fox and then disgorged a flop called "Central Park West" for CBS. On HBO, he has the freedom to spice up the comedy with smatterings of nudity and dirty words, but they don't help. "Sex and the City" is a hopeless bummer, like "Love, American Style," only smutty.
Parker not only stars -- playing Carrie Bradshaw, who writes a column about sex for a New York newspaper -- she also sort of hosts, turning to talk directly to the camera now and then to comment on the action of her friends. These are supposedly hip, chic, fashionable New Yorkers, but for the most part they are freakish shrieking bores, the world's worst provincials.
"Welcome to the age of un-innocence," Parker declares in the premiere. "No one has breakfast at Tiffany's and no one has affairs to remember." Carrie and her four female friends are supposed to be smart, successful, modern women, but all they talk about is seducing men, landing men, attracting men, pleasing men or getting revenge on men. Sex is something people do to each other rather than with each other.
One of the few bright spots in the cast is Cynthia Nixon as Carrie's friend Miranda. Nixon has a cheering, luminous presence that helps save many a scene. But she's lonely in these sour surroundings. The worst piece of casting is creepy Chris Noth, who once co-starred on "Law & Order," as the supposedly most eligible and desirable bachelor in Manhattan. He's described as "very handsome" and as "the next Donald Trump."
Noth is just the same old sleaze he always plays.
Describing herself as "sort of a sexual anthropologist," Carrie hippety-hops around the city, going to nightspots and dayspots and listening to her friends say things like, "I hate my thighs." The women criticize many men for being self-absorbed, but virtually every character in the series is self-absorbed. "Sex and the City" is total immersion in self-absorption.
There are superficial resemblances between this show, which will run for 12 weeks on HBO through the summer, and "Grapevine," a very adventurous and quite clever 1992 sitcom about single people coupling in Miami. Created and produced by David Frankel, "Grapevine" got low ratings and had a short run. One of the stars on the premiere was the irritatingly perfect Dean Cain, who went on to play Superman in "Lois & Clark."
It was a delightful show, fresh and funny and splashed with the saturated colors of Florida. It didn't have nudity, of course, but it was sexy in intelligent ways that are beyond Star's show.
Ironically or not, Parker later starred in a movie that Frankel wrote, the fitfully funny romantic comedy "Miami Rhapsody." The film lacked the snap and crackle of "Grapevine," though, and seemed too imitative of Woody Allen. The characters all jabbered their heads off. Anyway, "Sex and the City" is a little like "Grapevine" except for being lousy. At lunch with her friends, all of whom indulge in what might be called White Whine, Carrie, speaking of a former boyfriend, assures them that "I don't have a shred of feeling left" for him. You can believe it. "Sex and the City" doesn't have a shred of feeling, either. CAPTION: From left, Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon star in HBO's "Sex and the City." CAPTION: Sarah Jessica Parker, top right, and cohabitants of the Manhattan singles scene Cynthia Nixon, front, Kim Cattrall, left, and Kristin Davis.