A tutu-clad Carrie Bradshaw stumbled into our lives on June 6, 1998, and we’ve never really been the same. “Sex and the City” ushered in a new era of television shows that took a frank approach to sex and relationships, while also deftly capturing the more elusive love of a place — namely, New York City.
Two decades years later, show creators are still finding ways to evoke SATC. So we got to thinking about how — and whether — they pulled it off.
For all of its merits, “Sex and the City” was woefully lacking when it came to diversity (don’t even get us started on the episode that featured Samantha dating a black man). Enter “Girlfriends,” which followed four black women navigating friendship, relationships and successful careers in their 30s. The beloved UPN turned CW comedy was often referred to as the black “Sex and the City,” but it was so much more than that.
As creator Mara Brock Akil told Yahoo Entertainment, “Girlfriends” tapped into themes of SATC, while zeroing in on the often-overlooked experience of black women. When it came to SATC, Brock Akil said, “it was almost like we were invisible.”
“Sometimes being black in America, being a black woman in America, that is a part of your experience — except when you are with your own, you are allowed a safe place to be, and your girlfriend is a really rich relationship for you, and nuanced,” Brock Akil continued. “It was meaningful on a very deep level, and I wanted to express that.”
The Adrian Grenier-led dramedy, which premiered in 2004, was a lot like SATC in several ways — it followed a group of four friends living often (but not always) glamorous lives. But we didn’t really need a bro version of “Sex and the City,” and “Entourage” stands on its own merits — for better and for worse.
“Grey’s Anatomy” (2005)
Shonda Rhimes’s long-running medical drama takes place in Seattle, not New York City. But it premiered just over a year after SATC went off the air, and not even Rhimes was immune to casting parallels to her own show’s strong female friendships and steamy sex scenes. Rhimes said in a seminar for Masterclass that she had informally and (grudgingly) pitched the show as “Sex in the Surgery.”
Fourteen seasons (not to mention, multiple spinoffs) later, we think of Meredith Grey as her own kind of heroine.
“Gossip Girl” (2007)
Some (ahem, Parents Television Council) might argue that there was a little too much sex in CW’s soapy drama about a group of rich and beautiful high school students running wild through Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Nevertheless, “Gossip Girl” channeled the romance and fashion of its predecessor, while also feeling as if it couldn’t have taken place elsewhere (New York Magazine dubbed it “the New Yorkiest television show since ‘Sex and the City’).”
Incidentally, the show paid homage to SATC in its final episode, which featured Florence and the Machine’s cover of Candi Stanton’s “You’ve Got the Love.” Eight years earlier, SATC had featured Stanton’s song in the final scenes of its last episode.
[Warning: The video below contains one instance of explicit language.]
When Lena Dunham’s dramedy about a group of young New York women premiered in 2012, the comparisons were swift and plentiful.
“It was practically a mantra on set that ‘Girls’ is not the new ‘Sex and the City,’ ” Emily Nussbaum noted in New York magazine. Mantras notwithstanding, Nussbaum asserted that “Girls” was “a post-‘Sex and the City’ show, albeit one with an aesthetic that’s raw and bruised, not aspirational.”
Dunham, meanwhile, said her show’s focus on 20-somethings helped fill the gap between Carrie Bradshaw et al. and “Gossip Girl’s” overprivileged teenagers.
“The Carrie Diaries” (2013)
As Hannah Horvath settled in at HBO, CW tried to further the SATC-“Gossip Girl” connections with “The Carrie Diaries,” a short-lived SATC prequel that counted alumni of both shows among its executive producers. The show, which focused on a high school-era Carrie Bradshaw, earned praise for spot-on casting (namely, AnnaSophia Robb as Carrie and Lindsey Gort as Samantha). But “The Carrie Diaries” couldn’t quite capture the magic of HBO’s version and was canceled after two seasons.
“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” (2014)
Another drama, another group of close girlfriends. Like SATC, this Bravo series follows an introspective writer (Lisa Edelstein) with relationship struggles. If Carrie Bradshaw were an L.A.-based divorcee, it might look something like this. Fun fact: Edelstein could have starred as Carrie Bradshaw.
“Sex and the City” creator Darren Star managed to strike gold again with this surprisingly delightful gem about a 40-year-old woman (Sutton Foster) posing as a 26-year-old in Manhattan’s cutthroat publishing world. Like Star’s original hit, “Younger” doesn’t shy away from talking about sex, and Patricia Field, the designer behind the memorable attire of SATC’s leading ladies, helps create the show’s bold, character-driven fashion.
As a bonus, “Younger” is quirkier and, for what it’s worth, has more Aidans than Mr. Bigs.
If “Insecure” is like “Sex and the City,” it’s more so in its subtle appreciation of a city. In this case, it’s often overlooked areas of Los Angeles that are in the show’s DNA.
“Girlfriends,” not “Sex and the City,” is the true forebear of Issa Rae’s HBO comedy, which counts “Girlfriends” alum Prentice Penny as its showrunner. (There’s even a reference to the CW show in an early episode). Both “Girlfriends” and “Insecure” are revolutionary in their authentic and sexy approach to telling stories about black women and their friendships. “Insecure” takes it a step further with its muted portrayal of black millennial life — from intimate relationships to racial microaggressions in the workplace.
When Sarah Jessica Parker returned to HBO in 2016 — to star in this dreary dramedy about a newly separated middle-aged couple — the comparisons were inevitable. The verdict? Decidedly not the new “Sex and the City.”
“The Bold Type” (2017)
This Freeform series about a group of 20-something women rising in the ranks of a Cosmopolitanesque fashion magazine is the latest dramedy to remind us of the intense friendships of SATC. Twenty years removed from the HBO series, it’s younger, more earnest and more diverse.
It’s also surprisingly very good.
“It’s part journalism drama, part ‘Sex and the City’–style female-bonding comedy with sex and romance; it’s equally interested in being both things at once, to the best of its ability, and damned if it doesn’t pull it off more often than you’d think,” Matt Zoller Seitz wrote at Vulture.