8 p.m., Sunday evening.

For the better part of six years, from 1998 to 2004, I sat down in front of the TV to watch Sex and the City every Sunday at 8 p.m. I turned down an invitation to dinner and a movie; I once let a friend who had broken up with her boyfriend (yet again) wait until after the show was over before I drove to her apartment to hug and console her. During the first part of Season Five, I was on a semester abroad in London and as a result, I am still disoriented about the season I had to watch out of order, in reruns.

I was 16 when I discovered the show on HBO, and 21 when it ended, the year I graduated college. I remember saying at the time: “I’m ready for it to be over, so it will release the hold it has on my life.”

Now that the movie comes out on May 30, I felt I had to do a little something to prepare. With seven weeks to go before the release, I’ve been doing a little research. The idea is to watch a season each week, as sort of a refresher course before I see the movie.

Over the past week, I’ve been rereading the book that spawned the show, a collection of Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City columns from the New York Observer. There was a bit of a snafu, as I tore my house apart looking for my copy of the book, relented and bought a new used one at Half-Price, then found the old copy in a box marked Miscellaneous from the house move four months ago. (I have a very Carrie approach to housekeeping.)

After I started watching the show in high school, I read the book and hated it. I thought it was gossipy and vicious. There’s a term Bushnell uses, “nasty little cat,” that really sums up the attitude of the book. If this is Manhattan, I thought, then I want no part of it.

Upon a reread, I’m still not a fan of the book, although I found it funnier this time around. It’s been nearly ten years since the first time I read it, and the adult situations and humor are a bit more apparent now. Still, it frustrates me that this is the kind of thing that comes out of New York, the sort of “insider joke” that tries extra hard to exclude the uninitiated. “You don’t understand? Tough. We’re too important to possibly explain it to you.”

Here’s a shocking fact: Candace Bushnell turns 50 on December 1. I just find that jaw-dropping. A little digging on her turned up that she attended Rice in the seventies, dropped out, moved to New York, and began covering the Studio 54 scene. She had wanted to be an actress, but instead landed a plum little beat as a journalist, the Sex and the City column. (Bet she never had to chase an ambulance.) Still, after my little social performance last night, I’m pretty sure bar-hopping six nights a week for your job is actually hard work.

Parts of the book are heart-breakingly honest, like when Bushnell’s alter ego Carrie recalls her days of sleeping on the floor of her apartment with a mink coat covering her, or when she buys some pizza for down-trodden playgirl of the western world Amalita in a seedy part of town, which turns out to be the same neighborhood Carrie lived in when she was broke.

The Carrie alter ego is introduced in a strange way: the narrator and Carrie appear to be two different people involved in the same conversation. At one point, I thought another character with a C-name, Chloe, was being introduced in this way, but later in the book she gets married and so can’t be Bushnell, who got married in 2002. By the end of the book, the narrator has faded to a non-participant, and Carrie’s story has taken over.

Most of that story revolves around Mr. Big, who we know is magazine publisher Ron Galotti. I remember reading an article in New York magazine (online) about the real Mr. Big moving to Vermont with his wife. In it, his wife said something about finding the ex-girlfriend’s (Bushnell’s) clothes in the back of Mr. Big’s closet, and they were all size 0.

The thing about the New York story that stuck out to me was when the writer quipped that people in Manhattan have the sense that anyone who lives any where else must, surely, be joking. I found that article again a few days ago, and realized that one little memorable bit of observation was really a paraphrased John Updike quote.

So snotty. And yet, reading Sex and the City, this toothless, slack-jawed yokel can’t help thinking that people who live in Manhattan — and take the scene seriously — are the ones with issues. Really, this book reads like a bad high school drama; there are cliques and back-stabbing and drunk people trying to get laid.

That was a bitter pill to swallow, back in the late nineties, when I had already been hooked by the dazzle of the show and made the mistake of reading this seedy, superficial trash. I wanted to forget about high school, not find out the real world was exactly the same. At the time, I didn’t understand that I was supposed to look beyond the stories themselves, and perhaps even feel sorry for the players and their silly little lives. Now that I’m old enough to catch a glimpse of the true meaning behind the book, I can’t do it. Candace Bushnell ruined the Big Apple for me, and I still hold that grudge.

Yes, like every teenage girl in rural America, I had that dream of moving to Manhattan and being somebody. I read Vogue not for the fashion, but for the society, that world of luxury that somehow did not seem real. I think the popularity of the SATC television show wasn’t based on the socio-sexual commentary or even the sex itself (watch the show in a room with other people, and see if some eyes don’t shift away from the television screen whenever Samantha is performing whatever ridiculous act was scripted for her in that episode). I don’t think that was the appeal for my twenty-something female peers, anyway.

Producers of the show tried to spin the city as the fifth character on the show, and I think that is the true draw. At least for me, watching Sex and the City every week was like an escape hatch, a reimagining of the Mary Tyler Moore scenario.

I say Mary Tyler Moore, although I’ve never seen that show, because it’s often referenced on the internet when people are critiquing Sex and the City. It’s code for that classic fantasy, the same one that got me hooked on the show in the first place. The characters on SATC were too old to fill the “young girl in Manhattan” role, but I almost think that is why it worked. You could watch them mess up their lives and think, “When I get there, I’ll do it differently.” Manhattan, really, is the whole point of the column/book/show/movie jauggernaut.

On page two of the book and minutes into the pilot episode of the show, we’re treated to this steamer about life in Manhattan:

“No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s, and no one has affairs to remember — instead, we have breakfast at 7 a.m. and affairs we try to forget as quickly as possible.”

I never liked this statement, and it pisses me off that it’s one of the lines that was transplanted, verbatim, into the show. The 7 a.m. joke — not clever. How about “breakfast in a cab and affairs with the hired help?” Saying that New Yorkers eat breakfast in the morning and have bad relationships is not very insightful or funny. But maybe putting effort into your pop culture riffs is just not chic.

What infuriates me even more is that further down the page (and this part was thankfully left out of the show), Bushnell says that Truman Capote understood the nineties dilemma and wrote about it in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Then she goes on to outline the plot of the movie, not the book. It’s highly disrespectful from one writer to another, especially when she owes her success to an update of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s story. Bushnell probably knows how it feels now, when people reference Sarah Jessica Parker’s show when talking about her creation.

Truman Capote had nothing to do with Paul Varjak, a kept man, and Holly Golightly, a kept woman, forsaking money and finding love with each other, as Bushnell would have us believe. That is what happened in the movie, and Capote said in an interview that he was not happy with the changes or the star of the film. In the book, the “Paul Varjak” character does not have a name, and he is not a kept man. He is a writer, possibly gay, and possibly Capote himself. And in the end, they don’t find love together with the cat sandwiched between them.

I watched the movie again as part of my “research,” and started to reread the Breakfast at Tiffany’s novella, but honestly I’ve read it so many times that I know it backwards and forwards. I can’t even begin to explain how much I love the book and how much I dislike the movie. I think the movie, with its garish colors and horrible early-sixties setting, owes its success to the simple back story of Lulamae Barnes making it from Tulip, Texas to NYC. It certainly has nothing to do with Mickey Rooney’s racially offensive Mr. Yunioshi or that goofy shoplifting scene.

The only part of the film I can stomach is the opening credits, when Holly Golightly gets out of a cab at 6 a.m. in front of Tiffany’s to actually have breakfast (a to-go coffee and some sort of pastry) in her evening gown. I can handle her raised eyebrows at the sight of something really shiny in the Tiffany shop windows, but the second Audrey Hepburn begins to act, I’m done.

The show also recognized its debt to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as evidenced by Carrie and BIg slow dancing to Moon River on his last night in New York. I’m not a big fan of the song (in the book, she sings the songs from Oklahoma! and something with the lyrics “don’t wanna sleep, don’t wanna die, just wanna go a-travelin’ through the pastures of the sky”), but it appears that the writers of the show at least have enough sense to not mix up the book and the movie. Seriously, it’s like referring to Frankenstein when you mean Frankenstein’s monster.

In the last chapter of the Sex and the City book, Carrie tells Samantha Jones that she is working on her own project, which I think is referencing the book. Samantha tells her it’s a cute idea, but it’s not Tolstoy. I always wondered how that worked in the show and in real life for Bushnell; was she completely candid with her life and the people she interacted with got to read about themselves in her column? Mr. Big could just open his paper and get her take on their latest argument. How do you maintain a relationship that way? Bloggers are one thing, but this column was actually read by a lot of people who knew the couple. With the show, is everything in the voiceover supposed to serve as the column?

Week Two

I need to confess, I’m already annoyed with this project of mine. I have gone the way of Claudia’s Room (a very funny blog about Baby Sitter’s Club books that has tanked in the past few months), but for me, this is only Week Two.

However, I had a complex as a child where I never finished anything I started, and a sort of personality over-correction as an adult has led me to pursue some very stupid commitments to the dogged end (see Romantic Relationships: 2001-2005).

So, on with the show.

I think the best way to handle this is to break down each season episode by episode. One critique about last week’s posting involved the cumbersome length, so I’m hoping these bite-sized morsels will satisfy.

Once upon a time, an English journalist came to New York.

Episode One: sex and the city (Pilot episode)

At first, you’d be tempted to think this is a show about said English journalist. It is not. Elizabeth, whose name was Charlotte in the book, never appears again, though she’s quite likable. A side note: Kim Catrall was born in Liverpool.

In the book, Charlotte/Elizabeth reads a little too much into her relationship. The bit about meeting his mum and him telling the realtor they don’t have kids…yet? That was all added into the show. In the book, the bastard is much less manipulative.

We go through the entire opening segment without seeing Carrie — just the back of her head as Elizabeth tells her story. Then Carrie stubs out her cigarette, signaling that this is not a show where women whine about the way men treat them.

But it is. That’s exactly what Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha and Carrie do the moment we first see them together, at Miranda’s drag queen birthday. And they will be doing that for six more years.

A word about appearances. Samantha’s hair is too long; that is promptly taken care of in the next episode. Charlotte is pretty much the same, and it seems to have taken the costume designers all season to figure out that the tie-wearing, severe hair cut Miranda was not a sympathetic character.

The main overhaul was Sarah Jessica Parker: she’s brunette, with short, frizzy hair and way too much eye makeup (although I have to say, they put glitter eye shadow on her for the rest of the season, and I’m not a big fan of that either. But it was 1998; I was probably wearing it too.)

The biggest mistake for costuming Pilot-Episode Carrie is that she wears leopard print not once, but twice in a single episode. I always thought Carrie had a some-what trashy look about her (“ghetto gold,” smoking, very visible dark roots), but the pilot episode really makes her look like a hooker. I still think leopard print can only be worn ironically.

Carrie also lives in a different apartment for the first episode. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to location this time around, mostly because the question I got wrong on the Sex and the City quiz was: What is Carrie’s apartment number? Still don’t know, but Charlotte lives somewhere near 4th and Bank.

There are also a lot of “interviews” in this episode, which is something that will become less and less frequent until it entirely drops out of the show. I will try to catch the point when it happens. Carrie is really in journalist-mode for this episode, and she says that she has really great sources for her columns: her friends. Not sure that’s very professional, but she does have a unique beat to cover.

Oh, and this episode is the origin of the “abso-fuckin-lutely” phrase.

I'm really very literary. I'll sit down and read a whole magazine, cover to cover.

Episode Two: models and mortals

People like to make fun of Sarah Jessica Parker’s nose, especially males who like to make fun of females who watch the show. As if she didn’t know it was huge and thus should be admired for overcoming and making a career with her face.

For that reason, I love this episode, because it makes two disparaging references to SJP’s nose. The first is when the girls are comparing the body parts they hate and Carrie points to her nose, and the second is when Derek a.k.a. the Bone says Carrie’s nose is distracting him. The scene with the Bone, surprisingly, comes straight from the book, but the trading body flaws talk with the girls seems to be written for SJP. So there.

I also like the throw-away joke in the party scene, when all the models are wrinkling their noses and turning away the hors d’orvs and Carrie scoops four of them off the waiter’s tray.

This leads to another encounter with Mr. Big, and in both this episode and the first, he seems to be adamant about taking the wind out of Carrie’s sails. Her column is “cute,” men who date models are “lucky,” and everything about her fluffy little world that gets whipped up throughout the episode is brought down to earth with a loud thump the second he shows up and says something snide.

One might think that I don’t like Mr. Big, and one would be right up until this point in the show’s history. I really have a love-hate relationship with the man. To quote SJP: “Chris has done a great job of taking a very specific archetype of man and forcing Big to become human.” (See Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell).

Case in point: my all-time favorite moment of TV history is the final scene of this episode. Carrie has told BIg that she sometimes writes her column at a coffee shop on 73rd and Madison (which she will never do again after this season). He comes to see her there, and the first thing I love about this scene is that Big does not read over her shoulder when he walks up behind her while she’s writing on her laptop. Aidan does this in a much later episode, and it drives Carrie (and me) crazy.

Big sits down across from her, and suddenly, I love him. He starts off saying he’s late for a meeting (ooh, so powerful), but he’s been thinking about the column she’s writing (okay, so you were glib at first but it actually gave you some food for thought, huh Mr. Big?). Then he says “well, there are so many goddamn gorgeous women out there in this city,” which pisses Carrie off but is actually kind of sexy because that “goddamn” shows more emotion than anything the character has said so far.

Then he says: “but the thing is this: after a while, you just want to be with the one who makes you laugh, you know what I mean?” And Carrie grins and nods, and he leaves, and then the voice over makes some Manhattan-specific quip, and then it’s over. But I love it. That line was inscribed in silver ink on the back page of my “senior memories” book in high school.

Samantha gave me a look like I had sold her to the enemy for chocolate bars and nylons.

Episode Three: bay of married pigs

Okay, I’m mostly going to skip over this episode because it tries to discuss an issue that is tackled more effectively later in this season. Episode Three is all about “the cold war between marrieds and singles,” which, if you watch carefully, is really just a rivalry between married women and single women. For that conversation, we are all better off watching Episode Ten, “The Baby Shower,” which I will discuss, with relish, further down the page.

However, there is something about this episode that I have to write about, and it really only comes into play at the very end. Charlotte makes Samantha sleep over because she’s been shooting Tequila all night at a married couples party. Samantha makes a play for Charlotte’s doorman, who has a British/Scottish/Irish accent. It must be Irish, because that would explain the “summary statement” the voiceover makes at the end of the show/column. Plus, he says “Jaysus.”

“Maybe the fight between marrieds and singles is like the war in Northern Ireland,” Carrie says in her head as she walks to the movie theatre. “We’re all basically the same, but somehow we wound up on different sides.” Wouldn’t the Civil War be a better simile here? I just don’t think the war in Northern Ireland can be explained away that easily (I know I haven’t been able to do it.) Even more confounding is the fade-in of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” What the hell does that have to do with anything?

I've been looking all over for you, and here you are, holding a tongue.

Episode Four: valley of the twenty-something guys

Ahh, Twenty-Something Sam, my second favorite of Carrie’s single-episode boyfriends (ergo Big, Aidan, Berger, Aleksandr, and the peeing politician do not count, because they were in multiple episodes). This would be Timothy Olyphant, from Gone in Sixty Seconds, Scream 2, First Wives Club (with SJP) and, according to imdb.com, Deadwood. Okay, this is really embarrassing, but I never realized that was him in the lead role. Whoops.

This episode also starts “Once upon at time…” but then goes in to Carrie and Big’s story. She keeps comparing him to a crossword puzzle, which I like. “Men in their forties are like the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle: tricky, complicated, and you’re never really sure you got the right answer.”

I guess they’re contrasting this with Twenty-Something Sam, who is constantly compared to an addictive drug. “Yes, Samantha, Miranda and I were all recreational users,” Carrie says, and “Why the sudden craving?” It’s funny, because Sam’s twenty-something dialog, especially when he’s recounting his Unicorn Woman dream to Carrie, is something you don’t get to hear a lot on SATC.

Oh, this episode also has the “Mrs. Up the Butt” conversation. Supposedly it is a landmark conversation with the four of them in the back of that cab, but I think they are a bit too hysterical (in the high-strung sense, not the funny sense) about the whole topic.

I decided to investigate this theory I had about shopping as a way to unleash the creative subconscious.

Episode Five: the power of female sex

Okay, Gilles may be #3 on favorite single-episode boyfriends list, simply because he is French. “I suddenly recalled my terrible weakness for gorgeous French architects.”

I like this episode because of its international flavor, with Amalita and all her beaux. Amalita and Carrie are much better friends in the book, and I kind of wish she had been a reccuring character on the show. Side note: Amalita is also on an episode of Veronica Mars, but she’s playing a Middle Eastern woman, not euro-trash like on SATC. I guess that’s why they say actresses can have an “ethnic” look; it’s kind of a catch-all phrase.

All throughout the season, the show has exhibited some distinctive (amateurish?) editing techniques. This episode is a smorgasborg: Carrie walks out of Dolce and Gabana swinging her shopping bag in slow-motion; there’s a shoe wipe between the time Amalita calls Carrie on the phone and when she gets to Balzac; and when Carrie leaves Gilles to go home, she literally floats on air (they must have filmed her on a lift).

Carrie and Gilles’ day together seeing the sights of New York is enviable. “I felt like I had landed in a Claude Larouche film: a man, and a slightly neurotic woman.” They go to the Alice in Wonderland statue (this is also where SJP’s character goes with her father in “If Lucy Fell”), and one of the three Edith Piaf songs I know (Soul de Seil) is playing in the background.

Also, I don’t blame her for not running off with the Italian in the end, because he’s way less attractive than Gilles. That was probably an easier choice than the voiceover implies.

Monogamy is fabulous. It gives you a deep and profound connection to another human being and you don't have to shave your legs as much.

Episode Seven: the monogamists

Nothing to really say here, either. Carrie almost leaves Big for a novelist, which could have been much more interesting than it is. Then there’s the goofy synthesis of Carrie’s metaphoric approach to life and Big’s literal one: she asks him to get off the merry-go-round and stand still with her, so he actually stands still with her.

She was smart, beautiful, and she got me. I'd have to kill her.

Episode Eight: three’s a crowd

Another episode that starts with “Once upon a time!!!”

Charlotte’s boyfriend wants her to have a threesome, and he is very transparently “buttering her up,” as Miranda puts it.

Carrie is drinking a blackberry Clearly Canadian while she writes her column, and I’m so jealous. I really miss Clearly Canadian, and blackberry was my favorite. It’s even in the old-school clear bottle.

This is the “lost episode” for me, because it was so long after the original airing that I finally got to see it. It’s kind of important too, meeting Big’s wife. It’s a shame she never shows up again, especially since she wanted to be friends with Carrie.

They never clarify if Big and Barbara had a threesome with the best friend he eventually cheated on her with. And at what point in the episode does Barbara know that Carrie and Big are dating?