So Long to 'Sex'

The four ladies of Sunday evening are about to walk out of our lives for good.

Either you have HBO or you don't. And if you don't? To quote my recently teenaged son, "Boy, it sure sucks to be you." Sorry, but there it is, and you'd best stop reading now.

I hated HBO, too, before we got it. I'm sorry to say that this is my usual reaction to hearing too much about something I don't have. For example, 20 years ago, I had a brother-in-law who used to visit from Los Angeles who reminisced constantly about some store called Trader Joe's. "Boy, I got this for three bucks less at Trader Joe's! When are you going to get a Trader Joe's? I don't know how you live without Trader Joe's," and so on. It was beyond annoying. Of course, as soon as Trader Joe's moved in, I understood.

When we broke down and got HBO for The Sopranos, it was the same deal. To watch was to see. Yeah, it's a lot to pay for an hour or two on Sunday night, but once you have it, there's no going back. No commercials and no laugh tracks. No learning or hugging--well, except for weak episodes of Sex and the City. Which, as the cable-enslaved world knows, is winding up its final season on Sunday.

Sex took some warming up to, at least for my husband and me. It was so New York--how much could we care about people whose lives are about club openings and shoes? (Quite a lot, as it turned out.) Ed was appalled to think that girlfriends really talk that way among themselves, but I was able to reassure him. Actual women are never that honest with one another.

Now the show's an old friend--albeit one who's about to move to Toronto. My feelings about all the characters are warm, but I have favorites. I've come to think that Miranda, who seems to have been meant as a sort of gawky foil to the others, is by far the loveliest of the four heroines. (Those eyes! That milky, untouched-by-Pilates flesh!) Charlotte, on the other hand, may have finally gotten too cute to live. Samantha rules, and even kittenish, tutu-wearing Carrie has grown on me. But now they're done, and the writers have been busily pairing them off for a classic comic ending.

It's coming along. Charlotte and Miranda are now married to the right guys. Miranda's got a baby and a place in Brooklyn; Charlotte's dog had puppies. It's all very "awww, " and that's fine.

What's going on with Carrie and Sam, though, is less satisfactory. Carrie has been selected to be "with"--love that euphemism-- a rich, famous, glamorous Mikhail Baryshnikov type. (Played by Mikhail Baryshnikov, who, frankly, isn't all that glamorous.) He wants to take her to Paris to live in his world of huge apartments and multiple personal assistants, and Carrie's all ready to leave her friends and her plum job as a New York sex columnist to be the Great Man's consort. (Incredibly, this columnist gig paid well enough for her to buy Prada.) This sudden change of life-direction has, however, unsettled her so much that she keeps saying things like "Why can't you all just be happy for me?!"

Sarah Jessica Parker's acting has always been strenuous--I have a friend who claims she doesn't watch the show because she cannot look at Parker--but lines like that push her over the top. There are other problems. One, this denouement makes it look as if our spunky little Carrie might have been trolling for a rich guy all along. (Hello? Remember Mr. Big? Think about it.) Two, a handsome prince should not be as dried-up and stringy as Baryshnikov. (OK, I don't approve of him, because I once read ballerina Gelsey Kirkland's memoirs. Kirkland both danced and slept with the guy, and the latter was not pretty. Is this an archetypically feminine confusion of fact and fiction? Sue me.)

And Samantha--well, I have no argument with her transition from gleeful promiscuity to hot monogamy--Smith is the perfect boyfriend--but why go and stick her with breast cancer? While it's true that the cancer plot has been fairly schmaltz-free and has proven Smith's devotion to our Sam, it's still wrong.

How could a show as saucy and pro-girl as Sex fall back on the nasty old convention of making the bad woman suffer before the story ends? Serious illness, you see, purifies as it punishes--it's almost as if cancer gives you your virginity back! But I never thought of Samantha as fallen. She was someone who knew how to have fun and, by god, had it, a woman who was always ready to talk vibrators at the top of her voice --in short, an ornament to any occasion. I'll miss her. In time, I may even miss the tutu.