My favorite episode is a feature for this blog in which I look at my favorite episode of a TV show I like. Some of the shows will be classics – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Love Lucy, etc., and others may be shows that I personally loved, even if they haven’t endured or stood the test of time, like Ugly Betty, for example. I won’t go into the history of the show too much, but will give some context if needed – and I’ll also go into the show’s historical significance and if the episode is a much-beloved classic, I’ll also discuss that.
I’ve been rewatching Sex and the City after a long break from the show. I used to love the show and it was one of the few shows I watched while it was on the air, but after the two movies torpedoed its legacy, I found it difficult to get back into it. I’ve been binge-watching the show for the past few days (I have the complete boxed set), starting from season 2 (I didn’t like the too rough and experimental first season), and though it’s not as great as I remembered it to be, I still find that I have affection for the iconic quartet. A quick background before I get into the episode: Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a columnist for the fictional New York Star and lives in Manhattan with her three best friends: Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), a tough, sometimes-cynical lawyer; Charlotte (Kristin Davis), a Park Avenue princess and art gallery director; and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), a sexually voracious public relations dynamo. She also has a satellite gay bestie, Standford (Willie Garson), who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time.
In “My Motherboard, My Self” Carrie has just re-entered into a relationship with Aiden (John Corbett), and is feeling her trademark nerves about the relationship. The fact that she cheated on him before with her longtime love, Mr. Big (Chris Noth), was a large stumbling block for the two and ultimately they broke up. In the episode they’re back together after a tortuous heart-to-heart and things seem okay for a few minutes until Carrie’s beloved laptop crashes. Like Doogie Howser, MD., Carrie clicks and clacks on her laptop at the end of every episode, summing up glibly all of the shenanigans of her friends. While Carrie’s dealing with her computer mess, Miranda is dealing with real problems – her mother’s death.
The interesting thing about Sex and the City is how little we hear of blood relatives. Much is made of the fact that the four women are each other’s family, but it’s interesting that we get little of their family lives, other than it was ideal for either one of the them. Miranda’s mother dying allows for the writers to soften the character a bit – she’s the quickest draw of the four for a sharp quip or a withering glance. Cynthia Nixon – a brilliant TV and stage actress – absolutely kills in this episode and is easily the star. The other two characters have much lighter plots: Samantha has “lost” her orgasm and Charlotte’s become almost pathologically obsessed with putting together a perfect Park Avenue home for her husband, Trey McDougal (Kyle MacLachlan). Both subplots hints at something deeper: Samantha’s inability to climax in bed is rooted in her inability to deal with Miranda’s loss as well as her own feelings of mortality, while Charlotte’s military-style attention to aesthetic details of her home mask that she’s incredibly bored with being a pampered housewife. And while there is some value in each of the women’s travails, they sort of pale in comparison to Miranda’s plight.
When I watched “My Motherboard, My Self” again last night, I had high expectations because I remember the first time I watched the show and bawled. I always loved the comedy of the show, but I also liked it when the characters were given darker story lines: Charlotte’s failed marriage and her infertility issues and Samantha’s bout with breast cancer were handled very well in the later seasons. In “My Motherboard, Myself” we get the blend of broad comedy and sincere drama that the show was famous for.
And yet, even though it’s my favorite episode, I couldn’t help but wonder, did I lionize the show too much in my head before I saw the terrible pair of films that followed? A big debit of the show is its reliance on tortuous puns. What started off as a cute idea, quickly dovetailed into an annoying affectation. Often the puns would be shoehorned into a scene and wouldn’t work. Other times, hearing Parker’s voice over smugly throw out these punny one-liners undermined any of the considerable value of the show – for example, when Miranda spars with a department store clerk in the dressing room over a bra, we all understand that it’s because she’s playing out the irritating mother/daughter duel that she’ll never have again – and it’s not enough for us to understand that, Carrie has to remind us with her sage-like intrusive voice over which then makes a neat pat pun about how Miranda got both kinds of support from the store clerk: a bra and a hug. Without the voice over, the scene would be perfect because Nixon is absolutely wonderful in the scene – she’s great at showing both Miranda’s reserve, but also the gradual slide of her facade of strength. She’s really a remarkable actress. Unfortunately, Carrie’s issues feel trite and insignificant. In another episode, it would’ve been okay to rally around her, but in this episode, I felt a bit annoyed that even in this situation where her best friend’s mom is dead, she found space to make it about her. In the most egregious scene, Carrie breaks Miranda’s tragic news to Samantha and Charlotte, and quickly diverts the girls’ attention by crying about how she feels – she felt like an inadequate friend to Miranda and is mourning her shortcomings as a means of support. I was like, “really?” And then when Charlotte quickly dashed to her side, offering her sympathy and a tissue, I was like, “She’s fine.”
Speaking of Charlotte – she’s really badly used in this episode. She’s my favorite character and Kristin Davis is great, but straitjacketed in the only straight man role of the four – she’s the least overtly comical character, due to her prudishness and conservatism. It makes me wonder sometimes how she became friends with the other women – and how she got her own gay BFF, Anthony (Mario Cantone), who’s basically a gay male version of Samantha (who is often called a straight woman version of a gay male). But in this episode especially, the writers seemed unsure of what to do with her – probably because they cornered themselves by making her a platinum hausfrau. Because Sex and the City can be seen by some as a feminist sitcom, the idea of Charlotte not working is a strange one – made all the more bizarre because it doesn’t look like she’s satisfied with her life, either. She transfers all of her frustrated boredom into planning the decoration of her home, as well as, the flower display for Miranda’s mom’s funeral. It gives the audience a good laugh, that despite her best efforts, what the ladies see at the church is a $500 monstrosity of lilies, bows, glitter, and bunting that would feel more appropriate at a Las Vegas wedding chapel, and not at a funeral in working class Philly.
And Samantha’s unresolved feelings of grief and loss give the show the comedy – the kind of broad high comedy that Cattrall excels at. Because Samantha prides herself on being a sexual Olympian, the thought of not achieving climax is unthinkable, so she hooks up with a wrestling instructor and the two engage in an absurdly athletic round of coitus that does nothing for her; she then takes to masturbation, but that also fizzles and she’s left frustrated and confused. It’s only when she’s at the church facing Miranda’s pain and reaching out to her with a silent “I’m sorry” that she finally allows herself to feel – it’s a great moment, made even better by the great chemistry between Cattrall and Nixon, two such skilled actresses that they both can convey their mutual love from across a crowded church.
And the church scene is great because it rectifies some of the plot holes and mistakes and reaches a wonderful peak – one that almost erases some of the episode’s (and show’s) weaknesses. In an astute commentary of gender and gender expectations, Miranda’s being shamed by her family for being single – she has to walk down the aisle in the funeral procession by herself, while her siblings all are paired up. Miranda knows this is bullshit, and yet feels the sting. That’s why it’s so important that at the moment when she nearly breaks down (Miranda never really has a breakdown), Carrie leaps from her pew and joins Miranda in the procession. It’s a beautiful moment that perfectly encapsulates the theme of the show: family. In an earlier episode the four women agreed to be each other’s soul mates when they consistently found themselves lonely and bereft of love; Carrie’s impulsive act of love and support cements the pact. The show reaches the highs of “My Motherboard, My Self” a few more times throughout the show – but never do all the elements of the show land so well as they do on this episode. I’m even okay with Aiden – who normally I found tedious and boring – because like the other characters, he’s just trying to find his space in Carrie’s universe as well. For those who have dismissed or damned the show because of the terrible movies, do yourself a favor and rent season 3 and 4 of Sex and the City – they’re a reminder of why the show was so lauded and iconic.