I’d had a love/love-to-hate relationship with “Sex and the City” since I first watched it all the way through in college. (I never had HBO growing up!) Unlike classically-crafted sitcoms like “Friends” or “Frasier,” the series isn’t pleasingly formulaic in a way that comforts the viewer before bed; it’s jagged and arch and withholds the sorts of pleasures that TV can provide. Characters spend long periods miserable and alone; episodes just end at the 30-minute mark without any resolution and without any lessons learned. Protagonist Carrie, obsessed with her one true love, the callous Big, makes the same mistakes over and over; her best friends are each, for some time, trapped by their own unbending personality types (respectively: status obsession, obsession with work, refusal to commit). On the occasion that there is any sense of closure, it’s only temporary — episodes will end, say, with Carrie meeting her three best friends at a café and saying some folderol about how friends are the only thing one can count on in this crazy city, but her loneliness and emptiness hasn’t magically lifted. For all that “Sex and the City” is stereotyped as a comfort-watch for Moscato-drinking sorority girls, there’s something edgy and chilling about it, as noted in a recent reappraisal by Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker.
The only constant over six years was itself alienating: the show’s reliance on Carrie’s narration, full of elliptical, strange puns compounding upon themselves. (This provides a healthy sampling: rhyming “vasectomy” with “the man next to me,” a former couple “needling” one another segues into a character’s acupuncture appointment.) The narration was, at times, the only explicitly comic element of the show.
A year ago, a writer friend and I began summarizing our problems of the moment in emails to one another using the language of the narration — an argot in which actual logic takes a backseat to quick segue and to cringing wordplay. Carrie found solace in punning on her problems even when the problems were very real. Writing like her seemed like a good way to get at the Big and the little dramas of our lives; a way to glide over the surface of things that were complicated and upsetting using a coded language and then moving on to the next plotline.
I don’t know where the idea came from to create what I have to acknowledge up front was an extremely stupid novelty Twitter. I was watching the show on my iPod at the gym one morning, having exhausted all recent podcasts, when it floated into my head vaguely. What if the characters still existed and took into account recent news developments — just as the show, which ran from 1998 to 2004, would pun on the rise of “Survivor” and the growing indispensability of cell phones? The first two “Sex and the City” movies had entirely abandoned the show’s awareness of contemporary New York in favor of fairy tales for an audience that had misread the show as optimistic. What if a third movie kept the strange puns in service of a story about the way we live now?
And just like that, a novelty Twitter account was born.
I followed a few friends and started writing tweets putting the characters into conversation with current events as well as a half-dystopian vision of the present day. As I write this, I am just as aware as you are, reader, of just how frivolous this is, but it was an opportunity to play with words according to a very proscribed format — the Carrie monologue — and to burn off extra creative energy and the frustration of any true “Sex and the City” fan with that show’s tics: Carrie’s puns as vehicle for delivering solipsistic wisdom about herself. The account was an homage to the show and probably the meanest thing I could have done to it.
I kept it up for a while — but, over time, there was only so much even the most elastic “Sex and the City” reality could tolerate. I’d already made jokes about Carrie getting jobs at Gawker and at Vice; was an offhand joke about the Huffington Post’s pay policy worth giving her a third new-media gig? And esoteric humor about Arianna Huffington and Nintendo fans’ so-called “Year of Luigi” wasn’t exactly the sort of stuff Carrie would be concerned with, because I’d so quickly burned through all of the actual facts about what 2013 was like.
Not that it really mattered; the account was growing rapidly (peaking at around 13,000 followers). I got covered on Jezebel and got the opportunity to make a longer version of my script for Vulture. I was incredibly flattered by the attention — who wouldn’t be? But Carrie’s voice was speaking a little too loudly in my head, spinning every headline I read in the newspaper into a pun. To my mind, the most emblematic moment of the series is when her desperate friend Miranda, a harried new mother, admits she doesn’t have a vague idea of what to do; Carrie cuts her off and says she doesn’t have “a Vogue idea” how to fix her piece for a fashion magazine. Imagine actually trying to inhabit a voice that hyperaware of every word around you and simultaneously that eager to drown out the conversation with a new pun so as to avoid acknowledging anything serious.
Carrie, a character who’d always charmed me even as I acknowledged her flaws, was a nightmare!
I’d done a radio interview about the account where they asked me to read a few tweets aloud, and they sounded so inane coming out of my mouth; I was grasping at turning just about anything into a pun about sex — just as Carrie did. This had been fun, but there’s a reason “Sex and the City” took the rest of the year off after each season.
And I couldn’t help but wonder — when does a novelty Twitter go from novel to twaddle? That’s when it hit me: It was time for a breakup.
I decided impulsively to end the whole thing. It seemed a little too esoteric (not to mention too tied up in other people’s intellectual property) to get me a book deal, and besides, spending more time working on self-consciously laborious puns wasn’t what I most desperately wanted to do. I wound the whole thing down with a stream of tweets giving each character some sense of closure: Charlotte was about to discover the art of Lena Dunham, Samantha to act out the plot of “Contagion,” Miranda died (she was always the writers’ least favorite character — remember when they made her eat cake out of the garbage?). And Carrie finally got back together with Big, who was now a bitcoin miner.
I don’t know that I necessarily learned anything from this other than quite how much more I could be doing with what I’ve always thought of as a very busy schedule. But when, in a few months or years, I finally feel down to watch “Sex and the City” again, I’ll be sympathetic with Carrie’s puns, knowing as I do that she, more than anything, wants attention. She may be comically out of touch, from a 2013 perspective, with modern technology, but she’s no different from anyone on social media.