RT25 First Reviews Flashback: Sex and the City

"Enjoyable fluff," "clever, articulate, sophisticated," "shallow and cliched" critics said. Find out what else critics wrote about season 1 of the HBO comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon.

by | June 7, 2023 | Comments

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Rotten Tomatoes launched 25 years ago in August 1998, bringing the iconic Tomatometer into households nationwide. Certified Fresh was born six years later and, in 2013, we began aggregating reviews and dishing out scores for TV series. In celebration of our 25th birthday, we’re taking a look back at some of the most impactful TV shows that premiered the same year we did. We previously shined a light on Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, and now we’re taking a look at Sex and the City.

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Sex and the City stars Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kim Cattrall. (Photo by HBO)

Sex and the City follows newspaper columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her close friends Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis), as they tackle the challenges of finding love, success, and happiness in the hustle and bustle of New York City.

The series was created by Darren Star (Beverly Hills, 90210Melrose PlaceEmily in Paris) and inspired by writer Candace Bushnell’s book Sex and the City, which collected her New York Observer essays (originally published between 1994 and 1996). The essays recounted her and her friends’ experiences as single women in their 30s exploring the New York dating scene.

Sex and the City key art

Sarah Jessica Parker stars in Sex and the City (Photo by HBO)

Before Sex and the City premiered on television, the notion of a program centered on a group of women who shared authentic love and friendship with each other may have been foreign to both audiences and the predominantly male execs making the creative decisions behind the camera. Placing the show on HBO was looked at as a good bet as, up until that point, cable was viewed as a dropping-off point for what many perceived to be low-brow entertainment.

“Who cares about yet another batch of whiny New Yorkers? I’ve had enough,” Ken Parish Perkins of the Fort Worth Star Telegram said. “Besides, I think Star has merely brought a Melrose Place with nudity to the place where he could get away with it — cable…”

(Just a year later, The Sopranos premiered and forever changed the television game and put HBO on the map.)

Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall star in Sex and the City

Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kim Cattrall star in Sex and the City

Exploring sex and relationships through a female perspective wasn’t something television critics were necessarily ready for in 1998. Feedback for the first episodes found critics (mostly men at the time) knocking the program for its depiction of adult women who, instead of following dated TV patriarchal norms for women of wife and mother, ventured out into the world to “live, laugh, love.”

“Don’t waste your time watching this act of sexual suicide dressed up for a television project,” Rick Bentley of the Fresno Bee wrote.

In his review of the season’s premiere, Greg Hassall of the Sydney Morning Herald reported a collective disappointment over the show’s lack of nudity.

Sex and the City – in all its gossip-tinged soapy drama – walked so that shows like Girls, The Bold Type, and Insecure could run. After six seasons, a prequel series (The Carrie Diaries), two movies, and the current sequel series And Just Like That (now gearing up for its season 2 premiere on June 22), it’s clear that Darren Star’s series did something right.

Audiences everywhere found themselves and their friends identifying as either a Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, or Charlotte, and 25 years later, it seems they still are. It may not be included in the same conversations as some other peak TV entries, but Sex and the City’s impact on society and TV legacy is worth celebrating.

Here’s what critics said about season 1 of Sex and the City when it first arrived.

Sex and the City is undeniably downcast and despairing about relationships. It is also a clever, articulate, sophisticated late-night view for mature audiences.
Kinney Littlefield, Orange County Register

The skirmishes carry more than a ring of truth, and while the couples police may not like it, the broad minded almost certainly will.
Karl Quinn, The Age (Australia)

It’s a wry and funny look at modern sexual mores in that most modern of modern cities through the eyes of Bradshaw.
Mat Oakley, The Age (Australia)

Related: RT25 First Reviews Flashback: Felicity

Sex and the City is fluff, but, once past the jarring opening credits, it’s enjoyable fluff. There are some clever lines and its ditzy feel provides a nice counterpoint to the unusually frank — for TV, at least — discussions about sex.
Greg Hassall, Sydney Morning Herald

Urbane and witty, with that weary, seen-it-all vibe that the hippest New Yorkers savor like fine wine, HBO’s Sex and the City presents a compelling portrait of ambitious career types chasing lust and love in the Big Apple.
Eric Deggans, Tampa Bay Times

Only Parker’s lively work and exotic looks give you a reason to watch a comedy that ultimately is as shallow and cliched as most of the toxic bachelors in it.
Alan Pergament, Buffalo News

Sex and the City has a narrower focus, but each slight, breezy half-hour is fresh and funny. The series is loosely based on Candace Bushnell’s columns in the New York Observer but leaves behind the irritating, self-important tone.
Caryn James, New York Times

Related: RT25 First Reviews Flashback: Dawson’s Creek

Beyond the shock value (and how shocking is sex on pay-cable these days?), it’s a hollow shell of a sitcom.
Gail Pennington, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

For all the matter-of-fact heterosexuality of the core foursome of female friends, I find a remarkable commonality across the orientation line: their antics are awfully easy on the lesbian funny bone.
Beth Elliott, Bay Area Reporter

I liked this programme; at least it’s not set in the smooth, psychologically unthreatening world of mainstream TV drama. It’s full of bad people you’re supposed to like, or at least fancy.
William Leith, Observer (UK)

The book had a dark, uneasy edge… The TV series has turned the thing on its head, and made it meaningless.
Ian Parker, Observer (UK)

American television can make foot ulcers and brain-death into moving and funny drama; sex, it can only turn into a vehicle for cheap laughs.
Robert Hanks, The Independent (UK)

We won’t be able to avoid the realization that Sex as we knew it was a lot more fun than it is as [Darren] Star, who persists in seeing all New York as “Central Park West,” knows it.
Michelle Greppi, New York Post

Parker is appealing as always, but watching the show is an empty diversion-like scanning a gossip column about people who don’t exist. Bottom Line: Better you should go out on a date.
Terry Kelleher, People Magazine

Where to Watch: by subscription on Max, Prime Video | buy seasons 1-6 on Vudu, Prime Video, and Apple TV

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