Monday, March 30, 2009


I'm a bit late to the party, but I just started watching the BBC America dramedy, Mistresses. If you have a chance, I recommend it highly.

Inspired by the iconic American show, Sex and the City, Mistresses moves the story to London, and improves on the original. The British show is more engaging, and much better acted. In the end it makes SATC look dated, even frivolous.

Like me most reviewers prefer Mistresses, but Heather Havrilesky, writing on, declared that SATC was the better of the two.

In fairness, Havrilesky is surely closer to the target demographic of the show, but when she declares that SATC allows its characters to grow and to develop, even to have moral depth, she is merely revealing the kind of spell the show has cast.

People loved SATC because there were no moral complexities mucking up the works. The show says that you can live you life as you please, and that you will be rescued by a Prince Charming, has ignored serious moral issues.

SATC was a creature of its times. It took place in a New York City that no longer exists. Its characters enjoyed a Gilded Age where money was abundant, where people did not have to work very hard to acquire it, where shoes were the Holy Grail, and where work responsibilities never interfered with lunch.

In SATC young women were constantly sharing embarrassing secrets, as though they had no privacy or intimacy that they wanted to keep for themselves.

I cannot imagine where they ever got the idea that saying whatever came to mind, no matter the consequences, was the way to conduct a friendship or relationship, but surely it is a caricature of what really goes on when people connect.

Sad to have to say it, but Katie, Trudi, Siobhan, and Jessica make Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda look like cartoons.

You would not want to be friends with Carrie and her three musketeers. You would feel that you could connect with the women on Mistresses.

Not only are the SATC characters are empty and unserious. Their emotions are histrionic, put on and taken off like so many designer outfits. To try another metaphor, their emotions sound like leftovers from a bad method acting class.

It is not just about aesthetics, or about taste. SATC became a cultural phenomenon, to the point that its characters became role models for young women, representing the best that contemporary life had to offer.

Women were winning new freedoms and new opportunities, and many of them were somewhat lost. To find their bearings and to understand the new rules many of them turned to this television show.

To their detriment. Not only because no one should ever fashion her life on a fictional character, but because these characters do not present an accurate picture of the lives of young women.

New freedoms, good. New opportunities, great. But the show never seemed to imagine that these also implied new conflicts and new responsibilities.

When real women faced real-life complications, SATC had nothing to say to them.

To me the women of SATC seem like overgrown adolescents, girls who simply do not want to grow up and conduct themselves as responsible adults. Or perhaps they merely represented an adolescent's view of adulthood.

I grant that the plots of Mistresses are worthy of a soap opera. But at least they have plots. Katie and her friends act like adults. They engage in complicated, even sordid liaisons, but they always grasp the moral complexity of the situations, and are assumed to have made an informed decision.

No one is trying to tell anyone what to do and what not to do. We are trying to say that actions have consequences and entail risks, and if an adult weighs the risks and chooses one or another path... then at least the decision and the experience are hers.

If, however, she has learned from SATC to flit from one experience to another, without giving the matter very much thought, without thinking that there are real people involved, driven by a hope that she will be rescued by a Prince Charming... then the show has done her a disservice.

The soap operas of Mistresses dramatize moral conflicts. SATC ignores them. Both Katie on Mistresses and Samantha on SATC are in their late 40s. They both have torrid affairs with much younger men. More power to them.

Katie gets involved in a sordid melodrama, but at least her situation dramatizes the complexity of her choice. If you look at the movie sequel to SATC you will see Samantha retired to lotus land with her ever-loving, ever solicitous young beau.

In their ways, both plot lines are unrealistic. Yet the one on Mistresses encourages us to think about relationships as occurring between human beings. The one on SATC allows us to think that cartoons might actually come to life.

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