Sex and the City. Deborah Jermyn. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2009. 126 pp. $15.95 pbk.
Good things come in small packages. Part of the TV Milestones Series published by Wayne State University Press, Sex and the City, by Deborah Jermyn, is a five-by-seven-inch book that deserves a spot on any bookshelf devoted to cultural studies, media, and women's issues.
Jermyn's study includes an introduction ("Four Women and a City") and four deceptively brief chapters, "Making Sex and the City: 'Authorship' and Ensemble Television Production," "'You See Us, Manhattan? We Have It All!': Sex and the City, Women, and Television Comedy," "New York Stories: Representation and the City in Sex and the City," and "Goodnight, Ladies: The Legacy of Sex and the City."
Although being a fan of popular culture can keep a scholar from achieving critical distance, Jermyn's immersion in Sex and the City (SATC) instead contributes humorous, lively, and provocative prose and a worthy critical study of the wildly popular and controversial HBO series. A senior lecturer in film and television studies at Roehampton University in London, Jermyn teaches courses in contemporary Hollywood, fictional forms, film history and criticism, and the representation of women, all of which energize her analysis of SATC and explain her decision to place the television series in a broad cultural and historical context.
With degrees in film, literature, television, and cultural studies, Jermyn is in her element, assessing SATC's critical and popular success and predicting its cultural impact in a study that was published five years after the final episode aired. Jermyn unpacks her favorite episodes and evaluates existing criticism without showing her hand: at no point do readers slog through anything resembling a lit review. Jermyn's interviews with stars and producers and her references to existing SATC bus tours, fan guides, and Web sites further brighten the analysis.
Jermyn weaves three major threads throughout the book: First, she reminds the reader of the expansiveness, popularity, and reach of SATC, which ran from 1998 to 2004 without losing its loyal following. In spite of the fact that the series aired on a subscription cable network, the show maintained its viewership until the February 22, 2004, finale, when 10.5 million tuned in.
Second, Jermyn analyzes the show's major themes, including consumerism, femininity, feminism, sexuality, and women's choices. "The fragmented social scene evoked by [creator Candace] Bushnell was unfailingly cruel, superficial, and harsh, and often particularly unforgiving of women," writes Jermyn, who argues that Bushnell's "cutting social critique" made possible comparisons between the New York socialite and literary giants such as Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Edith Wharton.
SATC is based upon Bushnell's column in the New York Observer, her 1996 book by the same title, and her career and personal relationships. "It wasn't long before Carrie was understood to be Bushnell's alter ego and Mr. Big as her one-time boyfriend and former publisher of Vogue, Ron Galotti," Jermyn writes. …