Middle age doesn’t happen ‘just like that’
Charlotte is “trying to pass” as younger, says Miranda with disapproval. “There are more important issues in the world than trying to look young,” she scolds. Women do talk about hair and ageing, but they generally do not turn salon choices into grounds for moral condemnation over omelets.
Stuck waiting in a long ladies’ room line in a theatre, Miranda blurts out loudly before a crowd: “I’m 55 and I have to pee,” before heading to the (empty) men’s room. Props to her for feeling free enough to step out of the ladies’ room line. But no midlife people I know think about and announce their own ages like this, as if they’d only just learned how old they were.
The display of age-shock often feels cheap and a little undignified. In another bathroom scene, Charlotte’s husband, Harry, stands at the commode, urinating for an inordinately long (and loud) interlude. When Charlotte expresses dismay, Harry extols his urological health, invoking his own advanced years: “A lotta men my age can’t pull off a stream like this.” We are further reminded of Harry’s age (and excretory systems) when Charlotte loudly books his colonoscopy appointment over her cellphone — in a cafe, and mentions it several more times later.
It’s true that people over 50 get colonoscopies, and you could even mine this for some meaningful comedy or human drama. But merely name-checking “colonoscopy” as if it were itself a punchline turns it into another item on a laundry list of cliched “middle-aged woes.
Continuing the potty humour, after Carrie’s hip surgery (which offers occasion for much more “old lady” and “senior citizen” commentary), an extended sequence involves Charlotte awkwardly maneuvering her on and off a hospital toilet and monitoring Carrie’s urine flow.
That scene cuts directly to a discussion between Miranda and her new love interest, nonbinary Che (Carrie’s podcast boss) about the latter’s diverticulosis. (Even Che, hipper and a decade younger than the others, is not exempted from plumbing problems.)
Rather than illuminate the texture and richness of midlife, AJLT seems intent upon merely pointing at it from a noncomprehending, slightly mocking distance. And for a show that built its reputation on the frank discussion of physical taboos, why is there no mention of the universal challenges of menopause — or its male counterpart, andropause?
One of the highlights of SATC was the characters’ long-standing friendship, their deep bonds and history. This could easily provide a wealth of material for the remake, and at times it does — as in scenes where Miranda lovingly comforts a grief-stricken Carrie.
At other times, though, the peculiar “age-othering” impedes more natural exchanges. When Miranda spots Carrie seated outdoors on the Columbia campus, for example, she calls out: “I see you! You’re the only 55-year-old on the university steps!” — an odd, age-fetishising way to describe your best friend of decades. (Also, universities have plenty of older people.)
When Harry greets Miranda’s husband Steve with “What’s new?” the once-boyish and playful bartender, now sort of blank and inexpressive, can only come up with: “I got hearing aids. I’m an old-timer now.” Miranda then helpfully chimes in with specific medical details.
Old friends do not greet each other like this. And while middle-aged men often experience hearing loss, they tend not to announce this fact before saying “hello” or to define themselves with this physical ailment.
Overall, such interactions offer a cartoonish view of middle-age, which pushes it all the way to old age (and a stereotypical view of that as well). “The show depicts 50-something people as if they were actually old already, not middle-aged,” said Jamy Buchanan Madeja, 60, an environmental law practitioner and adjunct professor at Northeastern University School of Law.
The series does try to grapple with the many issues of getting older: loss, death, strained marriages, changing sexual appetites and an unease with new social mores. This aspect of AJLT can be highly relatable: “I do identify with the questioning around what you need from a long-term relationship,” said Jennifer Brinkman, chief of staff to the mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska. “I myself am going through a divorce at age 50.”
And, she added: “I have definitely experienced awkward moments, like those of Miranda and Charlotte, that reveal how I don’t have the ease of language my children and co-workers have related to our society’s evolving gender and sexuality spectrum. But I want to!”
Yet so much more could be done with this group of older best friends and their beloved hometown. “Sex and the City” resonated with audiences because, whatever its flaws, it valued and found delectation in women’s adventurous spirit — whether channelled into the thrills of love and sex, friendship, fashion and beauty, or the sheer pleasure of New York City itself. AJLT could easily find age-adapted equivalents of these for the group to enjoy.
There are real benefits that attend this stage of life: enhanced self-confidence; knowing your own mind; the soul-nourishing connection and, yes, uproarious fun and laughter to be found in relationships (with friends, lovers, family) that have deepened with time. Midlife can also be prime years for professional success and achievement.
But in the first several episodes, AJLT shows vanishingly few of these perks, focusing instead on the characters’ decline, confusion and cultural estrangement. And very little seems to remain of any of the group’s careers.
What’s more, for all the focus on growing physically old, the show’s protagonists often behave with curious immaturity. Many viewers have been perplexed, for example, by Carrie’s reaction upon discovering Big slumped over, but still conscious, after his heart attack. Rather than call the paramedics or fetch his medication, Carrie falls to the floor, half-smothering Big with her hair.
As Castro said: “If one finds one’s husband collapsed but still alive, does one not call 911 immediately? Carrie’s behavior was so baffling to me.” Baffling, and weirdly passive and ineffectual — almost like a child’s. Charlotte, too, seems less than adult, crying so theatrically while helping plan Big’s funeral that Carrie sends her home in a taxi.
“One still hopes, even on television, that women with a certain influence would be playing a more powerful role in their own circumstances. I can’t imagine the same stagnation for men,” said Hollis Robbins, 58, the dean of arts and humanities at Sonoma State University.
And why does Miranda choose to launch her new erotic relationship with Che — orgasming at the top of her lungs — in Carrie’s kitchen, with Carrie in the next room? Isn’t loud, thoughtless sex within earshot of others precisely what her teen son Brady is guilty of? (And what about Miranda’s historic disapproval of adultery, back when husband Steve was the offending party?) It all feels discordantly adolescent.
Stagnation in time is actually a core problem in AJLT. When Carrie finds herself too upset to stay in her empty home after Big’s death, she decamps to her former apartment, which she leaves the next morning dressed in something likely unearthed in her old closet: a floor-length white tulle tutu. Devotees of SATC will find this skirt familiar — it resembles very closely the one Carrie wore in the original SATC series finale, when Big follows her to Paris to commit to her, finally.
A big, poofy white tutu is the antithesis of widow’s weeds. It visually resituates our hero back in her glory days. (She wore a shorter white tutu in the original show’s opening credits.) We understand why Carrie might want to wear it now, as a sartorial antidote to the loss of Big. At the same time, though, the tutu looks a bit “off” on her — age-inappropriate and out of fashion. We see people staring at it on the street.
It feels as if the show’s creators are still grasping for ways to develop their now-older characters in believable, interesting ways — to “dress” them appropriately for their time and place. And so, like Carrie in her throwback tutu, they wind up reminding us all too starkly of the passage of time, in an incongruous, off-kilter way.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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