The critics are calling it "Safe Sex and the City," or "Censored Sex and the City," sometimes "Subtler Sex and the City," or even "McSex and the City." The wildly popular HBO sitcom has moved from subscription into syndication to basic cable, which has more delicate taste in graphic sexuality, if we concede that television has taste. Syndication depends on advertisers, who depend on a more conservative audience.
The sitcom won't air during the family hour - such as still exists. But, thanks to careful nips and tucks to eliminate the grosser obscenities and full-frontal nudity, the 94 episodes will qualify for a rating of TV-14, instead of X, from the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board. A TV-14 rating, in case you're wondering, means the new "Sex" episodes may still feature, according to the monitoring board's standards, "intense sexual situations, strong coarse language, or intensely suggestive dialogue." The board, after all, isn't a collection of prudes.
Extracting the sex could have brought 94 episodes down to nine, but the editors were not so radical. In our sex-saturated culture, editing is more a cosmetic cover-up to tease an audience into thinking that what they're seeing and hearing is not really what they're seeing and hearing. Not much is missing. Unfortunately, there are no creative changes that might have replaced graphic sex with delicious fadeouts, the tree branches beating against the window or flames crackling in the fireplace as the theme music swells. The romantic movies of a more sophisticated era depended on the imagination of the audience.
For all its sexual abandonment, however, episodes of "Sex and the City" were mini-morality plays of contemporary sexuality. Beneath the bravado of "anything goes" there was a muted desire for something better, the familiar urgent desire to turn Mr. Maybe into Mr. Right, to link mating with monogamy. We watched the four female characters become angry, frustrated and sad at the way their men treated them. Their obsession with stylish shoes turned the Cinderella story upside down as the glass slipper morphed into one Manolo Blanik original after another, unsubsidized by any prince.