HBO // 2003 // 540 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // June 4th, 2003
"Which comes first, the chicken or the sex?"
The fourth season of Sex and the City is here, and Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha are back to spend more time in the city and live a chaste and virtuous lifestyle. Okay, not actually -- they have some sex from time to time.
But that's just fine with us.
"Every day, millions of people suffer from monogamy. There is no known cure."
So says Carrie Bradshaw in the fourth season of Sex and the City, and a very astute observation it is. The show needs little introduction; it is now quite the cultural phenomenon, with a feverous fan base. Women flock to the show in droves because they can relate to Carrie and her friends and find them to be excellent role models for their lives, or because they are secretly envious of the lifestyle that Carrie and her friends have, unable or unwilling to personally live such a lifestyle.
Guys love the show because their girlfriends/wives love the show. Also, pretty girls get semi-naked from time to time.
Sex and the City chronicles the life of acclaimed sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw and her three friends -- Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha, as they live their lives in New York City trying to find a balance between personal relationships and lots of good sex, and the challenge of juggling the two together. Moving between moments of sexual absurdity and profound realism, the show is a cross-section of the modern day realities -- both real and mythological -- of single women in North American society, of women coming into social and sexual maturity simultaneously.
In the fourth season, things are moving along for Carrie and her friends, and many questions left hanging from last season begin to fall into place. Will acclaimed sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw and "Big" get back together? If so, what about Aidan and Carrie? Will Charlotte and Trey live happily ever after? Will Samantha and Miranda ever commit to anything that even resembles a lasting relationship? Also, let's not forget -- Miranda is going to have a baby -- what will this mean to the four girls and their constant pursuit of...the things that they pursue?
The 18 episodes are spread across three discs, which is a lot of Sex and the City goodness -- over 540 minutes, to be exact. These uncut episodes cover the entire fourth season, and complement the already released first, second, and third season, but chances are, anybody buying this season already has those discs, and at the very least, they will look very lovely beside one another on your shelf.
Like the previous Sex and the City DVD releases, the packaging is made out of a transparent tinted plastic, each season tinted a different color, with the discs visible through the outside of the box. This design is striking enough to look fairly unique, and it is something you notice before you even get to play the darn thing, which is always a nice point. Some people do not give a second thought to the packaging of a DVD, but considering that you are going to be shelling out some change for it, it never hurts to have it look good, too. Frustratingly, the discs are bolted in by a ridiculously effective locking mechanism that involves a team of 16 stout men, a small university grant, and a crowbar to extract safely from the packaging, albeit sharp looking and cool translucent packaging. There is no feeling worse than trying to coax a piece of plastic out of another piece of plastic, with your disc bending and swaying at odd angles the engineers never conceived of during their construction. I actually managed to put a gigantic gouge in the second disc of the set just trying to remove it from the case, scraping it against the corners of the locking mechanism. As a reviewer and a purveyor of opinion and suggestion, I suggest not doing this.
For the technologically savvy crowd, the discs are "Interactive PC Friendly" titles, which is a fancy multimedia-enabled disc that tries to install special DVD software on your computer that links to the web, offering a multimedia viewing experience to dazzle the mind and thrill the soul. Eager for such an experience, I popped the first disc into my computer.
Eight minutes later, after some frantic scraping and grinding noises on the part of my DVD drive, my computer spat the disc out without a further word of explanation. As a reviewer and a purveyor of opinion and suggestion, it is my opinion that this feature sucks.
The video quality is, well...not the greatest. The show looks as good as the show has always looked, which was never very good in the first place.
Now, I do not wish to imply that the visual quality of the discs themselves are poor -- the quality of the discs is more than superior to any broadcast quality picture received in the average, non-high definition home. However, with an improved image source comes an improved ability to detect defects in the original image source -- and frankly, the show did not look great to begin with.
The DVD suffers from a serious graininess issue, and the definition is very blurred and soft. Close examinations of frames reveal noticeable drops in contrast and clarity, with heavily grainy images and washed out levels of detail. This is especially noticeable during shots in low light, even to the naked, un-zoomed eye. Colors are well represented, but very oddly balanced; primary colors are represented extremely strong, with the reds in particular having a nasty way of overwhelming the visual of a given shot, and occasionally bleed around.
I almost feel bad for nitpicking on the visual quality of a television show with the same set of criteria as a motion picture, but previous seasons of the show suffered from grainy image issues as well, and I feel it is worth mentioning.
However, in the show's defense, the visual quality is more than acceptable, and absolutely an improvement over the quality of the broadcast. While important observations they are, they should not deter any fan of the show whatsoever from purchasing the DVDs (trying to pry your DVDs out of the case should do that for you).
The sound quality is very good, and audio sound clear and crisp and free from distortion. In terms of mixing, everything is where it should be. The Dolby 2.0 Surround mix sounds very clean, with dialogue mixed heavily to the front center channels, which is just perfect for a television show. Everything is coherent, and dialogue is never muddled or faded.
Included on the disc are three audio commentaries by writer/executive producer Michael Patrick King on three separate episodes, a cast/filmmakers list, a season review (a nifty feature -- episode summaries for the entire season on each disc, which is handy when trying to remember which episode is which -- no switching discs), an awards/nominations list, previews for each individual episode (also a nifty feature -- these are the 30-second television promo spots for each episode, which again helps with episode sorting) and, finally, special DVD-ROM features, which gave my computer heart palpitations.
The features as a whole are a standard offering, and nothing to get exited about, but they balance out nicely. The audio commentaries, for example, are fairly straightforward and bland, but the episode previews and season review features are downright useful and practical and make for great features for television DVD sets.
Technical, packaging-related, and visual nitpicking issues aside, this is a show with an astonishingly strong and dedicated fan base -- which I think is well deserved. Admittedly, I am not the target audience for the show, but the show can be awfully funny. Damn funny at times. Gut-bustlingly funny, even. Occasionally callous and downright disgusting, yes, but still funny.
Speaking in all seriousness, Sex and the City could be the most archetypal sitcom in the history of television ("sitcom" in the pejorative sense -- as in, a "situation comedy").
You have the city, and sex. Lots of sex. A tremendous amount of it, really -- an amazing, astonishing, mind-numbing amount of it, more often than not. You watch the show, and think, "Holy cow, are they having sex again? And who is that guy? He wasn't the same guy from before, was he?"
Like all great television shows, the premise is kept simple, and the success of the show comes from the chemistry and interaction between the characters. Given its risqué subject matter, were it not for the tremendous talent of the cast, this is a show that would have crashed and burned a hundred times over already.
The episodes on this DVD set are very amusing and entertaining, but more importantly, very well-written -- it is unique for a long-running television show to be able to pull off the trick of having each episode in itself a self-contained microcosm of structure and plot and catharsis, but still manage to be part of a long-running story and direction. One of the draws to the show is that you could can pick an episode at random and enjoy it, completely on its own merits, without having seen the previous episodes before it. It stands on its own as a successful work, as well as an entry in a body of work.
The quality of acting performance and chemistry between the cast members is truly top notch, and given the numerous awards and nominations lauded upon the show, this comes as no shock. Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, and Cynthia Nixon have fallen into a wonderful groove by this fourth season that all good veteran television shows fall into and manage to pull off all the right moves consistently. HBO finally seems to have a consistent knack (Arli$$ -- 'nuff said) for creating quality television shows and giving them the support they deserve to keep growing and expanding creatively.
Whether you love it or hate it, the show has had a cultural impact and deserves to be respected -- if only for managing to push the boundaries of what a television show can actually get away with (the solution, it seems, is to have your show on cable), pulling gags and stunts that other shows could never even hint at.
An example, you say? There is a great episode on this DVD devoted almost entirely to the subject of balls. Men's balls. And not the kind that bounce.
At least, not the kind that should bounce. If they do, you may need a trip to the doctor. Or the psychiatrist.
Anyway -- balls; and their importance to women and men, but also, what to do when you don't have any -- prosthetics, and the like.
Now that's comedy.
Since this is a rebuttal, I admit it; I actually don't mind Arli$$. I watched it a few times in a hotel room, and found it pretty amusing. But then again, I have a thing for Sandra Oh. Us Canadians gotta stick together.
Wait, hold on; I got confused. We're talking about Sex and the City.
The series can get pretty tiresome at times. Watching four people having wild sex and then prattling mindlessly about it in a coffee shop is like watching Seinfeld while the cast overdoses on Viagra. The packaging, while cool looking, is absolutely humiliating to deal with, and having a sophisticated debate with the protective casing for a DVD, "asking" its permission to view the dang disc is just stupid. How much damage does HBO think we are going to subject our DVDs to?
If I went backpacking, hiking, hang gliding, mountain climbing, and whitewater rafting all in an afternoon with nothing but my Sex and the City DVDs, I would be kissing the hand of the president of the network, I can assure you. But unless this is your average day, trust me -- you are just going to be pissed off.
In a legal decision, facts are facts -- and the fact remains that this is a great television show. Regardless of your gender, sexual preferences, or how gosh darn uptight you are, Sex and the City skillfully blends excellent characters and acting into situations of comedic drama and sexual comedy, and its widespread influence has inadvertently expanded the boundaries of conventional television. In terms of the show as a series, there are some heavy-duty developments that unfold in the fourth season, and fans of the show should not miss out on this DVD.
Casual viewers would be better off with the first season, of course, and there are those who will be bothered by the relative graininess of the video image, but issues aside, this is still a recommended DVD.
However, if you do get your hands on Sex and the City: The Complete Fourth Season, I suggest getting the discs out once, keeping them in cheap CD jewel cases and putting the sharp-looking translucent packaging on proud display on your DVD shelf, where they can look good all day, and never restrain access to your discs again.
The accused is hereby released, and found innocent of all charges.
However, a note shall be added in the permanent record, cautioning about the DVD casing, with a footnote about the visual quality of the episodes in question.
Class dismissed! Er -- I mean, court.
Review content copyright © 2003 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 540 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentaries by Michael Patrick King on Three Episodes
* Cast/Filmmakers List
* Season Review
* Awards/Nominations List
* Promo Spots for Each Episode
* DVD-ROM Features
* Official Site (HBO)
* The Sex and the City Quiz