This was supposed to be a eulogy, but the hand may have just popped out of the grave, the way it did in that other story about a girl named Carrie. There’s something unsettling about the news that Michael Patrick King, “Sex and the City’s” executive producer and the show’s trusty engine the last few years, is working on a big-screen adaptation that will “pick up where the series leaves off,” as HBO says. It’s unsettling because, well, where does the series plan to leave off?
Don’t look for the answer here, because the series finale of “Sex and the City,” which airs at 9 p.m. Sunday, was not available in advance for review. In fact, news about a possible movie coda surfaced Wednesday, while King was still busy editing the last episode. Is “Sex and the City” suddenly flirting with an open-ended conclusion? Are the network, the producers and the cast -- all of whom, for more than a year now, have been preparing us for the end as nice grown-ups prepare a small child for its sick pet’s impending demise -- experiencing a bad case of ender’s remorse?
Fans have been mourning and girding themselves for the end. Despite often clumsy dialogue and radical departures from reality, the show’s writers turned out arguably the only television series in recent memory to treat modern romance in any sort of true-to-life way. And there is some not inconsiderable pleasure in the wallowing.
Has this anguish been in vain? Think of it this way: Once your beloved pet is in the ground, you don’t want to feel it rubbing against your leg under the kitchen table, though none of this should stop millions from storming the gates of the local multiplex the instant the movie hits the screen. King could write a puppet show starring Carrie’s shoe collection and, no matter how many groan-inducing puns it contained, tickets would sell like battery-powered space heaters on a mission to Mt. Everest.
A surprising number of my own friends have confessed to spending a disproportionate amount of time thinking about the end. What will happen to Carrie? How will the writers decide? Will they satisfy the romantic fantasies they’ve stoked for six seasons, or dash them, as they have also done, consistently and simultaneously?
“Sex and the City” began six seasons ago as a campy existential treatise on the death of romantic love. Unlike most comedies, the show never let go of that thread. Even as the lifestyles the characters led, their wardrobes and their personality traits remained outside the realm of the realistic, the series held to the kind of emotional honesty that usually makes TV turn away. It uncovered a depth in the characters and their stories that were not even hinted at in the beginning.
It was as if the clothes, the bars, the parties were the candy that came with the spinach. As the seasons wore on, “Sex and the City” started to look more like a Chekhov play wrapped in a fashion magazine.
The characters, which began as single-trait caricatures, deepened as time went on, ultimately avoiding the fate of so many long-running sitcom characters, which tend to migrate in the opposite direction. As sitcoms like “Friends” and “Frasier” approach the end, their characters have started to seem as if they are rooting around desperately for something to do.
“Sex and the City,” on the other hand, has never avoided the consequences of its characters’ past actions. The past haunts them around every corner. The show has remained staunchly, stubbornly true to this principle -- so much that I think it has used the “Carrie never wears the same outfit twice” trick as a sop. In keeping with this principle, King announced last year that viewers should not expect a Brady Bunch-style quadruple wedding in Central Park. Yet two of the characters were quietly and serenely married off in the manner of demure Jane Austen heroines, and a third, the confirmed bachelorette Samantha, entered a serious, long-term relationship.
This is, I suspect, what is making viewers nervous. Carrie -- the show’s own Elizabeth Bennet -- meanwhile, has suffered three, possibly four, crushing disappointments in quick succession, and nobody is really sure how many more she -- or we -- can take. Had the series continued, you might half expect her apartment to suffer a locust infestation. Whether or not the writers want to take a stand, fans of the show want to know, and they want to know this Sunday: Is there a love god or not?
In the penultimate episode last Sunday, a fairy-princess Carrie put on an enormous feathered gown to await her prince, who showed up too late. The garment -- which would not have fit into any suitcase on Earth, and which could have funded the next mission to Mars -- finally sent the series into full fairy-tale mode. Like any fairy tale worth its salt, “Sex and the City” has always had a dark underside that not even a fairy-tale ending can undo. The abductions, the apple-induced comas, the indentured servitude, the abusive stepparents, won’t be undone by the ending.
But an ending is required, even for those who don’t love it anymore. It just better not be a Brady Bunch movie in Central Park.