A cleaner ‘Sex’ for syndication

Times Staff Writer

Tonight TBS unveils its expurgated “Sex and the City” reruns as part of a new-to-them comedy lineup. Brand-new viewers will be lured with five nights of fizzy, mid-run highlights before settling in to the somewhat more sober early episodes. But, of course, you know this, since speculation about making the famously racy show basic-cable-friendly has been almost as giddy as the flap that followed Janet Jackson’s deviant flap.

The idea to cut the sex out of “Sex and the City” seemed at first so absurd as to inspire fantasies of “Godzilla”-style dubbing and nonsensical jump cuts. No such luck: planning ahead for future syndication, HBO filmed alternate scenes and had the cast replace particularly naughty lines. Still, editing the show was evidence, surely, of a particularly American brand of prudery reduced to absurdity: reduce offending object to its parts, remove the objectionable elements, profit from resulting meaningless mess.

The first week’s greatest hits lineup circumvents the darker, more jaded tone of the first episodes. One of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha’s more singular traits, as regular viewers of the show know, was their ability to become less cynical and refractory, more bubbly and optimistic, over time. Will their new, only slightly abridged lives on basic cable be evidence of the same quality in viewers?


This more demure version arrives on the crest of yet another wave of frothy political sputum recently whipped into peaks after a couple of predictably vulgar pop stars interacted with a mass audience in a politically expedient inappropriate manner. The show lands on TBS just a few months after FCC Chairman Michael Powell expressed a desire for Congress to expand his purview to include basic cable channels, hoping to subject it to the same set of indecency rules that regulate broadcast TV.

So, is “Sex and the City” decent now that it has been defanged? That depends, in part, on whether one is offended by certain words or certain lives. As it turns out, the trimmed-up episodes are not so terribly different from the originals. In fact, it’s not inherently clear that these sanitized versions would pass muster with the FCC, which seems bent on defining indecency in as broad and blob-like a way as possible. This urge to purge could eventually require removing depictions of offending lifestyles altogether, which would no doubt please the more vocal conservative groups.

If there were as much traction behind the so-called “culture wars” as these groups would have the public believe, then the new “Sex and the City” -- recut, redubbed and all -- could be in trouble down the line anyway. But that’s unlikely. Fantasy shoe budgets and endless brunches aside, the show reflects certain modern realities that few Americans would question.

In the first episode airing on TBS -- the one in which Carrie appears in a fashion show -- little has changed except the scenes featuring Margaret Cho. Cho plays the fashion show’s organizer, and in this version, she gets through the ordeal without a single expletive. Such uncontaminated speech coming from such a person at such a time would be unrealistic. Coming from Cho it’s surreal.

Censor-coddling excisions such as these are simple enough to transact, and not nearly as Draconian as might have been expected. Much of what is permissible on TBS even after the sanitation process is still unprintable in this paper. Suffice it to say the four friends don’t have to resort to too many tortured euphemisms or Latinate terms. In fact, making Samantha (the raunchiest one of all) swap one transitive verb for a slightly less Germanic one actually helps her sound more plausible.

Cuts notwithstanding “Sex and the City” with a little less sex is still basically the same show -- albeit without some of the squeal-inducing moments that made it over-the-top fun. It’s slightly more melancholy, a little wistful, a tad less unrepentant. One of the more implausible moments has a fireman yelling, “Get the frig out of my friggin’ gear!” But at least that highlights the priggishness, dishonesty and tortured logic of the euphemism. So maybe that’s a good thing.


“Sex and the City” was never about dirty words and physical acts anyway. It was a six-year philosophical disquisition, with good clothes and bad puns. And that thing in the title? It was war plans, corporate strategy, post-game analysis, life. Gosh darn it.


‘Sex and the City’

Where: TBS

When: 10 p.m. today through Saturday, two episodes each night. Starting June 22, two episodes 10 p.m. Tuesdays with encores 10 p.m. Wednesdays.

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

Sarah Jessica Parker...Carrie

Kim Cattrall...Samantha

Cynthia Nixon...Miranda

Kristin Davis...Charlotte

Created by Darren Star. Executive producers are Michael Patrick King, Cindy Chupack, John Melfi and Jenny Bicks.