There are lots of kinds of women in Aaron Sorkin television shows: the grating female flight attendant who oppresses passengers by telling them to turn off their phones; the professional women we’re told are hyper-competent, but who spend a lot of time melting down; the adorable newcomer to any situation. All of those were present in Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, which also featured a woman in the gossip-girly-industrial complex (TMI columnist Nina) and one guilty enough to consume its products, Sex and the City fan, Lisa.
Lisa (Kelen Coleman) is the best friend of young producer Maggie (Alison Pill) and girlfriend of slightly older producer Jim (John Gallagher Jr.), and has basically been a bit player throughout the season. But on Sunday, The Newsroom spent a surprising amount of its finale on her love of Sex and the City, and the episode was a strange reminder of the ways in which that show, which contributed greatly to HBO’s revitalization but never quite gets the credit that The Sopranos does, is misremembered.
In the finale, Jim considers taking a Sex and the City bus tour as a way of learning more about Lisa’s interests. Meanwhile, Lisa and Maggie meet for dinner nearby, a get-together that ends in a fight when Maggie reveals that she thinks Jim is actually interested in her. As Maggie chases Lisa into the street, she’s splashed by a bus full of tourists on the SATC tour, and loses her cool at the tour guide, hollering:
I’m the typical single woman in New York City. I don’t wear heels to work because the typical woman’s job doesn’t exclusively involve gallery openings. And I know Carrie must’ve made boatloads writing her 800-word column for some newspaper nobody’s ever heard of, but I just spent my last seven dollars having a bite with my best friend who, by the way, is not available at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday to console me about some guy because she, too, has a job, and mostly when you fall for a guy and he’s going out with your best friend, it doesn’t work out, and things get really sad.
While factually true, Maggie’s speech entirely misses the thing that made Sex and the City powerful and compelling: The show was an intentional fantasy. When the series began, Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte, all in their 30s, were celebrating Samantha’s 40th birthday. The show wasn’t an argument that life for young women in New York actually was like the characters’—though Sex and the City critics have always underestimated the extent to which the show was realistic about issues like work-life balance and friendship—but that it was fun to fantasize about growing up to have a job you loved that would let you be secure enough to own a nice apartment and some really divine shoes. That’s actually a shockingly modest aspiration, but over the years it produced a lot of clucking from people who didn’t like the dream. Apparently there’s nothing wrong with wanting lots of money if you use it to buy suits of armor and hire booth babes for your tech company’s annual meetings a la Tony Stark, but for a woman to dream of the updated equivalent of a room of one’s own and clothes to fill it marks her as hopelessly frivolous.
The Newsroom’s finale even went so far as to suggest that following the Carrie Bradshaw dream—to make money off of so-called lighter topics like relationships and gossip as opposed to serious news—can only lead to loneliness and moral regret. After spending much of the season tormenting Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) with tossed drinks and nasty stories in TMI, Nina (Hope Davis) got religion in this episode, confessing to Will’s producer and love interest MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer) that she wants to change her life and stop writing gossip after the phone hacking she’s been using to fuel her reporting turns up a passionate confession of love Will left on Mac’s voicemail. Their idealism and attachment apparently makes Nina realize that, like the Grinch, her heart is two sizes too small, and that she’s been wasting her time demonizing a good man. The montage explicitly references the recurring image of Carrie Bradshaw writing in the front window of her adorable brownstone apartment, with Nina at her computer in the window of her relatively bare apartment, in the dark.
The thing that’s funny about The Newsroom’s sour approach to Sex and the City is that they both center on will-they-or-won’t-they love affairs. Will and Mac started the season arguing about their long-dead relationship. The death of Osama bin Laden was an opportunity for the show to heighten its love triangles as much as it was to showcase the News Night team’s approach to reporting. But apparently that’s okay when the people who are obsessing about their romantic lives are validating their existences in other, more substantive ways that Aaron Sorkin approves of, like yelling about the Tea Party on television for a living, or going on air apocalyptically stoned. It’s those shallow ladies, who talk about sexual pleasure, and money, and monogamy over brunch who are b.s. Because The Newsroom is clearly the real thing.