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While many people would argue that escapism isn't the answer to troubled times, right about now, we can't think of anything better than going back in time and catching up with old friends. And more specifically, immersing ourselves in frivolous, moneyed, late-90s New York.
So after our recent dive into the real estate on Sex and the City's debut season, we're back looking at the real estate references in season 2, and it doesn't disappoint (other than some unsettling, outdated views on race and gender, anyway.) While it starts off slow (episode one is mostly about Carrie dating "the new Yankee"), there's plenty of apartment-related grist later on, including Miranda being harassed for buying an apartment, Samantha and Miranda's close-call sexual encounters with their neighbors, and, god help us, a Donald Trump cameo. Let's begin:
While all the women live in the same apartments that we saw in Season 1, we do start to see more of the apartments in their social milieu, and surprise suprise, everyone is filthy rich. (Except poor, sweet Steve with his corduroy suit.)
In "The Awful Truth," Carrie visits her friend Susan Sharon, who has "one of those very adult apartments that made me feel like I was about 16, visting the home of a friend who thought I was a bad influence." She's not wrong: Susan Sharon's husband emerges from the bedroom to scream at Carrie to "get the fuck out." Susan Sharon briefly entertains the idea of divorce, but they're back together by the end of the episode.
Even ensconced as they are in the world of late 90s uber-capitalism, the girls keep learning again and again that an impressive job—or an impressive apartment—isn't necessarily the mark of a desirable partner.
Witness: Samantha goes on a date with "Harrison, a very successful litigator who took steam baths with Ron Perlman and owned an apartment on the 39th floor of Museum Tower." (The cheapest apartment in the MoMA-adjacent condo building is currently asking $1.725 million, for context.)
Harrison also seems to have extra cash on hand for some custom renovations, having turned his bedroom closet into a full-blown S&M chamber:
Samantha flees with him still in chains, on the logic, "The super will find him eventually."
They Shoot Single People, Don't They? is best known for Carrie's horrific "Single and Fabulous?" New York magazine cover, and a cameo by a pre-Hangover fame Bradley Cooper. But it also features a relatable side plot for Charlotte, who panics when she realizes her handyman/out-of-work-actor friend is leaving town, and briefly tries to make a relationship with him work. (Per Carrie, "You can't create a relationship with a guy just because he can caulk your tub!")
Things fizzle by the end of the episode, and Charlotte caves and hires a handyman.
This is probably the most real estate-focused episode of the season, and also arguably the most upsetting. Miranda decides to buy an apartment (seemingly on the Upper West Side), and for her trouble, is barraged with retrograde, sexist nonsense every step of the way.
Her broker keeps pestering her that her final selection is "such a big apartment just for you!", and even tries to set Miranda up with her son. (We've never seen a broker try to talk someone out of a large and presumably expensive apartment, but fine.)
Then, at the closing, she's repeatedly asked if it's "just you," and if "the down payment is coming from your father," and then asked to "check the single woman box" on all her forms. Mercifully, this isn't a box that actually exists on any mortgage paperwork we've ever seen, but is more of an elaborate setup for a gynecologist joke down the road. ("The woman box".... you connect the dots.)
When she complains about the ordeal to the girls over drinks, Carrie (correctly) tells her, "They're threatened. Buying a place alone means you don't need a man."
Enter Charlotte: "That's why I rent. If you own and he still rents, the power structure is all off. It's emasculating." (We love you, Charlotte, but yikes.)
Eventually, Miranda meets the new neighbors, who tell her that the old woman who previously had the apartment died alone, and was eaten by her cats before anyone found her. Then Miranda finds that her closing paperwork has accidentally labeled her as "separated" forcing her to write a humiliating email spelling out in no uncertain terms that she's single, has never been married, and lives by herself. She comes to terms with it in the end, and while she can't fix institutional misogyny, she can definitely hire a less god-awful real estate team the next time around.
After Miranda's apartment-hunt trauma in the previous episode, "the Cheating Curve" is relatively quiet on the housing front, except that we get a glimpse of Mr. Big's classic, doorman-attended lobby, and learn that he lives on the UWS, where Miranda has presumably been hanging out so that when Carrie runs into her after leaving his apartment, she decides to lie about why she's in the area.
Re-visiting season 2, we'd clearly forgotten just how bad things were for Miranda. Here, she finally gets around to decorating her new apartment prompted by the visit of an out-of-town friend with whom she has started up an email flirtation. (Voiceover: "Most single people in Manhattan don't buy furniture or hang pictures until faced with the arrival of an out-of-towner." Accurate.)
She hires a decorator friend of Charlotte's to find a chic sofa bed and other decor, and is rewarded not only with a hideous dancing frog ceramic sculpture, but the decorator swooping in on her friend, and the pair getting engaged within a week. "Everyone says as soon as you get a place of your own, someone will propose," she laments. "I just thought it would be to me." ("The woman at least owes you a mortgage payment," says Carrie.) When Miranda tries to be gracious and throw her friend a going-away party, even her own doorman doesn't recognize her.
The only silver lining in the entire situation is when she re-gifts the dancing frogs as a wedding gift for the happy couple.
If anything about Sex and the City has aged worse than Charlotte's gender politics, it's the show's flirty references to one Donald J. Trump. Here, we see Samantha in an upscale bar, about to be picked up by a septugenarian, with the voiceover, "Samantha, a cosmopolitan, and Donald Trump. You just don't get more New York than that." Yeeowch.
That said, this guy's pickup lines are sort of incredible. He opens by telling Sam, "I was so distracted by your beauty, I think I just agreed to finance Mr. Trump's new project. You owe me $150 million." Then he ups the ante when she refuses his offer to buy her a drink, with, "Can I buy you an island?"
Obviously Samantha is into it—and also into his lavish, old-school townhouse—but ultimately, runs away with a case of fake food poisoning when she catches sight of his bare, aged backside.
Just as watching all of these episodes back-to-back gives us renewed sympathy for Miranda, it also makes it clear how much the writers leaned on the trope of Samantha dating guys with nice apartments, only to realize later that they're gross. Here, she's dating Harvey Turkel, "a real estate investor who had made a killing turning Chelsea sweatshops into luxury co-ops for the upwardly trendy." (On a technical level, this doesn't check out, since the late 90s weren't a big time for co-op conversions, but we digress.)
Apparently his nonsensical investment strategy has served Harvey well enough that he has a full-on servant, a Chinese woman named Sum who hits just about every offensive Asian stereotype we can conceive of.
As with the "woman box," her name is also pretty clearly just a flimsy setup for a joke about how "Sum wasn't so dim after all," when it becomes clear that she's sabotaging Harvey and Samantha's relationship. Moving on.
This episode is also the first and only look we get at Steve's dingy apartment, which he jokes that he "modeled after de Niro's place in taxi driver."
A rare moment of relatability: Carrie discusses the awkward proposition of using the bathroom in a new boyfriend's home, saying "It's tough in New York, apartments are small." Samantha's solution is to "only date rich men. Money means there's enough space to distance yourself from the No. 2." (Though we've seen from the last few episodes how well that one's working out for her.)
Carrie also gets sick of schlepping all her stuff around the city to spend the night at Mr. Big's (again, relatable), and tries to sneakily leave some stuff behind. Unfortunately, she makes the large tactical error of taking up his entire medicine cabinet, and it doesn't go over well. We side with Mr. Big on this one. Real estate—even medicine cabinet real estate—is a luxury.
Charlotte accepts sexually charged foot massages—and free shoes—from a shoe salesman with a foot fetish, justifying the freebies since she's on a budget, saving up for a summer share in the Hamptons.
We also get a quick glimpse at Stanford's apartment as he cruises gay chat rooms under the screenname "Rick9Plus."
Another humiliation for Miranda: she thinks her across-the-air-shaft neighbor is flirting with her, and even eventually flashes him a glimpse of her left breast out of her (questionable) kimono. Unfortunately, when she introduces herself at the grocery store, all she gets is "oh yeah, you're the girl who lives above the guy I've been crusing."
Now it's Samantha's turn for a sexual misadventure with the neighbors. After overhearing her neighbors having sex, Samantha starts taking care of herself, loudly, in tandem with the couple. When she gets a note under her door asking her to join them, she asks the super if they're attractive, and he shrugs and says yes. Suffice it to say when she actually meets them, she doesn't agree.
Another super-famous actor who appeared on the show as a one-episode-only boyfriend: Justin Theroux, who played a short story writer whose family is more charming than he is, in part because they own a huge, beautiful townhouse on the UWS (in this season, the show seems to have had quite a love affair with the neighborhood). Impressively, Carrie has the restraint to break it off in spite of his family's cushy real estate holdings (and charismatic mom).
This is also one of the few glimpses we get of Charlotte's suprisingly spacious eat-in kitchen, when her brother Wesley comes to town and has a one-night stand with Samantha:
By this point, Miranda is desperate enough to try anything, and buys new sheets in hopes that "if my bed is place I want to be, maybe others will feel the same way." ("If you build it, he will come," says Carrie.)
Charlotte also drags everyone to a tantric sex workshop, which, much to their confusion, is held in the instructor's apartment. Once things get graphic, they realize why the whole thing was set up in a private home. In any case, the workshops are apparently doing pretty well, since it's a fairly massive living room.
After Charlotte's acquaintances have a falling-out in their shared Hamptons rental, they offer it to her and her friends at a steep discount. "It's a really cute three-bedroom cottage, and they're giving us a fantastic deal for the month of August!" she tells them at brunch.
Everyone thinks they're too old for a shared summer house with the girls, but Charlotte convinces them. Once they arrive, they find that the towels are mildewed, and as Samantha puts it, the whole place is more "shitty chic" than "shabby chic."
After Charlotte gets crabs and Carrie runs into Mr. Big and his much-younger new girlfriend, everyone leaves the Hamptons early, never to return. But hey, it could be worse. Next season, we have to start putting up with Aidan.
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