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Fictional friends broke TV taboos

LOVE it, hate it or completely ambivalent to it, Sex and the City is still the benchmark when talking about depictions of love, sex and relationships.

The show was never about sex or the city - it was about friendship, it fetishised female friendship. Its girl gang was aspirational, rather than admirable. It was the Yiddish proverb "your friends are God's apology for your relations" televised.

Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress who played columnist and fashionista Carrie, said in an interview this week: "I like to remember that Carrie and the other women in Sex and the City were really nice to each other. It's kind of surprising to say, but in a way it was a more innocent time."

The show finished in 2004. Was it a more innocent time? Or was it just that the show presented idealised notions of female friendship rather than the real thing, the real messy, complicated, insecure and wonderful real thing?

Popular culture's task is to identify a gap in the lexicon and give a name to it, gifting a universal code with which to talk about our experiences. Sex and the City did that for young women, for their friendships and relationships. We learned the language in that unusual situation, that of being able to eavesdrop on what other women say in the bosom of each other.

It also gave young women something other than dresses to aim for. Parker is right, the Sex and the City friendships were largely glossy and warm, as real to life's friendships as the notion that so many designer shoes are easily attainable.

Carrie had her inseparable band of four, making women who had only one or two besties - or a splintered mob of one-here and one-there - feel inadequate. They would bustle to each other in the heat of crisis for a face-to-face emergency meeting, making those who send a text message feel inadequate.

Carrie and her gal gang made female friends the priority, even if the show's protagonists occasionally put mistas before sistas. While I didn't particularly like the women, I wanted my friendships like this - unconditional and honest and regularly round a table sharing food.

The SATC foursome broke taboos - and I don't mean those taboos. Carrie is the first woman I can think of to float the notion of a Gift List for singles, that we spend money on weddings and childrens' presents with nothing in return; a fairly revolutionary notion. Ditto Samantha and her proud proclamation that she was 45 and didn't give a hoot. Mulling it over, I can't think of a single time they spoke about their weight.

The show's friendships were farcical and cliched and a little bit rubbish among the snap of glamour - just like life.

In her interview, Parker adds: "Women that dominate culture today are pretty unfriendly towards one another. They use language that's ... not supportive."

Maybe, but it's also more real. In real life women can be backstabbing and bitchy, selfish and difficult to know. It doesn't make you love them any less.

SATC never dealt with friendship failure, which was a failing. It's easy, in a relationship, to blame the other party but impossible in friendship. Even if it's not you, you'll still place the blame at your own feet. It's harder and more painful to analyse what you said or did or - as likely - didn't say or didn't do. SATC skipped all this.

The beauty of female friendship is how it makes life's damages fade to specks, and SATC showcased this as elegantly as it did the splendour of New York at dusk.

I admire Parker's idealism and I would love that female friends are fastidiously forgiving, but I also like a chum to tell me when I'm insufferable - that was the one lifestyle aspiration SATC truly lacked.

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