'Sex and the City' has brains, too


You know what you want. So stop shortchanging yourself with TV shows that can't give it to you, that don't know how to give it to you.

You deserve to spend your time with a show that can hit your intellectual, emotional and other assorted buttons -- and all in 22 commercial-free minutes. So dump that "Jesse" chick already and tune in and turn on to HBO's eroti-comedy "Sex and the City." The third season premieres tonight at 9.

Look for your shallow, sleazy one-night television stands elsewhere. "Sex" may be the operative word, but instead of a graphic, one-dimensional smut-fest, expect some of the tightest writing, expert acting and mature sensibilities on TV.

The show follows the frustrating and funny relationship rituals of four foxy New Yorkers from the point of view of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), an intuitive, free-spirited sex columnist with a penchant for cosmopolitans and unavailable men.

There's Samantha (Klm Cattrall), a vintage vamp with an empowering indifference toward her legions of sexual partners. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is a shrink-addicted, brainy lawyer with great hair who at one moment is head over heels in love, the next, the closest to a man-hater the show gets. Then there's the naive Charlotte (Kristin Davis), an elegant, idealistic, Connecticut WASP who occasionally stuns with moments of clarity and kinkiness.

Oh, man, it's a chick show, men whine in unison.

Sure it's about single women -- who talk a lot -- in fashionable environs. But it's not surreal, grating "Ally McBeal" insecurity. It's not preposterous "90210" melodrama. And it's not asexual, alcohol-free "Friends"-ian utopia.

Before you begin a deep, meaningful relationship with "Sex and the City," you must realize there's more to good TV than sex.

Sure shots: "Sex and the City" is not just a bunch of talking heads jumping in and out of bed. It also has a seductive visual flair.

In an episode called "Evolution," Carrie muses about how relationships have evolved since caveman days. In one shot, we get a medicine-cabinet-eye's view of Carrie and her noncommittal beau Mr. Big prepping in the morning. Carrie, electric tooth-brush firmly planted in mouth, cranes her neck and carefully observes bleary-eyed Big fumbling in the cabinet. She's hoping he won't notice the new proliferation of personal hygiene items she's left there to assert her presence in his apartment ... and his life.

Besides the glimpse of the always-alert and analytical woman and the clueless male, we also see another level of the relationship. The two are comfortable enough together to perform their crusty-eyed morning routines side by side.

The most artful scenes can also evoke New York yearnings.

Big and Carrie dine outside at night at an elegant bistro. He pours the wine, she pores over him. A few days before, she told him she loved him; tonight, she's waiting for his affirmation.

Playing in the background is Mozart's aria "Voi che sapete" from "The Marriage of Figaro." In the aria, young, lovesick page Cherubino sings his passionate, unrequited desire for the Countess, who is totally out of his class. Carrie sometimes thinks the same thing about Big, who, by the way, isn't saying those three little words. The "perfect" picture gets smudged by reality, the scene ending with Carrie furiously extinguishing a cigarette.

Sometimes the best scenes are sexy.

Samantha is doing her best to adjust to her new love's inadequate machinery. In a quick, slick series of consecutive scenes, they try out every possible alternative. While she shouts out encouragement and directions like a demented high school football coach, the camera stays focused on her desperate, determined face.

In another episode, Carrie learns that Big once had a multiple-partner experience with his ex-wife and begins feeling inadequate and curious, even as they are in bed together. Was the ex-Mrs. Big a better lover? More adventurous? Is he thinking about her or his ex right now? While Carrie stews, the shot widens, and we see what Carrie is imagining: Big's ex, sleeping soundly beside the couple.

Touching moments: Wringing the empathic from the erotic adds to "Sex and the City's" appeal. In-stead of focusing just on the two people directly involved in a relationship, it extends to friends and family.

When Carrie dates a writer with certain sexual limitations who also happens to be a big baby, breaking up with him ain't so tough. But the jerk happens to have a very charismatic family, including Valerie Harper as an out-spoken flower-child feminist. She and Carrie become great friends. And when Carrie walks out on her infantile playmate, it's Harper, not the lover, who chases her and tearfully asks what's going to happed to "them."

"Relationship aftermath also gives the women a chance to strut their girlfriend loyalty. The unanimous "dis" is their specialty: If a guy burns one of them, the women instantly blacklist the offender.

If you can't rely on your girlfriends to hate every guy who's ever dumped you, or the trollops they dumped you for, what good are they?

Only once have the "City" sisters denied a fellow female their support. When a post-breakup Carrie was obsessing about Mr. Big, they cut her off. It's not that they didn't want to help her. Rather, Samantha explained, "We're all just as [screwed] up as you are. It's like the blind leading the blind."

Been there, done them: He's smart. He's cute. He's perfect. Is he gay?

The "Gay Straight Man" is one of Charlotte's many almost-ran lovers. Even women without $500 high heels and high-powered New York jobs have dated some incarnations of the "City's" freaks, losers and mystery mates.

Take Miranda's overly verbal boyfriend, one who thinks foreplay play-by-play is essential to good sex. Miranda responds awkwardly and unconvincingly at first, but then completely lets go -- and, of course, scares the idiot off.

And when Miranda thinks she's finally found true love with Steve, a humble yet adorable bartender, her socio-economic superiority sends him running. She finds herself punished for being successful.

The girls have got patterns, and they know it. Miranda, otherwise take-charge and opinionated, likes guys who order her around, especially in bed. Carrie holds on to Mr. Big knowing he'll never commit. But she also keeps a randy ex on her Rolodex for dry periods.

So the gals often choose the wrong men. But you can choose the right TV show. "Sex and the City" may not be everything your small-screen relationship needs, but it's surely better than another one-night stand with "Walker, Texas Ranger."

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