'Sex and the City' Finale

It took them six years to realize it, but Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big were meant for each other.

Many fans knew that all along, of course, despite numerous other men Carrie dated during the romantic, raunchy run of Sex and the City.

So Sunday's finale was an answered prayer for viewers who, as the big day approached, had rooted for Carrie to choose Big over Aleksandr, the self-involved artist who enticed her to leave her beloved New York and move with him to Paris.

After almost 100 installments, this top-secret, much-hyped conclusion made good on its pledge to resolve the love life of New York sex columnist Carrie. Played by series star Sarah Jessica Parker, she returned to Manhattan with Big (Chris Noth), the on-again/off-again businessman beau with whom she first struck sparks on the HBO series' premiere.

With Sex the first of three long-running comedies (along with Friends and Frasier on NBC) coming to an end this season, its finale set a standard the others will be hard-pressed to attain.

Meanwhile, it nicely tied up some loose ends concerning Carrie's three gal pals:

Miranda, the hard-nosed realist played by Cynthia Nixon, remained a happy mother and the wife of bartender Steve, living in Brooklyn (where she opened her heart, and home, to Steve's ailing mother, inviting her to come live with them).

Charlotte, the idealist (Kristin Davis) and her husband, Harry (formerly her divorce lawyer), got their wish after many disappointments: They'll be adopting a baby girl from China.

And hot-blooded Samantha (Kim Cattrall) was solid with her boy-toy hunk, Smith, despite the loss of her sex drive from her successful treatment for breast cancer. In a tender exchange, he declared his love for her and she tearfully replied, "You've meant more to me than any man I've ever known."

Voila! A few scenes later, Samantha was her lusty self, nude in the sack astride Smith. Her final line on Sex and the City was a protracted howl of pleasure.

But first, Carrie had to confront her mistake in abandoning her city, her friends and her sense of herself to be with Aleksandr (played by Mikhail Baryshnikov).

"I am someone who's looking for love, real love … can't-live-without-each-other love," Carrie told him, "and I don't think that love is here."

Moments later, Big, who had come to his senses and raced across the ocean to bring her home, found her alone in her Paris hotel lobby.

"It took me a really long time to get here," said Big, "but I'm here: Carrie, you're the one."

Once back in New York, Carrie surprised her friends at the coffee shop where they've exchanged so many confidences with one another over the years.

Then, as a special scoop at the fade-out, Big, the man known only by his Carrie-bestowed moniker, phoned her and, at long last, viewers learned his real name. There it was, displayed as the cell phone's caller ID: John.

Glorifying Manhattan, shopping and relationships, the series, which premiered in June 1998, was based on real-life sex columnist Candace Bushnell and created by Darren Star, then best known for concocting the Fox soap Melrose Place.

It became a cultural phenomenon, defining a new breed of modern woman who wasn't afraid to talk about men — and her desire for them — with raw honesty, even as she gave top priority to her friendships with other women. (The show's four leading ladies graced a Time magazine cover that asked the question "Who Needs a Husband?")

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