'Sex and the City' Begins Final Fling

The final episodes of HBO's series about four high-flying New York women start airing 9 p.m. EST Sunday, and after that it's goodbye to Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. In six seasons, the pals have run through men like disposable razors while keeping a tight grip on their friendship, provoking debate about how they stack up as symbols of contemporary womanhood. The series became one of HBO's trademark shows, the kind it can rightly claim isn't duplicated by the broadcast networks. It's not just the cable channel and devotees who are reluctant to see the end of the comedy-drama based on Candace Bushnell's book. The cast is feeling a bit blue as well. "It's just really sad," said Cynthia Nixon, who plays lawyer-mom Miranda. "We all have emotional moments and a lot of nostalgic moments on the set nowadays." As the end of shooting approaches, "we keep having the last coffee shop scene, Stanford's (Willie Garson) last day, all of these last scenes," said Nixon. Shooting was scheduled to end in February. Kristin Davis, who plays newly married (for the second time) Charlotte, was employing her own avoidance technique. "I'm trying to create a list of things that will be good about it (ending), so when I feel sad I have that list," she said. "And the list is small, including not having to have my hair dried straight every day." Both Nixon and Davis said they would have happily continued with the show. But Sarah Jessica Parker, the series' star and an executive producer, has said she believes it's best to quit while it's still beloved. The cast is tight-lipped about how the finale will play out, partly because they're not quite sure. Each was only given script pages concerning her character, and multiple endings of the final encounter for the friends were shot. Plot leaks had occurred and executive producer Michael Patrick King wanted to clamp down, according to Davis: "He started getting really paranoid." The series' sixth and final season was broken into two parts, with a dozen episodes that aired through fall and the final eight wrapping things up now through February. When last seen, Miranda had reunited with Steve, her son's father. Charlotte had tied the knot with Harry. Carrie (Parker) was starting a red-hot romance with an artist played by Mikhail Baryshnikov. And Samantha (Kim Cattrall) appeared in danger of being tied down - emotionally, that is - by one man, the hunky Smith. From the outset, the series provoked as much discussion about its social messages as it did its trendsetting fashion. Was it pre-feminist, post-feminist or anti-feminist? And why did the New York of "Sex and the City" look so unfailingly white despite the real city's ethnic diversity? Even the cast's lingerie habits were analyzed, with one article questioning why one actress (Parker) wore a bra in her bedroom scenes while the other actresses generally went without. How did the actresses feel about such microscrutiny? "I'm amused but flattered as well by any in-depth analysis of the show," Davis said. She recalled talking to Parker before the series' debut about how the emphasis on romance and sex would be received. Happily, she said, "we were not drummed out of town" by feminists. How does Davis read the series' message, if any? "To me, it's very feminist because the whole thing has been to show women in different situations with different choices, and not to have there be one right choice and judging other choices," she said. Nixon, who says she and Parker had pushed to for more ethnic diversity, welcomed a brief romance this season with a black physician, played by Blair Underwood. "It was an insulated, isolated group," Nixon said of the fictional characters and their world. "We came up with some things, although it was still not what we were imagining."

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