The near-universal critical hatred of Sex and the City 2: The Facts of Life Goes to the Middle East has produced some fun, vitriolic reviews. There are many reasons the movie brought it on itself, but the biggest reason is its absurd length: 150 minutes. No comedy should be 150 minutes unless it’s called The Great Race, and even that had cool intermission music. The over-length of movies has become a blight on the industry; it’s like in the ’60s when movies were under pressure to be 150+ minutes so they could be marketed as expensive road-show attractions. Except now there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for the bloated lengths; it’s just that studios won’t say no to directors who fall in love with every moment of their footage. There’s no doubt that SATC would make people less angry if it were 90-100 minutes, which is all it can sustain, if that. And since TV episodes are too short, while movies are too long, it’s like both media are in a race to see which is worse, over-length or under-length. Probably the former. TV storytelling is more disciplined and tight these days because, unlike movies, the creators know they have to cut a lot of stuff.
The interesting thing about the SATC movies is that they’ve dragged down the reputation of the series, to the point that we can almost forget the show was a critically-acclaimed, Emmy-winning show that was frequently cited as an example of why HBO was better than Common-People TV (along with The Sopranos, whose reputation has also dipped, but much less deservedly) Alan Sepinwall says that the SATC movies have caused him to literally re-evaluate his opinion of the TV series: He liked the show, but the movies — by presenting slow, overlong, bad versions of the same things the show did — have made it hard to like the characters. Our own Brian Johnson made a similar point, though he doesn’t rule out the possibility that he can still enjoy the show (as long as we pretend the movies don’t exist).
It may not actually be the movies alone that have caused the decline in SATC’s critical fortunes; as the Sopranos example demonstrates, sometimes a show just experiences a backlash after it goes off the air. And while Sopranos at least can point with pride to being a major influence on many (if not most) great dramas of the past ten years, most SATC imitators have been awful. The most successful SATC clone is Entourage, and that show couldn’t even wait until it was off the air to make everybody hate it. So it could be that SATC’s characters would have become less popular and beloved even if it hadn’t been for the films.
Still, the films didn’t help. Even a good movie spin-off doesn’t do a lot to help a show’s cultural currency, and may actually hurt it: the Simpsons movie was a hit, but it re-enforced the idea that the show was more of an institution re-visiting its past glories — since the movie was just a larger-budget version of everything we’d seen before. One of the few movies that actually helped the show’s reputation was South Park, and that’s because the movie changed people’s perceptions of the franchise, showing that it was smarter and more satirical than we had realized. SATC, on the other hand, takes the stuff the show did before, grossly inflates it both in terms of length and budget, and makes a lot of people wonder why they liked the show in the first place.
Obviously, it’s still possible to enjoy the original show, and I think its reputation might well go up again once the movies have stopped. But now that these four women are bad movie characters, it’s harder to think of them as good TV characters