When I was in college, I acquired a taste for Sex and the City. I didn’t come to this show on my own, however, as I wasn’t allowed to watch it because of obvious rules governing masculinity and male behavior. (I was in a fraternity, and thus, I was mostly subjected to group screenings of Entourage.) What got me hooked then on Sex and the City was my non-girlfriend at the time playing it on her laptop as we fell asleep.
Naturally, our watching the show together elicited endless discussion about whether I was an Aidan or a Big. (I, for one, reject this false Big-Aidan binary and contend I’m Berger, the insecure writer who breaks up with Carrie via Post-It note because he’s a huge coward when it comes to ending a relationship.)
Beneath the show’s yuppie lifestyle porn — which I blame for the millennial obsession with brunch and our corresponding personal finance crisis — was an incisive sendup of modern dating, and all its inherent awkwardness and excitement. Some of the show’s relationship advice remains shockingly prescient, in fact. “He’s just not that into you” is even more relevant now, in our era of ghosting and unrequited text messages. Charlotte’s husband Trey not being able to get it up is a textbook example of a man suffering from a Madonna-whore complex. And Miranda’s taxi-cab theory of men and their willingness to settle down cuts deep.
Needless to say, I never would’ve discovered these salient truths were it not for a fleeting college romance.
It only recently occured to me, though, that Sex and the City is the platonic ideal of a certain, niche genre of television: The TV Series Dudes Secretly Fell in Love With After Their Girlfriend Introduced it to Them.
There’s a lengthy cultural history of men trying to foist certain films — not movies, films — on their female significant others, in a futile attempt to get women to appreciate those films as much they do. But there’s a somewhat equal and opposite phenomenon that is the TV shows men begrudgingly enjoy after they concede to watching them with their girlfriends.
The cult of binge-watching has made having a shared taste in television shows an integral part of a successful relationship, to the point that the dating app Hinge now asks users to rank their favorite TV shows when searching for a match. But as with all aspects of a successful relationship, TV compatibility requires a fair degree of give-and-take, and that inevitably leads to men watching chick shows that they would otherwise have never given a chance.
Sex and the City falls into the genre, mainly because Samantha is essentially a stand-in for the male point-of-view. She talks and thinks about sex constantly and engages in an endless string of emotionless sexual encounters. In one scene, Samantha even admits she’s never seen the 1973 Streisand/Redford romantic drama The Way We Were because it’s a “chick film.”
To find other shows in this genre, I queried the hive mind at r/AskMen, a popular Reddit community for discussing issues relating to masculinity. The answers can be placed into one of three categories:
- Maudlin network TV dramas (This is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives)
- Female- and queer-oriented reality shows (Project Runway, Don’t Tell the Bride, The Great British Bake-off, Queer Eye)
- Coming of age, millennial dramas with alliterative, two-word titles (Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls)
When my MEL colleague Miles Klee wrote about the films men try to force women to appreciate, I joked that the one thing tying all those films together is that you’re likely to see their movie posters hung up on a wall in a frat house. The deeper truth, though, is that all the films on that list (e.g. Scarface, The Big Lebowski, The Boondock Saints, Cool Hand Luke) are, at their core, about men who defy societal expectations and toil against insurmountable odds.
On the flip side, Shows Dudes Secretly Love are a correction to that faulty male fantasy — far more about lasting emotional connections than radical independence.
The biggest difference between these two kinds of entertainment, though, is that try as they might, men can never seem to get their girlfriends to connect to their favorite films the same way they do to her favorite shows.
Which [Carrie Bradshaw voice] I couldn’t help but wonder: Could men, deep down, be more like the women in their life than we previously thought?