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''Sex and the City'''s serious new tone succeeds

Even though the show wasn’t reshot after Sept. 11, Ken Tucker says it’s playing as if it were

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Sex and the City
Sex and the City: Craig Blankenhorn

”Sex and the City”’s serious new tone succeeds

The ”Sex and the City” that made its return to HBO on Sunday night was a show facing a daunting new challenge. Last summer, the galpals played by Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon were the delightfully superficial, unlucky-love characters we’d come to think of as jiggly cartoons dressed in trend-setting New York designer threads. After the events of Sept. 11, however, the question of how this show — filmed in New York, on its streets, filled with Manhattan references — could maintain its jaunty air was suddenly a serious one: Could HBO’s most popular sitcom, which won an Emmy as best comedy for its previous season, still entertain without seeming irrelevant, heartless, or both?

Well, in one of those curious coincidences that makes pop culture endlessly fascinating, it turns out that the remaining six new episodes, which were filmed before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, take more serious turns, which results in a more touching show, with a tone that is often surprisingly, appropriately, somber. As we saw this past weekend, Parker’s Carrie is both seriously committed to and seriously ambivalent about her handyman-beau played by John Corbett. Cattrall’s Samantha has fallen in love, not just lust, with her new guy, played by James Remar. Davis’ Charlotte is trying to put her failed marriage behind her without success, and Nixon’s Miranda is going to have a baby even though the kid’s father is no longer in her romantic picture.

All of a sudden, ”Sex and the City” is less about sex and more about the city — that is, how these women locate themselves in their environment, and how they’re choosing to live their lives, given the options they’ve chosen. In a heartbreaker of a moment next week, Carrie, in a blue mood, idly shakes a snow globe containing the skyline of Manhattan — one that includes the World Trade Center towers. Filmed, as I said, before Sept. 11, the series cannot be accused of leeching emotion through irony. Instead, the moment — and many others in these remaining episodes — dramatize the way life can be altered without warning, at any second.

How are you liking ”Sex and the City”’s new seriousness?

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