By Nicholas Fonseca
January 09, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Sex and the City: The Complete Fifth Season or, ”How the Girls Learned to Stop Worrying and Grow the %$@! Up.” Fans carped that year 5 (only eight episodes aired due to Sarah Jessica Parker’s pregnancy) lacked the friskiness that had made ”Sex” a cultural touchstone. On second glance, though, the melancholic tone — these were the first installments written after 9/11 — marked an important, sobering transition for the gals. For the first time fearful of going it alone, they bravely face down new foes'(wrinkles, baby weight, Atlantic City tourists) with a unique and compelling aplomb still unmatched on other femme-centric TV shows. The four principals are top-notch, but Parker must be singled out for providing the season’s most wrenching moments as a deeply lonely Carrie, who — despite her better judgment — can’t help lashing out at a world that seems intent on crushing her wide-eyed optimism. Easy to watch? Not always. Rewarding if you do? Absolutely. EXTRAS We’re all over exec producer Michael Patrick King’s incisive (if gushy) commentary and the fashionistas-only peek at costumer Patricia Field’s process.