The Cable Guy

HBO's dramatic series venture beyond the fantasyland of network television

What makes the episode so forceful is the sudden lurch from Father to Don, made all the more discomfiting by the show's ability to flaunt Tony's capacity for violence without losing our essential sympathy for him. Or consider his ventures into suburban society. Tony dreams of being as upper-middle-class square as the rest of his housing development, but when he finally wrangles the ultimate social opportunity, a golf date, the rest of his foursome wants nothing but Gotti stories.

Sex and the City reports similar home truths. The survival mechanisms of these thirtyish women bear an uncomfortable resemblance to those of seventh graders (big meals, gripe sessions). Giving the lie to all those pimple-free Friends clones, this show keeps it real--at least for folks who can afford to drown their sorrows in shopping. The cast of Sex and the City--the friends an actual Elaine Benes would share her sexual frustration with--talk dirty, but with a point: How are any of us supposed to know the rules, they wonder, when the sexual fault lines are redrawn every week? Sardonic misanthrope Miranda, encouraged by her pals to satisfy her boyfriend's wish for sex talk in bed, discovers it's possible to go too far. Good girl Charlotte puts off sex to develop the relationship, then dumps her boyfriend when she learns he's on Viagra and doesn't want sex either.

Lighter and less gutsy than The Sopranos, Sex and the City would never dare us to hate its protagonists, but it's walking the same turf, exploring the same not-ready-for-prime-time feelings. These "adult situations," as the parental advisories warn, prove that HBO is not really for teenagers these days. (Besides, they're probably enjoying Showtime's weekend soft-core and Red Shoe Diaries reruns, about which more at a later date.) At their best, HBO's series shade in the third dimension of the networks' 2-D world: They fill out, question, and undermine the comfortable fantasies that are still everyone's TV of first resort.

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