There's a scene in "Run the World" — Starz's comedy series about the personal and professional lives of four women in New York — in which Ella, a writer, is confused after running into her ex-boyfriend. Though they've been broken up for years, she feels drawn to him because, well, "He's my Big."
A friend disputes this comparison to "Sex and the City" narrator Carrie Bradshaw's on-again, off-again paramour. "Big was tall, rich and had a driver. If you're going to perpetually humiliate yourself for a man, he'd better be tall, rich and have a driver. There's a very clear, well-established pop culture road map for this!"
These lines get in front of "Run the World's" almost inevitable comparisons to the iconic series, which has been admired for its trailblazing focus on female sexuality at the same time that it's been criticized for featuring just one Black female character in its six-season run.
The connection even runs to the fashions, always at the heart of "Sex and the City's" appeal: The ambitious, accomplished quartet of Black women in "Run the World" are impeccably dressed by costume designer Tracy L. Cox and consultant Patricia Field, both of whom worked on "Sex and the City."
"At first I was like, that's annoying, because this show is its own thing," said series creator Leigh Davenport. "But I've come to embrace it. I mean, 'Sex and the City' became a global phenomenon."
But to consider "Run the World" merely a retread of "Sex and the City" with Black women would be selling it short.
For one thing, the show, which runs at 7:30 p.m. Sundays, gives its main foursome equal billing: Amber Stevens West, as an investment banker who is planning her wedding; Renee Ross, as an ad executive who is contemplating divorce; Corbin Reid, as an academic who is hiding her relationship, and Andrea Bordeaux, as the aforementioned writer who is mending a broken heart. And none of them are as thoughtless as Bradshaw often was.
"To have a real friend, you have to be a real friend, right?" said showrunner Yvette Lee Bowser. "In each episode, they find their way through dilemmas by truly supporting each other. ... We wanted to depict behavior that we've experienced and that we'd like to see more of in the world. If anyone watching doesn't have friendships like these, I hope that the show is an encouragement to seek them out, because they are essential."
Although "Sex and the City" depicted numerous Manhattan neighborhoods, it steered clear of Harlem, where "Run the World" is set.
"Harlem usually is the setting of crime-centric movies and historical stories when, really, it's this vibrant, beautiful, very connected community of predominantly Black people, having fun and living life," Davenport said.
Capturing these lively tableaux while staying COVID-safe was a challenge that, Bowser hopes, pays off beyond the fictional story lines.
"I hope this show acts like an elixir for isolation: It inspires people to get out and get back to not just what feels normal, but also what is most fulfilling for their lives," she said.