Moscow counterparts of Carrie and Co

Behind every internationally successful TV show there exists a deep prejudice. Fans of Baywatch will generally agree that blondes in high-cut swimwear are the acme of female loveliness. The ongoing popularity of Knightrider in the former Eastern Bloc, Africa and much of the Middle East tells us something about the universal weakness for low-slung cars that talk. But for a show to be a hit among a largely female audience, writers must tap into two very different belief systems: first, that expensive high heels (global symbol of affluent, sexually irresistible female) can make you happy; second, that regardless of age, religion, marital status or socioeconomic background, women worldwide agree that all men are bastards.

The shoes and bastards motifs made Sex and the City a hit in the US. And some countries have come up with their own hit versions, adjusting the shoes-to-bastards ratio accordingly. Heavy on the footwear is Chinas Foreign Babes in Beijing, about the exploits of a group of friends in a country whose new maxim is to get rich is glorious. In Russia bastards feature more heavily. Balzac Age follows four thirtysomething Muscovites in search of husbands. In post-communist Russia their mantra is: Without Dolce & Gabbana, a woman has no chance.

The uncertainty of life in a country lurching towards a market economy is one issue that might have sailed over even Sarah Jessica Parkers pretty head. Still, Balzac Age (a reference to the French authors A Woman of Thirty) borrows heavily from its US forerunner. Instead of Carrie and Co we have Sonia, a widowed gold-digger and occasional call girl; Vera, a psychologist who lives with her mother and teenage daughter; Yulia, an unemployed nymphomaniac; and Alla, a top lawyer and commitmentphobe. Like Miranda, Yulia wears her hair cropped and dyes it red. Vera, like Carrie, provides the introspective voiceover. Alla has a soft spot for male strippers. Each week a massive 7 per cent of the population tunes in to find out if the girls have fulfilled their quest: finding a mate.

But if the cross-sectional single American female occasionally frets over her failure to have found a husband, her Russian equivalent is apoplectic about it. In Russia an unmarried woman in her thirties is still deemed an old maid, and the shows title is the polite Russian way of saying so. In last weeks episode Sonia, who has been hiring herself out as a call girl to a married oligarch who can make love only in the dark, is so depressed about this that she gets drunk and falls down the stairs: Im 35 and have neither children nor a husband, nor a job. Its all over. All thats left is a lonely old age. (It is worth mentioning that the Russian word for single, odinoky, also means lonely).

Vera and Yulia live with their mothers, as does Veras boyfriend, Zhan, reflecting the legacy of communist-era housing and Moscows soaring house prices. Zhan, we learn in series two, is married to a woman whom he says he wed fraudulently to provide her with the residence permit needed for even Russian citizens to live in Moscow. Because Russian men have long enjoyed a privileged place in relationships, their bastard status is unusually high among Russian women. The Soviet Unions legacy of war, repression and alcoholism left Russia, where the life expectancy for men is 58, with an acute shortage of males, many of whom are raised and spoilt by single mothers. Maksim Stishov, Balzac Ages scriptwriter and producer, says: We have many fewer men than women. This affects relations between (the sexes).

Dmitry Fiks, the director, says that traditionally it was deemed very bad in Russia for women over 30 to remain unmarried. But society is changing: Russian-speaking women want to get married more than American women, but a new generation is growing up thats more similar to Americans, shoes and neuroses and all.

Stefanie Marsh, The Times, 16.01.2006