As has been said many times, many ways: When HBO’s Sex and the City first premiered in 1998 it was revolutionary. Career-focused women in their 30s living independent lives on their own terms? And not as would-be spinsters, but as fabulously rich clotheshorses who were redefining a new era of feminism? Though it increasingly became a fantasy of privilege, the early seasons of Sex and the City were beloved for the ways in which they spoke in real and honest terms about dating, relationships, and friendships to eager Gen X and Y women. This had not been seen on TV in such a frank and entertaining way before, and it was fantastic.
But Sex and the City was also very much a product of its era, a time capsule of sorts whose brand was strong enough for fans to weather two ill-advised movies even after its moment had passed. Did it need to return? Not really—it wrapped up just fine as our leading ladies moved out of the world of dating and into committed relationships. After so much drama and personal turmoil, things were more or less settled: Carrie and Big were endgame (like it or not), Miranda married Steve and had a baby, Charlotte married Harry and they adopted their children, and Samantha was… well, Samantha. Forever young, forever fabulous.
Four episodes in now, what has made And Just Like That such a disappointing revival is not just the loss of Samantha, but the show’s tired nostalgia for its own past. Life moves on, the women are (on average) 55 years old now. That means something different than it did in 1998, but this new series was an opportunity for the show to be revolutionary once again. It could have explored what intimacy and marital relationships are like for those 50+, a forgotten TV demographic. By using the framework of these already established characters, And Just Like That might have been revelatory in its exploration of the sex lives of aging adults. Instead, it killed off Big.
Now, given the recent sexual assault allegations against Chris Noth, the writers likely made the right call there. But just in terms of the plot, did the character have to die (see also Veronica Mars), or could they have just sent him off on an indefinite trip? If you’re going to kill him off, at least fast-forward past Carrie’s grieving, because that is a storyline we’ve already suffered through—and recently too, with the botched wedding kerfuffle in the first movie. Why does And Just Like That want Carrie stuck being as insecure and neurotic over Big as she was in the original series? Which she also was in the first movie? And the second movie?
If the writers thought that Big was too Big to keep in the series without him becoming the focus of all Carrie’s time and energy, well, it happened anyway. She’s still entirely focused on him, except now she’s morose as well. All so that we can spend a few moments in her old apartment and get a Natasha cameo? It’s not worth it. Remember when Sex and the City used to be fun?
And Just Like That seems like it wants to be an oddly dour version of The Golden Girls, focusing on its lead women without the apparent baggage of their husbands. Big was killed off, Miranda (who is like a body-snatchers version of her OG character) is one drunken podcast-listen away from leaving Steve, and Harry is barely even a background character. They don’t discuss their relationships anymore—instead, the first thing we hear from Miranda in the premiere is that she stepped on her son’s used condom. But even that isn’t brought up again in any kind of meaningful way. And Carrie being prudish about sex talk on a podcast? All of this feels like a very different show, one that forgot what made it good in the first place.
Where And Just Like That actually starts to gain a little momentum, though, is in its fourth hour, “Some of My Best Friends,” which allows each of the women to connect with new women in their lives: Miranda with her professor, Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman); Carrie and her realtor, Seema Patel (Sarita Choudhury); Charlotte and her aspirational mom friend Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker). Yes, these new additions are literally bringing in refreshingly diverse casting to the show, but they’re also providing some excellent storylines. Nya is going through fertility treatments but unsure if she really wants a baby, Seema is unmarried but is still actively dating (the new Samantha perhaps), and Lisa is a busy vivant with a judgmental mother-in-law.
These honest conversations and friendship dynamics are what the original Sex and the City was based upon, and though the writers seem stumped at how to come up with new and compelling narratives for the leads beyond death and divorce (or alcoholism, another plot point easily seen from space), the best moments of the new series come from SATC-like interactions with these new characters. Miranda, Carrie, and Charlotte’s cringey discussions of “woke” culture and not understanding their place in it need to go. What works are the organic connections, like when Seema shares her frustration about Carrie’s callous comments at the bar, or when Charlotte and Lisa frankly discuss how neither has much racial diversity in their friend groups. Actual character-building, imagine!
It’s also worth noting, though, that four episodes into this new series and sex seems to not really be part of this show (Brady aside—and no one needs that). The only intimacy we saw between Big and Carrie was her awkwardly asking him to masturbate in front of her. The show doesn’t seem interested in exploring sex at all, which is probably why And Just Like That got a new title to begin with. So what even is this series now, an HBO version of Real Housewives of New York City?
And that’s really the show’s biggest problem: It’s totally unclear what And Just Like That is or even wants to be. If it’s a nostalgia grab, it’s doing its job pretty poorly—references to the original show and a parade of once-familiar faces does not a series sustain (not to mention the Samantha of it all). If it’s trying to insert itself into the culture by confronting the “issues of the day,” well, not only is it failing terribly, but it’s all being addressed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The show doesn’t really have a reason to exist, nor does it have any forward trajectory. There’s certainly nothing revolutionary here.
Behind all of the ostentation and fashion obsessions in Sex and the City were emotionally grounded moments that resonated. Despite a few hopeful moments, And Just Like That has all of the former and almost none of the latter. The women’s wealth and connection to any reality outside of their own bubble remains untouched. Maybe the worst part of the revival is not that things have changed, it’s that they haven’t. Not in the “culturally correct” way the show and the women seem so fixated on, but because a show with so much to say originally has come back to say… nothing at all.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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