'And Just Like That' May Not Be Great, But It Is Strangely Comforting
I'll admit, it's nice to have Carrie Bradshaw back for the 'Sex and the City' revival.
This post contains spoilers for the first two episodes of And Just Like That.
I've watched a lot of Sex and the City in my lifetime. It first blew my mind as a teen, and I revisited it yet again earlier this year when the pre-vaccine world had me mostly housebound. On my most recent check-in with Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha in their original forms, I was struck by two things. First, Charlotte is an absolute monster. Second, the pioneering HBO sitcom—though certain episodes are extremely dated, especially in their handling of race—is way more progressive than we like to give it credit for.
It’s with this in mind that I nervously pressed play on HBO Max’s And Just Like That this morning. Could the series' revival really expunge the bad taste left in fans’ mouths after the two theatrical movies while also gracefully ushering these characters into middle age? Could it make Carrie Bradshaw’s world a more inclusive one? After eagerly bingeing the first two episodes, I am tempted to say … yes? Maybe?
There is something strangely comforting about And Just Like That. Not that it’s not clunky—when was Sex and the City ever not?—but Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis slip into their roles with such ease that it does feel like seeing people you once knew who are now older and grayer and have different concerns. The writing staff understands the characters' nuances in a way that makes these women recognizable without becoming parodies of themselves. Carrie is still, despite having written a very famous column about sex, weirdly prudish. Miranda’s prickly overachieving follows her to grad school, where she’s pursuing a master's in human rights. And Charlotte, well, Charlotte is still fully Charlotte, striving for a kind of Upper East Side perfection that can never be fully attained.
As for Samantha? She’s off in London, a product of Kim Cattrall’s refusal to do the series. Still, the explanation for her absence is believable: Carrie fired her as a publicist, and Samantha took it personally, rejecting their friendship. (We don’t get a ton of details, but I can fully see how Carrie might have handled the situation terribly, despite the realities of the book industry or whatever. Carrie, you might remember, is often a horrible friend. Team Samantha.)
The premiere serves mostly as setup before dropping a bomb that will no doubt shape the rest of the series. Carrie is working on a new book, but her main gig is a podcast about sexuality and gender hosted by Che Diaz (a wildly charismatic Sara Ramirez). Carrie is the resident heterosexual, cisgender woman, but Che thinks she is holding back in her willingness to talk candidly. Meanwhile, Miranda's return to school is inspired by her white-lady activism during the Trump presidency, a Karen-ified do-gooder impulse that puts her immediately at odds with a professor played by The Morning Show's Karen Pittman. Miranda's nerves have also translated into a few too many glasses of Chablis early in the day, a drinking problem foreshadowed in the series' first run when she goes out with a guy who thinks she’s an alcoholic. Her son, Brady (Niall Cunningham), is a 17-year-old having lots of sex with his girlfriend.
Speaking of children, Charlotte's daughter Lily has become her mother's mini-me, proudly wearing Oscar de la Renta dresses and nailing her piano recital, whereas her other child, Rose, is a tomboy whose rejection of everything Charlotte prizes befuddles our former WASP princess. (A detail in the second episode reveals that Charlotte still goes to shul.) They are all happy in their relationships with men we know: Harry, Steve, and Big. And there's the rub.
At the end of the first episode, while Carrie attends Lily's recital, Big (Chris Noth) dies of a heart attack following a Peloton ride. It's a grim development that was hard not to see coming. No Sex and the City iteration has really worked with Carrie and Big in romantic bliss, and, frankly, another go-round on their roller coaster wasn't going to be satisfying either. We've seen her cheat with him, him cheat on her, and other various conflicts. For Carrie to develop in any way, Big had to go. ("Am I the only one that remembers what a prick he was to her?" Carrie's friend Susan Sharon says during Big's funeral, which … yes. The man fucking left her at the altar.) I'm sure for some the death of Big is an inexcusable offense, but it forces Carrie to finally recalibrate without the idea of their endgame romance looming over the entire enterprise.
And Just Like That is by no means perfect. At this point, the BIPOC characters seem like they exist largely to challenge our threesome's pre-established viewpoints. The episodes' approximate 45-minute running times put them in a no man's land where they're neither the zippy comedy of yore nor full-fledged drama. And yet I'll happily watch more. Honestly, as soon as Carrie made her first awful joke—"now that is seeing the condom as half full"—I was in.