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Thursday, May 23, 2024
"And Just Like That..." (2021), Michael Patrick King Productions, WarnerMedia Direct

‘And Just Like That’: It’s a hot mess

Nearly 18 years since the “Sex and the City” finale episode, the hit show is finally back! The 10-episode HBO Max sequel places our three out of four leading ladies, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Mirana (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis), in pandemic New York City navigating life in their 50s. 

The “Sex and the City” TV show was hugely successful, even ending with a neat, largely satisfactory finale in 2004. Sadly, instead of returning to the show’s signature bite and boldness, viewers were served with something far more unpalatable, especially since one of the most iconic protagonists of the show is missing — Ms. Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall).  

So, what has changed and what has remained? 

A major shift is the format of the show. Before, Carrie’s narration of her column connected all the plotlines together. But now that Carrie is no longer writing her column, the narration is absent from the show. Without Carrie’s narration, all the plotlines feel disconnected, with each character’s arc now a series-long affair as opposed to episodic.

In the original show, Carrie was the main character. Therefore, the episode’s main plot always related to her, with the other three women holding narrative threads that linked back to this bigger plot. In a way, each episode was a perfect standalone, while all still connected to a bigger picture. “And Just Like That’s” structure is more drama than comedy, so the payoffs and resolutions only come at the end of the season, and now, the three women are all main characters.

Carrie is still married to Big (Chris Noth), but is now hosting a podcast instead of writing her newspaper column from her luxury apartment. Miranda has left her three-decade career as a corporate lawyer to go back to school to do advocacy work; she also navigates her sexuality, marriage to Steve (David Eigenberg) and raising her teenage son Brady (Niall Cunningham). And Charlotte is still with Harry (Evan Handler), and pulling Upper East Side super-mom duty to teenage daughters Lily (Cathy Ang) and Rose (Alexa Swinton). 

The three women lead very different lives, so it makes sense that their friendship isn’t the rock that it used to be, and that they have their own friends independent of the group. Although realistic, it dilutes one of the best parts of the show, which is the table conversations. Whenever Carrie and the gang met for brunch, lunch, dessert, dinner or drinks, it felt like real gal pals having real conversations. That same energy is not present in “And Just Like That.” 

Now that’s not to say it’s all bad. Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte still have chemistry and some  comic chops. Watching them quipping around a restaurant table once more is a delightful, if slightly disorienting, dip into pop culture history, and it feels both right and enjoyable to watch these venerable friends going through life's ups and downs together again. Moments of fan service range from amusing to ridiculous. For example, the soundtrack actually emits an angelic chord when Carrie first opens the doors to her shoe closet. 

Beyond that, Carrie’s storyline was compelling — grief after a spouse’s death, adapting to life without them, the awkward dating phase and dealing with aging in a society obsessed with youth and beauty. Plus, her new friendship with Seema (Sarita Choudhury) is one of the better parts of the show, and while Seema does feel like a Samantha replacement, Sarita Choudhury is so cool that it doesn’t matter.

Nonetheless, the new characterization appears inconsistent and somewhat unrecognizable to fans of the franchise. Carrie is a squeamish, supremely uptight and tongue-tied podcaster and Instagrammer. Miranda is no longer steadfast, smart and logical but a flaky, bumbling, tangle of neurosis. She is also the focus of some of the show’s most excruciating attempts to navigate the modern world, specifically issues of gender, race and sexuality. Charlotte is a self-centered Stepford Wife on steroids, without any of the self-awareness or humor she developed in later seasons. 

Frankly, you could not pick most of them out of a line-up.

One of the original show’s biggest struggles was its all-white, entirely-privileged point of view. Of course, “And Just Like That” couldn’t — and shouldn’t — replicate that world, but the attempts to paint a rich, real, diverse world are inauthentic and riddled with self-consciousness, awkwardness and moments of self-congratulation. 

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Each trio member is paired with a character of color to teach them “lessons'' and help them navigate the world. For carrie, it’s “queer non-binary Mexian-Irsh diva” podcast boss Che (Sara Ramirez); for Miranda, it’s professor Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman); and for Charlotte, a fellow Park Avenue mom, Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker) or as Gay-Best-Friend Anthony (Mario Cantone) calls her “The Black Charlotte.” And therein lies a major problem: they are positioned as non-white, non-straight mirror images of these women. Which aside from being reductive, seems like an easy ‘solution’ to the show’s previous flaws and one which relies on these characters doing the world of educating Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte. 

These women, who were in some respects progressive in their tracking of social and sexual happenings in New York City, are now tone-deaf and out of touch. And sadly, the show seems to suggest that this is just what happens after you turn 50. In fact, most of the characters are subdued — overpowered by the aging process. 

I also think people hoped for, and somewhat expected, a sense of liberation that can come with getting older, or even a cursory look at the changing relationship with visibility and societal expectation. But no, the show disappoints in that realm too. And no, a conversation about Miranda coloring her hair does not count. 

“Sex and the City” could always do gravity as well as any drama, but it was also sharp, often satirical and funny — god, oh so funny. Perhaps, even more importantly, fun. Sadly, the few attempts to recapture that fall flat, and the joy and verve we remember is but a faint echo lost to time. 

So as it turns out, there was something left to lose: the warming thought that out there, striding down the Manhattan streets, three fifty-something women were still living lives of love, friendship, glamor and fun. Lacking sharp characterization, believablity and bite, this is a too-often cringey attempt to drag the women of “Sex and the City” into 2021. 

Grade: C+

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