And Just Like That... Sex and the City lost its way

The main cast of Sex and the City
Source: Startraks/Shutterstock

Now the current series has drawn to a close, this feeble revival of a pioneering television classic is neither what SATC’s fans wanted nor deserved.

When I first heard last year about a potential reboot of the Sex and the City franchise, I was both excited and concerned as to how it would play out. It had been over a decade since its cinematic sequel, SATC 2, was released - and to not such rave reviews. Returning to the small screen, the new spin-off series, And Just Like That, premiered on 9 December 2021, to a mixed response at best, but I wanted to give the new adaption a fair chance before I formed an opinion.

I must admit, I barely made it through the entire ten episodes. And this is coming from someone who has repeatedly binged on the original six seasons and its two following movies since I was in my teens.

For those of you not familiar with the show, it centres around protagonist Carrie Bradshaw, who writes a weekly newspaper column about sex, relationships, and navigating life as a 30-something single woman living in the Big Apple. Each episode is anchored around an often-controversial issue or question that Carrie is addressing in her article that particular week (e.g. ‘Are We Sluts?’ and ‘Do Women Just Want To Be Rescued?’). This theme is then explored in how she and her three best friends - traditional idealist Charlotte, fiery cynic Miranda, and raunchy sex bomb Samantha - approach said issue in their own unique way, often to hilarious effect.

The main cast of Sex and the City
Source: Nigel Parry/Darren Star Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock

Running initially from 1998 to 2004 and based on Candace Bushnell’s book of the same name, the show imprinted itself on the cultural zeitgeist and reassured single women everywhere that once you hit your thirties, you weren’t suddenly ‘past it’. It embraced the idea of dreaded spinsterhood and redefined it as something glamorous and liberating rather than a source of shame. Although the show focused on love and sexual gratification, it was also about the power of female friendships and challenging the sexist stereotypes that society held about the ‘weaker sex’ during that time.

One criticism of the original show was that it was too ‘unrealistic’, especially regarding its portrayal of an alternative universe where a columnist for a local newspaper can afford to rent an apartment in Manhattan whilst maintaining an expensive Manola Blahnik shoe addiction and a busy Cosmopolitan-fuelled social life. But this is the reason why I much preferred it to some of the more drab, frumpy portrayals of single women in the popular media – yes, I’m talking about you, Bridget Jones. Sex and the City offered the viewers a glittering smorgasbord of high fashion, endless brunches, sexual escapades, and delightful escapism – and was unapologetic for it.

And Just Like That, on the other hand, takes a much sombre approach, in its attempt to be grittier and more realistic than its predecessor. With the four friends now well into their mid-fifties, the show centres around how they deal with marriage and family, and the new challenges these present. The new series predominantly focuses on how Carrie handles losing her beloved husband, John (the iconic ‘Mr Big’) after he dies in the very first episode. I was initially intrigued to see the direction the show would take with Carrie now facing life alone without Mr Big and how she would process her grief, whilst still acknowledging the show’s comedic roots. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do it very effectively, and with each passing episode, the series has gotten progressively more and more depressing, both in its directionless plot and in the rejection of its own identity.

The franchise seems to have lost all its colour and vibrancy, in some ditch effort to redeem itself against its loudest critics. Although the original series was a comedy, it still dealt with serious subject matters such as infertility, cancer, and death, but never without losing its sense of humour along the way. There are a few brief flickers here and there resembling the spirit of the old show, such as when Miranda talks about stepping barefoot on her teenage son’s used condom, but those embers are soon stamped out again, along with any hope I had.

What really bothers me though about this new series is that the show’s core characters are dull af, and I honestly no longer care about any of them. Carrie has completely lost her spark, which would be understandable given the circumstances, but frankly, I’ve seen her more upset over losing a pair of shoes than she is over losing the love of her life. There are a few touching scenes in And Just Like That, particularly between her and Mr Big, but I’ve never wanted to scream so much at a fictional character to go and ring for an ambulance rather than just stand there and watch her husband succumb to a heart attack. It’s probably safe to say at this point that Chris Noth’s career and Peloton’s shares plummeted quicker that week the episode aired than it took for Carrie to go and get some help.

The main cast of Sex and the City
Source: Startraks/Shutterstock

Regarding Charlotte and Miranda’s characters, they have become completely unrecognisable, trading in their defining character traits to become paragons of self-important ‘wokeness’. Although I agree with Miranda’s sentiment in the new series that, ‘We can’t just stay who we were', the erosion of their personalities is less that of a character arc and a more cheap ploy by the writers to reinvent them as two middle-aged social justice warriors. Their respective husbands have been turned into complete saps in a ditch effort for Charlotte to browbeat Harry to death on her new progressive beliefs and for the audience to be more sympathetic towards Miranda when she cheats on Steve with Che, a non-binary comedian.

Fan favourite Samantha is a no-show this time around, due to an off-screen falling out between Kim Cattrall and her co-star Sarah Jessica Parker. An awkward squirming ensues as the show tries to explain away what happened to its one vital ingredient, by coming up with some plotline that Samantha ditched the girls to move to London for a new job. It does a disservice to both Cattrall and her much-loved character though, as the writers clamber to fill the giant Samantha-sized hole left behind with a slew of irrelevant minor characters and boring subplots.

My main issue with this current series though is just how tediously woke they have made it. I am all for embracing diversity, but it is like the writers have gone through a checkbox exercise of how many identity groups and progressive plot lines they can squeeze into this new project. Token People of Colour? Check. A self-described ‘Queer, Non-Binary Mexican-Irish Diva’? Check. A Trans-Kid subplot? Check. A huge dollop of white guilt? Check.

SATC was never politically correct, but that was part of its charm. Granted there are a few moments from the original series which are a bit cringe-inducing when you rewatch them now from a 2020's perspective, such as its dismissiveness of bisexuality and some off-the-cuff remarks about the trans community, but it reflects the ignorance and misunderstanding surrounding certain marginalised groups at the time. The irony though is that by trying to force-feed the audience a new inclusive cast of characters, they essentially just become cardboard cut-outs with no distinguishable quality other than their skin colour, sexuality, or gender identity. You just get the sense that they’re only there so that the show purge itself against previous criticism that it was ‘too white’ or ‘elitist’.

By trying to appease itself to the militant Twitter brigade (who would criticise the show no matter what it did), SATC neglects its primary audience – Gen X women. Just like the core characters they grew up with, these women are now greying and menopausal too, and they want to see themselves, albeit an aspirational version, reflected in a media landscape that predominantly values the stories of the young over the middle-aged.

And then there are the rare younger fans, Millennials like myself, who truly appreciate the franchise for what it is and will be forever grateful for the road it pathed for my generation and beyond. Like Carrie herself, the show is flawed, imperfect, but unique and truly magnificent in its own way.

Hopefully, SATC’s legacy will withstand the muddled mess that And Just Like That leaves in its wake. Personally, I will be skipping re-watching this current series over and over again and, instead, pretending it doesn’t exist.