Aisling Keenan asks the question on behalf of confused viewers everywhere…
As a card-carrying, line-quoting fan of Sex and the City, and a confused and frustrated viewer of the SATC films, I was hoping the new iteration of the series would deliver what the original show did. I hoped, of course, there would be a steep learning curve, where the countless problematic elements of the show would be rectified. But instead, I experienced somewhat of a cognitive dissonance.
Sex and the City ran from 1998 until 2004 and though it had many, many pitfalls, it was a triumph in many ways too. For one thing, it celebrated the anti-hero female character in Carrie Bradshaw. It told a generation of women that your number one goal needn’t be pairing off and getting married. It reinvented singledom and turned New York City into a playground for women who, with the love and support of cherished friends, could do whatever they wanted.
Anyone who was (or is) a fan of the original show will still declare themselves ‘a Carrie’ or ‘a Charlotte’ or for those among us even more complex than the complex characters themselves, we might have distilled it down to realise we are in fact 45% Miranda, 10% Charlotte and the balance, all Samantha.
I’m going to take the liberty of glossing over the two movies here. The first – the least offensive of the two – was a feast for the eyes if nothing else. The second? A two-hour long advertisement for Abu Dhabi that, for me anyway, had the opposite of the desired effect. We’ll leave them where they belong: The past.
When And Just Like That was announced (and then promoted to within an inch of its life) I was truly excited. I was hopeful that it would carry with it all the things we all loved about the original series but leave behind the problematic elements it was later criticised for. It was met with entirely mixed reviews online.
Personally, what I felt I was left with was a weird symbiosis.
I loved it. I hated it. I loved it again. I hated it a little more. And I swung dramatically back and forth between those two emotions for the duration of the first two episodes. I rewatched them again this week and made a round up of what I loved and what I hated. A ‘pros and cons’ list of sorts, in a bid to decide which side of the AJLT fence I fall on.
The initial lunch setting felt so natural. I was HOPEFUL. They were back. Samantha’s absence was deeply felt, for me, and I used all my 11.11 wishes the week before that she’d just burst in during that scene and say something outrageous. My wish didn’t materialise. Miranda’s quip about stepping in her son’s semen (more on Randy Brady later) was so her, and against the backdrop of Charlotte being her usual WASPy self, prattling on about the piano recital, it all felt so SATC. My first eye roll occurred when “LTW” arrived (new character Lisa Todd Wexley) and commented on the fries being ‘so bad they’re good’. I thought, can we stop with this whole thing of food being ‘bad’ or ‘good’ and just let it be? *Embodying my inner Carrie* That’s when I realised… we’re still back there, a bit, aren’t we? And then…
WE’VE AGED! ALERT THE PAPERS!
The goddamn age references. To me, it felt like lazy writing. “WE HAVE TO TELL THEM ALL WE’RE ‘OLD’ NOW. Many times. Otherwise, how will those silly viewers understaaaand?” We don’t need to be spoon-fed, actually. More age references rushed in when we met Harry, Rose and Lily. “Is a bike helmet not a good look on a 58-year-old jew?” and when Steve – poor, poor Steve – is given a hearing aid.
It was as if, at the writers’ table, they went: “Okay. What do old people have? HEARING AIDS!” and just… went with that as an entire plot device. Again, lazy. And it continues, as for most of the first episode, Steve’s entire role is to play hard of hearing. I found it oddly infantilising. I much preferred that all the girls were wearing reading glasses. It wasn’t an in your face move, but an under the radar reference to their age that felt true to life.
The whole Instagram! Podcasts! MODRIN! discourse was boring and indicated that just because these women have aged, they’ve become bumbling idiots who don’t know what a GIF is. (The fact that Carrie still has a smartphone with buttons was a perfect and subtle nod to her OG etiquette, but I don’t believe for a second they all wouldn’t be completely competent using an iPhone.)
As a total aside, the age thing wasn’t the only time the writers spoon-fed us. In episode two, at the funeral, when Stanford (RIP Willie Garson, what a guy) explains to us why, exactly, Carrie has made an effort and is “giving us a look today”… I didn’t feel like it needed explaining. Through ups, downs, further downs and everything in between, Carrie has always served in the style stakes. It’s who she IS to dress up and show up, no matter the circumstances. No SATC fan would’ve questioned her ability to dress impeccably, even on what is likely the most difficult, saddest day of her life.
THEY DID MIRANDA DIRTY
Where has Miranda gone? A smart, high-achiever with a big job and even bigger aspirations is now… well, a bit of a mess. They’ve given her a drinking problem, for one thing. They’ve replaced her whipsmart, caustic humour with someone bumbling and speaking out of turn about braids and the Muslim ban. She’s gone from being entirely with it, to someone whose marbles are not lost, but certainly strewn about on the floor.
The overreaction to Brady smoking weed? The ineptitude as a parent in general? The screaming at her lecturer in the train station? None of these felt like Miranda at all. More’s the pity.
THE DID CHARLOTTE DIRTY
Yes, sure, you could argue Charlotte was always a little bit self-involved, but the scenes where she absolutely CARRIES on, crying and making Big’s death about her rather than Carrie? I don’t think original-series Charlotte would’ve done that.
Maybe she would’ve complained to Miranda or Samantha about how she felt, but she would’ve been supportive of Carrie. Whizzing off in a cab away from her grieving friend after visiting a funeral home didn’t feel real in the broader context.
THEY DID SAMANTHA DIRTY
Then. THEN! We have the incredibly forced chat between Miranda and Carrie about the Samantha situation. First of all… whoever wrote that dialogue needs to eavesdrop more. They weren’t speaking the way humans speak, nevermind their characters. Their conversation was the antithesis of the ‘show don’t tell’ rule for writing, but aside from that? The entire reasoning for Samantha’s absence felt like a betrayal.
Anyone who watched originally will know one of Samantha’s key traits is her ride-or-die, loyalty above all attitude to her friends. There is absolutely no way that because Carrie fired her as her publicist that she’d ditch her as a mate, up sticks to London and send a bunch of flowers when her husband dies suddenly. Absolutely not, I won’t have it.
THEY DID STEVE DIRTY
Making his entire character arc be “I’m slightly deaf now” and not giving a genuinely incredible actor more to do? Dirty. When he’s in the wardrobe with Miranda and delivers the “I can’t believe he’s gone” line… Powerful. More of that please.
THEY EVEN DID SUSAN SHARON DIRTY
What. The hell.
Susan Sharon as a character was always a little unhinged. But what fresh nonsense was that whole thing about? The monolog about how their friendship struggles were water under the bridge… Bizarre. My theory? They were trying to segue as many actors from the original show as possible into the first few episodes (hello, Bitzy Von Muffling) and they managed to land Susan Sharon, so had to give her something to do. Terrible. Unnecessary. Awkward.
THE WHOLE ‘WOKE MOMENTS’ THING
Described perfectly in the New York Times by James Poniewozik, he said “the “Sex and the City” revival is part dramedy about heartbreak, part awkward bid at relevance”, and I’d be inclined to agree.
He also described it as being like two shows: “One, which tries to grow with the women as they navigate their 50s and mortality, is a downer, but it takes risks and in moments is very good. The other, which tries to update its sassy turn-of-the-century sensibility for an era of diversity, is painful.”
Painful. That’s exactly how it felt to be bombarded with lip service to issues and elements a cleverer show would have (and should have) handled smoothly. Gender! Race! Consent! Sex toys! Masturbation! Sex shaming! Alcoholism! Trans rights! Cultural appropriation! Ageism! Drugs! I was left feeling like someone handed the writers a list of topics to cover and gave them a 15 minute window to cram them all in, leaving nuance and subtle segues at the door.
In fact, I felt like each time the writers ticked a box, they’d all pat themselves on the back and hit the ‘woke moment’ button from Che Diaz’s podcast studio. It didn’t feel authentic, it didn’t feel natural, and while some of the references were punctuated by real responses (like when Miranda’s lecturer, Dr Nya Wallace, claps back with a much-needed lesson on white saviour complex), for the most part it just felt forced, which defeats the point entirely.
Important issues being sandwiched in between Manhattan brunches and Todd Rundgren listening parties meant experiencing them through the lens of these middle-aged white women. It was uncomfortable with itself, and so we the audience were left feeling the same.
THE MASTURBATION SCENES
No. No thank you. Absolutely not. Moving on.
DID I LIKE ANY OF IT?
Of course. There were some warming moments reminiscent of the ease of the original show.
I LOVED the style. From the first moment, I felt they all looked like ten-years-older versions of themselves. Carrie carrying two handbags? But of course. Miranda in a sassy print? Yes! Charlotte looking like a modern version of a 1950s heiress? Gimme.
When Big says “those blue shoes are the whole ballgame”, and then Carrie’s last words to him are “tell that whore Allegra I said bye!” – both of those expertly delivered lines could’ve been plucked from the 1998 episodes.
Of course Anthony is running a sexy sourdough business!
Of course Charlotte’s kid is a child prodigy!
And of COURSE it was Anthony who made the ‘Black Charlotte’ quip, as only he would get away with it.
When Miranda turned to check with Carrie about her grey hair and Carrie responded “fabulous” – that was SATC. That was real, it was friendship, it was lovely.
The blissful, married, child-free life Carrie and Big are living is set up so perfectly, and is so them. The wine, the vinyls, the giant apartment with matching enormous closet and bathroom/gym combo… (Imagine having your Peloton two feet from your shower? How dangerous and convenient). And thanks to Chris Noth and Sarah Jessica Parker’s acting, I found them believably still in love.
When Miranda meets Carrie at the door after Big dies and the first 30 seconds or so are entirely silent? That felt stunningly true to life. What would you say?? There’s nothing. And the girls rallying to sleep beside Carrie, night on night off, was a definite OG SATC move.
The “funeral home scissor reel” line was classic Carrie, delivered deadpan to Miranda who responds “okay”, equally deadpan.
And I LOVED the singing flower/balloon arrangement in Carrie’s hallway. A clear throwback to the “You’re dead, let’s disco” fiasco from Miranda’s mother’s funeral in the original show. Those moments were magic, and I wish there had been more of them.
In general though, I felt like the show was trying to hit me across the face with its self-awareness, with its forced modernity and with its constant WE ARE OLD jibes. I found the subtlety much more appealing. The gentle nods to the original series that were peppered throughout. More of those, and more developing dialogue around the ‘issues’ it needed to revisit from a 2021 perspective, would’ve been welcome. The parts that felt authentic warmed me, the parts that were performatively ‘woke’ left me cold.
After examining all those elements, where do I sit? Alas, in spite of my best efforts, I’m still on the fence. Although I will say this: Carrie, love. You absolutely should have called 911.