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Sex and the City: A reimagining rather than a reboot?

By March 19, 2021March 20th, 2021No Comments

Megan Cassidy examines the reaction to the recently announced return of Sex and the City, and wonders if there is a need for more of Carrie and the gang…


I first heard that there would be a Sex and the City reboot via breathless WhatsApp messages from friends. The franchise that wrapped over a decade ago will return for ten half-hour episodes in a series titled And Just Like That.

It turns out that I have SATC memories with a lot of people; my college roommate and I would eat Tuc crackers smeared with Philadelphia while watching episode after episode instead of writing essays. A friend from home reminded me that we would watch it in each other’s houses after school, fingers hovering over the TV remote in case a parent should enter the room. I was struck by how much life has changed.

Shows like Sex and the City serve as time capsules, stories that tell us what a particular moment looked like, what mattered to us, and what didn’t. The response to the reboot was resoundingly positive among my friends.

I wasn’t surprised to find that that was not the case on the internet at large.

A quick Google search brought up a plethora of think pieces questioning whether the show still has a place in 2021, and pulling apart all that was wrong with the series. It felt as though no one was ready to publicly admit that they had loved or even liked the show, and not out of malice – more like a collective amnesia brought on by a want to do better and be better. I couldn’t help but wonder (sorry)… does Sex and the City deserve another chance? Or is it better left buried, an artefact from a time gone by?

I think it’s the word ‘reboot’ that isn’t sitting right with people. It conjures an image of firing up an old computer that hasn’t been used in years, but as it’s kicking into action it pulls up all the last-edited documents and open tabs, untouched and unchanged by time. That’s not going to work for a show like Sex and the City, a show that, when observed through the lens of 2021, is undoubtedly problematic.

But to say that the show should never have aired is to simplify the complex issues of storytelling and art.

Sex and the City ran for six seasons from 1998 to 2004, and later returned for two terrible movies. The series follows four white women in their 30s as they navigate friendship and sexual relationships in New York, while dangling cosmopolitans, the windows of their luxurious apartments flung open.

I was a huge fan.

And back then, the show was considered progressive. It was rare to see an all-female leading ensemble and even more rare to see female sexuality dealt with so boldly on primetime television. This was a show about sexual politics, female friendship and fashion, in a time when we demanded something very different from our television from what we do now. It was escapism, it was frivolous, but it was also the first time many people saw themselves reflected back on screen. It was beloved by gay men, in a decade where glimpses into queer culture were few and far between. For context, in 2004, the year SATC finished, Grey’s Anatomy featured three black characters and that was considered groundbreaking. Obviously, that’s not good enough.

In 2021, mere visibility is no longer enough, and many have since questioned whether SATC actually did LGBTQ characters a disservice by using them as plot devices. Other problems: the four main characters are white and privileged. There was not enough representation in the cast and crew. These problems make it hard to justify caring about the characters and themes from this new vantage point, in a time when we expect our television not only to entertain, but to challenge us and move us forward.

The show’s original creator, Darren Star, told The Hollywood Reporter that he has ‘no interest’ in returning to the series, saying: “I May Destroy You is the Sex and the City for now. Girls was the Sex and the City for its moment. I wouldn’t be doing Sex and the City today.”

But are we judging the show out of context? Isn’t it possible that the SATC ‘universe’ is dynamic and that both the story and the storytelling can progress along with public sentiment?

The way we consume television now has changed how it’s created. TV is no longer ‘episodic’, designed so that viewers can tune in and be entertained without ever having seen a previous episode. That’s certainly how it was in 1998, when we watched according to a broadcast schedule, and thus characters remained as ‘archetypes’ with little growth or change from episode to episode.

Now, the viewer has total control over when and how they consume their television, meaning that shows no longer need to be designed for ‘drop ins’. This creates a much more transient storytelling style – characters grow and change and develop and we, a more engaged consumer, follow their paths.

It’s a far more collaborative experience between viewer and creator. We choose what we watch and when, sending clear signals back to streaming platforms on what we like and what we don’t. We dissect our TV on platforms like Twitter, so that the creators of, say, Emily in Paris, (Hi Darren Star!) are very aware of where they got it wrong. They’re getting real time feedback and making tweaks accordingly.

For me, a show like Sex and the City, which got a lot right despite the creative constraints of the 90s, could have a lot to offer in this new world.

And so far, there’s a lot to be hopeful about. Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays the lead protagonist Carrie and is also a creator on the show, now has the added creative armour of having absorbed audience feedback in the ten years since the second movie wrapped. She knows audiences hated the movies, and why. She’s no longer creating content in a vacuum.

SJP has said she reckons Carrie will be ‘energised’ by the #MeToo movement, that a journalist who specialises in sexual politics will have a lot to say about it.

That doesn’t mean that Carrie isn’t or won’t be a flawed character – and that’s okay! For me, arguments about the lead character’s failings are superfluous to the conversation. I don’t need to see a ‘reformed’ Carrie to feel good about this show.

Example: Back in the noughties, Carrie didn’t vote and she was proud of it. (We now know that to be apolitical is a privilege afforded to the few – it’s no longer funny not to vote). SJP on the other hand, is extremely political. Isn’t it possible the creator may have something interesting to say about her character’s privileged position, without making her a perfect or reformed person? Since when do we only want to watch perfect people who embody ‘rightness’? Let’s pick apart just how bad a person Carrie is/was and what she can teach us about ourselves and what we thought was okay!

More hope: there’s been a shakeup in the crew lineup with Samantha Irby, Racnhna Fruchborn (The Mindy Project) and Keli Goff (Black Lightning) all coming on board. Chris Noth, who plays Carrie’s controversial love interest Big, may not be coming back – which, if SJP has been reading the tweets, she’s probably happy enough about.

It’s been confirmed that the global pandemic will be addressed in And Just Like That. This is a significant breakaway for a show that centred around New York and aired in 2001, but ignored 9/11.

If we zoom out and look at the ‘reboot’ landscape, there’s even more hope.

A recent reboot of Saved by the Bell was a roaring success. A show about a cast of privileged, white rich kids that was riddled with problematic themes, came back in a 2020 ‘reimagining’ – poking fun at the failings of Bayside without eviscerating the series that so many people loved because they didn’t know better.

This is what makes TV fascinating and difficult and complicated. These alternate universes are dynamic; just like us, they change with us – both in what they say and how they say it.

So, instead of a reboot, how about a ‘reimagining’ – a look at what might matter to these women in 2021, told in a very different way. A look back with the intention of measuring progress.

Of course people are going to watch And Just Like That. In their droves! Many will watch just for the escapism and the nostalgia factor. Maybe the naysayers will be right and that’s all it will be. But I’m holding out hope for SJP.

“It’s incredibly diverse in a really exciting way,” Parker said of the show’s new writing team, who bring new “life experience, political world views, and social world views.” I want to see what they have to say.


Image from @sexandthecityitalia on Instagram