‘And Just Like That’ Is Nothing Like ‘Sex and the City’—In the Best Way

‘And Just Like That’ Is Nothing Like ‘Sex and the City’—In the Best Way 1

“They say nothing lasts forever; dreams change, trends come and go, but friendships never go out of style.” – Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City

Practically all relationships I know are based on the foundation of lies and mutually accepted delusions.” – Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City

Well, talk about a thesis statement.

The long-awaited sequel series to Sex and the City, HBO Max’s And Just Like That, is finally here, carrying with it nearly enough baggage to fill Carrie and Big’s Fifth Avenue penthouse.

There are the purses and chic carry-on luggage: How could any new episodes replicate the magic formula of the original run without tarnishing its legacy? Moreover, didn’t we learn after that dreadful Sex and the City 2 movie to not ask for more? Sex and the City was ultimately a series about Carrie Bradshaw telling stories. At this point, is there one that’s still worth telling?

But then there’s the more imposing, hideous suitcase threatening to ruin the look of the whole collection—the one that’s full of questions, gossip, scandal, and assumptions. How could this possibly exist without Kim Cattrall’s Samantha, the show’s vital fourth voice? Has the ugliness of the back-and-forth over what may or may not happened on set and who may or may not have wronged who poisoned any attempt at bringing the franchise back? And most importantly, how will the show address Samantha’s absence—and how petty or morbid might it be? (We all saw those leaked set photos from what looked like a funeral…)

Listen, after all these years and all that drama, I think we all couldn’t help but wonder whether this whole thing was going to be a dumpster full of Manolo Blahniks set on fire. Perhaps we should have had more faith. This is the Sex and the City universe, the only pop culture universe I will recognize (sorry-not-sorry to Marvel). Yes, there’s that baggage, but it is designer, sweetie. It is impeccably made. It is fun. It is lavish. It is comforting.

There are people who will be enraged by bits and pieces of the first two episodes, because nothing can exist without attention-seeking cries of blasphemy. Online cynics will bully anyone who likes it over certain cringey jokes, to which we say: Have you ever seen a fucking episode of Sex and the City? But mostly, the remarkable thing is that there turns out to be one more story to tell, and it can be told without Samantha.

The remarkable thing is that there turns out to be one more story to tell, and it can be told without Samantha.

And Just Like That feels palpably distinct from the original Sex and the City. There are puns and great fashion, silly plot swings and fierce friendship—all a warm hug and a pleasant revisit. But there was a free spirit to the original show that was perfect for what it was, when it was: these women in their thirties figuring out what they want from life and love in a city full of possibility, and a show that was provocative and pearl-clutching for the simple fact of acknowledging that sex exists and that women talk about it.

Replicating that formula all these years later, with the characters in their fifties, would be ludicrous. Instead, it’s a different story we’re telling: what it means to age, both with your friends and apart from them, and with your love and away from them. We’re meeting these women at a different stage of their lives, when things are no longer a lark and the stakes, though they certainly seemed high then, are not as frivolous.

In turn, And Just Like That eschews some of the camp of the original and replaces it with the gravitas that comes with time. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people argue that the new series is more drama than comedy—and are possibly furious about that. But mimicking the original would have been a disaster.

This is perhaps exactly what it should be, like a classic Carrie Bradshaw outfit: sometimes upsetting or confusing, always fascinating and fun, and, regardless, clearly assembled with great care.

I don’t want to seriously spoil anything, and won’t. That said, proceed with caution.

The Samantha of it all is dealt with early on. Considering the impossible position the show’s writers were put in, I feel like the excuse they landed on for her being away is as respectful as could be.

There are those who might find writing her out of the friendship to be a cardinal sin in the SATC Bible. (Is a macabre bait-and-switch joke over a misunderstanding that she had died crass and inappropriate, or meta and brilliant?) I’d argue they’ve concocted a wholly believable explanation, recognizable to anyone who has evolved through the decades while trying and, more often, failing to keep a close group of friends together.

Beyond ripping off that Band-Aid, it has to be said that there is no bracing for the litany of surrealities that greet you when the episodes start.

The first line of the entire series is a COVID reference: “Remember when we had to legally stand six feet apart from one another?” Six seconds later, however, you get your first Bitsy von Muffling sighting. The agony and ecstasy of And Just Like That.

Are you prepared to see Carrie become an Instagrammer? Or for her to scream the phrase, “I’m gonna step my pussy up”? Or for Miranda to be so overwhelmed by her Pantsuit Nation, pink pussy-hat politics that she becomes a bumbling minefield of painful missteps in woke-ism?

I can already hear the screams of second-hand embarrassment over all this. Frankly, I think it’s the fun of it all. Two decades ago, these were the women who were hot trendsetters and boundary pushers. Now, they’re the older generation trying to find their footing in a new world of young people’s attitudes and views.

Carrie unapologetically acknowledges how uncool she is now. Of course she is. This show is uncool. The whole idea of it is uncool—yet another reboot of an old series (lame), but this one known for being about ’90s sex. People joked that And Just Like That would be The Golden Girls circa 2021. Instead, it’s leaning into who these characters are, not the nostalgia of who they were.

When Carrie says, “I have to go do a podcast, they’re like jury duty now,” I felt the internet’s most jaded collectively wince. Carrie Bradshaw, podcaster? I howled. That’s a good line! And have you seen who’s doing podcasts these days? It’s real.

By getting away from the sex and the city of it all, in 2021, it actually feels a bit more real.

That, to me, is the most striking thing about And Just Like That. By getting away from the sex and the city of it all, in 2021, it actually feels a bit more real.

The false promise of Sex and the City—perhaps not when it originally aired but as interpreted by a new generation of fans who have fallen in love with it—isn’t that you could be single and live as fabulously as these women, with their gorgeous apartments, weekly brunches, closets full of Oscar de la Renta, and taxis all over the city. It’s that you can be single and live in the city at all.

The crushing reality is that New York City isn’t structured for a single person, even one of arguably impressive financial means, to be able to afford any sort of lifestyle, let alone one of such glamorous romanticism. For those with one income, it’s not a city for indulgence or impulsiveness, but for survival.

That’s where the fascinating tension at the center of the series always lay: the fantasy escapism of such an unattainable and unrelatable life as the backdrop for conversations, characters, and themes about dating, identity, and ambition that were more real and more familiar than any other show at the time—and few since—have dared.

That said, it is still a relief, in some ways, to have sped past the incredulity of singlehood and the anxiety of settling down that defined the original series. These aren’t women juvenilely giggling about different men’s sexual fetishes, what is or isn’t a red flag in the bedroom, or whether giving a woman a certain kind of flower at a date immediately disqualifies him from the end-all, be-all: relationship material. (A Sex and the City superfan/scholar and I used to laugh in loving disbelief at these antics: These women are in their mid-thirties!)

Maybe there’s a different fantasy here when it comes to relationships and love, continuing the original show’s wide-eyed view of romance: All these years later, every single one of the show’s central couples are still together and happily married—including Bitsy von Muffling and Bobby Fine (though, as always, there’s a tragic element to that one).

I suppose Sarah Jessica Parker already made her Divorce and the City—it was on HBO, literally called Divorce, and I and probably seven other people watched it—but And Just Like That doesn’t shy away from the devastation and darkness that builds like a looming threat the longer a couple is together and the stronger their love grows.

Let’s just say that whatever it was the people at Crockpot did to piss off the writers of This Is Us, the good folks at Peloton seem to have done the same to the team at And Just Like That.

This is a show about grief. About how friendships change. About getting older, and how owning that is liberating, terrifying, necessary, and impossible, all at once. There are new characters meant to address the original’s lack of diversity, played by Sara Ramirez, Nicole Ari Parker, and Karen Pittman, and thus far they are woven in seamlessly.

Sex and the City became famous when four women had a conversation about anal sex in the back of a taxi cab. Now, they’re working through what it means to be alive. And Just Like That marries the optimism and breathless wonder of a 1998 Carrie Bradshaw with the weariness that accompanies, as Samantha once said, decades of “lies and mutually accepted delusions.”

And just like that… evolution.