I Couldn't Help But Wonder...
Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kristin Davis in 'And Just Like That...'

And Just Like That Ruined The Magic Of Sex And The City

In the words of Miranda: “You broke us. What we had is broken.”

by Ben Rosenstock
Originally Published: 
Craig Blankenhorn / HBO Max

It was clear from the beginning that And Just Like That, the “new chapter” of HBO’s Sex and the City, didn’t need to exist. The original show had the perfect send-off, with each of its four main characters achieving a happy ending suited for them. The new series was always going to struggle to justify itself, especially with one of its four central actors missing, and especially after two Sex and the City movies had already attracted mixed reviews. What I didn’t expect, though, was something quite so unsatisfying, something that not only failed to add anything new but actively derailed the journeys of characters I knew and loved.

My love for Sex and the City is admittedly new: When the series was airing, my mom was a fan, but I was still learning how to read. I first got into the show only last summer, as a 25-year-old, after years of listening to friends discuss which character they were most like. But that’s a testament to its staying power. For all the obvious ways Sex and the City’s portrayal of 30-something women (and one 40-something woman) in New York City falls short — namely due to its lack of racial diversity and some unfortunate transphobic jokes — it largely holds up as a warm comfort watch of a show. One season blurs into two, then into three, and before you know it, you think of the four central best friends as your friends.

Sex and the City is primarily about those four women and their friendship, but it’s also about subverting the expectations imposed on them by both society and by themselves as middle age approaches. By the end of the series, all four basically have it all: happy romantic relationships, fulfilling jobs, and plenty of time to maintain their close friendship. Sure, it admittedly mirrored the conventional straight, monogamous rom-com series and movies of its era, but Sex and the City’s finale offered the ideal feel-good ending most fans wanted for its characters.

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It’s easy to see Sex and the City’s important role in television history: It added to HBO’s rising cultural cachet in the early 2000s, and more importantly, it spoke frankly and filthily about women’s sex lives at an unprecedented level in the mainstream. It was so popular that when the first Sex and the City film premiered in 2008, it recorded the biggest opening ever for a romantic comedy. That’s a hell of a legacy, even considering the missteps that are still remembered, like its biphobia, and the Abu Dhabi-set second film’s egregious Islamophobia.

To disrupt the nearly perfect conclusion of the series, there needs to be a compelling reason — but And Just Like That never found one. Following two movies that mostly protected Sex and the City’s happy endings, And Just Like That’s goal became obvious: to pick at the fairy tale, suggesting a bolder future that isn’t so constrained by tradition. It does make sense, as a theme: The magic of the original series, too, lay in its characters’ ongoing struggle to reconcile the happy endings they envisioned with the ones actually within reach. The new series upending the status quo all over again would seem to fit the spirit of the show, but it only underlines a point the original series already made.

Sarah Jessica Parker and showrunner Michael Patrick King have expressed interest in a second season of And Just Like That, but it’s hard to imagine one that could make up for a season that has rendered most of its main characters unrecognizable. At this moment, Kim Cattrall, who pulled out of a potential third movie in 2016 and who reportedly isn’t on speaking terms with Parker, isn’t likely to return. The end of Samantha’s friendship with Carrie hangs over the show depressingly. Though the finale teases a reconciliation between Carrie and Samantha, no such peace exists between their performers. Still, there are interesting avenues to explore without Samantha, in theory: Miranda discovering her queerness as a woman in her 50s, Charlotte raising teens in a culture she often doesn’t understand. In practice, unfortunately, both storylines squander that promise, doing serious damage to the characters.

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO Max

And then there’s the main storyline: Carrie grieving her late husband, Big. (Chris Noth was reportedly cut from the finale following sexual assault allegations he denied.) While the pacing has been confusing, and a couple episodes were wasted — who needs to see Carrie racking up the courage to tell a younger downstairs neighbor to make less noise? — it’s a poignant storyline. It ends in the right place, with Carrie scattering her husband’s ashes from the bridge in Paris where she and Big finally got back together in the original show. With Carrie’s quiet goodbye — and that elevator kiss — And Just Like That finally shows its protagonist is ready to move on.

Carrie looking for love after loss is basically And Just Like That’s raison d’être, and it’s easy to imagine Carrie back on the dating scene if the show returns for Season 2. But Sex and the City was never just about Carrie, and she’s not enough to make up for the aimlessness in every other corner of the story. It’s unclear what a path forward for Charlotte or Miranda looks like now; for most of Season 1, Charlotte has resembled less the lovably naïve traditionalist we know than an over-the-top cartoony take on the well-meaning liberal white woman. The finale ends with her genderqueer 13-year-old Rock’s aborted “they mitzvah,” but there’s no real lesson or growth here, just some vague gesturing at banishing labels altogether.

And the less said about Miranda, the better. Even without her awkward Karen energy and the alcohol use disorder arc that was all but forgotten by the finale, her storyline was a letdown. The unceremonious ending to Miranda and Steve’s (David Eigenberg) marriage — and Miranda’s choice to drop everything and accompany her infamous, insufferable new partner Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez) to Los Angeles — is framed as a healthy act of liberating self-care. But it’s actually just plain old selfishness, a full-blown regression after Sex and the City ended with Miranda finally growing up and putting someone else’s needs ahead of her own. “What you did, that is love,” her housekeeper Magda told her, after watching Miranda take care of Steve’s mother with dementia. Love is selflessness, and it needn’t alter your entire personality to be transformative.

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO Max

It makes sense that all three women are still figuring themselves out this many years later; effortless understanding of the world doesn’t magically arrive on your 35th birthday. And Just Like That’s commendably diverse writers room has tried to show that by addressing the original show’s racial blindspots — primarily through the introduction of three new characters of color. But most of the show’s discussions of race and gender are awkwardly played for cringe comedy that doesn’t quite work, even if the writers are in on the joke like they insist they are. The only new character who really becomes an integral part of the cast is Seema Patel (Sarita Choudhury), but even she fails to really get the full storyline she deserves.

And Just Like That repeatedly resists complexity in favor of needless destruction — of friendships, of relationships, of characterization. Perhaps that points to a larger, more theoretical problem with the series: King and his writers room operated from the false premise that the original show ended too happily, that it lacked the imperfections of real life. And I’d argue that’s an overly simplistic way to look at Sex and the City.

Craig Blankenhorn / HBO Max

Sure, on the surface, it’s easy to point to Carrie and Big’s romantic Paris reunion as something from a fairy tale, or to deem Miranda’s ending “pat” and “compulsively heteronormative,” as Robyn Bahr wrote in The Hollywood Reporter. (You could say the same about Samantha.) But if you rewatch Season 6, you’ll remember that for all its rom-com trappings, Sex and the City was even-handed, just slightly subverting the fantasy endings these women would’ve written for themselves. You can see that in Episode 14, “The Ick Factor,” which features two different unsentimental expressions of romance: Miranda’s spontaneous, fittingly downplayed proposal of marriage to Steve, and Charlotte and Harry (Evan Handler) holding hands on the bathroom floor. “Surviving a night of food poisoning together wasn’t the stuff of great romance,” Carrie’s voiceover says. “But it was the stuff of lasting love.”

By the end of Sex and the City, Carrie had gotten back with the love of her life, but only after years of confusion and pain in their ever-fluctuating relationship. Big was a terrible partner, but so was she, and by then they’d both grown just enough that a different ending seemed possible. Miranda learned to compromise and moved away from Manhattan. Charlotte got the pregnancy she always hoped for, then miscarried, and finally made peace with adopting. Samantha went through breast cancer, allowing herself to truly need another person for the first time. It was a fitting ending for all four women, and one that didn’t necessarily call for some brutally realistic subversion nearly two decades later.

It’s certainly a buzzy choice to revive a beloved comedy and so quickly dismantle all of its happily-ever-afters. But was it worth breaking up Miranda and Steve, whose love story was moving and funny and sexy all at once, if it meant papering over that history? Was it worth killing off Big if the exploration of Carrie’s grief was so inconsistent? Was it worth doing any of this if Samantha couldn’t be there? When all is said and done, would a Season 2 of And Just Like That really be worth it? Was Season 1?

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