By Cadence Lane
This past December saw the return of the iconic, ground-breaking, and era-defining HBO series Sex and the City (SATC). This time, in the form of an HBO Max streaming revival And Just Like That… (AJLT). Since 1998, the franchise has been adored worldwide for its frank and comedic depiction of the sexually liberated lives of its main characters. But unfortunately, AJLT fails miserably to live up to its predecessor. Filled with cringe-worthy dialogue, little character development and plotlines that were dropped almost as soon as they began, AJLT is so bad that it makes the heavily criticised Sex and the City 2 look like a masterpiece.
Just as the original series was ground-breaking at the time for its depiction of single women in their thirties and forties, AJLT had the opportunity to be ground-breaking once again by positively depicting a demographic often ignored or misrepresented by Hollywood—women over 50. Viewers were eager to see ’50 and fabulous’: mature women who had already gone through all the angst and uncertainty of finding ‘the one’. We wanted to see women made wise by their past mistakes, knew what they wanted out of life, and were established in their careers as they embarked upon new and exciting adventures.
Instead, each character is systematically stripped of the happy endings they worked for in the series and rendered completely unrecognisable as they stumble blindly from one humiliating situation to the next. Carrie goes from a successful bestselling author and writer at Vogue to a co-host on a third-rate podcast, taking orders from her painfully obnoxious comedian boss, Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez). Intelligent and pragmatic Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) falls from a high-powered attorney to a ‘comedy concert’ groupie, giving up her marriage, career and education to follow Che around. And Charlotte (Kristin Davis) seems to have doubled down on her ideas of perfectionism to the point where she can barely function, coming across as a manic robot only concerned about keeping up appearances. Nothing about these women’s lives is aspirational or fun. Sadly, they have all regressed in some tragic way.
We watched, deeply invested through six seasons and two movies, as Carrie and Big (Chris Noth) progressed through their messy on and off-again relationship. And yet, for all our investment, fans never really got to see them happy together. From jilting Carrie at the altar to wanting to take two days off a week from their marriage, it seemed that Big never really overcame his commitment issues, and Carrie never realised that she deserved better. That’s why, as a viewer, it was so rewarding to watch the happy scenes the two did manage to have together in AJLT. It displayed that they both finally seemed comfortable and at peace in their relationship. However, almost as soon we got this validation, Big was killed off in the most emotionally manipulative and infuriating way possible. Carrie couldn’t even dial 911 as he lay on the floor having a heart attack! What makes it worse is the whole debacle was a thinly veiled plot device to launch Carrie back into the dating world. Clearly, with Big out of the picture, the writers fall back on what they know best – how to keep Carrie in a perpetual state of misery, confusion or longing (because really, what other character development is there for a woman?). Ultimately, Big’s death makes the show depressing and becomes a hurdle that the series never manages to get over. The writers simply didn’t have the room to explore it properly within the light-hearted tone of the show. Realistically, Carrie would be devastated and completely broken, yet she barely sheds a tear after his death; in fact, she’s cracking jokes at the funeral, and it’s only a matter of months before she’s dating again. It’s all utterly disingenuous to everything that we know about the character.
And this is just one example in a litany of character assassinations carried out by the incompetent writer’s room and showrunner Michael Patrick King. King was the showrunner of the original series and writer and director of both movies. It’s baffling that after the disaster of the second movie, HBO Max would give him carte blanche to helm the revival of one of their most iconic properties. And what’s even more baffling is that Davis, Nixon, and Parker were all executive producers on AJLT yet failed to ensure their characters remained consistent or even likeable. Just look at Miranda; the woman who was once so adamant about hating cheating and lying has done a complete 180 by having an extended affair without an ounce of remorse or even a thought for her ‘fan favourite’ husband Steve (David Eigenberg). The writers try to make viewers sympathise with Miranda by criminally tearing away all of Steve’s charm and appeal. The result turns him into a bumbling, impotent old man and exploits his use of a hearing aid in a very ableist way to justify Miranda’s behaviour.
In interviews, Davis champions King and his ‘bespoke writing’ that moulds the fictional character to fit the actor. Truthfully, King has just lazily inserted the actors’ lives into the story without any actual character development. Miranda seems to have disappeared and now much more resembles the real-life Cynthia Nixon. They further blur the line between reality and fiction in explaining Samantha Jones’s (Kim Cattrall) absence. After actress Kim Cattrall had a very public feud with Parker, she refused to reprise her role as the iconic character. Carrie claims that Samantha moved to London because they had a falling out after firing Samantha as her publicist. Still, every SATC fan knows that the fiercely independent Samantha, who was a great friend, would never ditch Carrie over money and that if Big died, she would be on the first plane back to be at her side. Instead of preserving the integrity of the character, they have made art imitate life in an entirely unsubtle dig at Cattrall that undermines a core tenet of the franchise being the four women who were supposed to be each other’s soulmates.
Cattrall is not the only SATC alum that didn’t get a proper send-off. Lynn Cohen, who played Miranda’s loveable housekeeper Magda, passed away in 2020 and received no mention. Likewise, Willie Garson, who played Carrie’s best friend Stanford, tragically passed away during filming and is also written off in a way that fails to honour his legacy on the show.
In addition to these absences, New York City is barely featured, there are no voiceovers from Carrie, and most noticeably, there is no fashion, or at least none worth mentioning. Unfortunately, Patricia Field was busy working on Netflix’s Emily in Paris and couldn’t reprise her role as the costume designer for the revival. Her absence was noticed as replacement costume designer Molly Rogers provided a pale imitation of Field’s iconic low and high styling. As a result, Rogers had the characters drowning in puffy sleeves and oversized jackets, an overabundance of hideous plaid and a never-ending series of garish hats.
Perhaps what is most egregious about the show is how it has handled diversity issues. The original series is criticised for its failure to accurately represent the diversity of New York City, so it was exciting to see multiple characters of colour joining AJLT. Along with Ramirez, we meet; Karen Pittman as Dr Naya Wallace, Miranda’s Columbia Law professor; Nicole Ari Parker as Lisa Todd Wexley, Charlotte’s stylish new documentarian friend; and Sarita Choudhury as Seema Patel, Carrie’s vibrant single realtor. Instead of being given complex and realised characters who are integrated into the story, the new people of colour are treated as accessories to each of the original leading ladies. The writers have attempted to give them independent storylines, but they are filled with clichés and circle the main plot with little to no impact. This is the result of what comes across as performative box-checking rather than genuine representation—a transparent way of King attempting to atone for the mistakes of the past but has incidentally created an entirely new and more offensive set of errors. It comes at no fault of the actors who do the best with what little they’ve got. Choudhury is a standout and steals every scene that she’s in, effortlessly exuding the style and glamour of the original series. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Ramirez, who can’t overcome the awful dialogue and her character’s off-putting and abrasive behaviour.
Ultimately, all the creative decisions made are so bizarre that I can’t help but wonder if anyone involved ever really understood what made the show successful in the first place. So as much as I genuinely wanted to love AJLT, all I can say is, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t. Don’t hate me.’ The full season is now streaming on Binge and Foxtel on Demand, but I can only suggest forgoing it all together and rewatching the original.