Even Samantha couldn’t rescue it: And Just Like That... is the worst show on television

The cast that deserved better: the stars of ‘And Just Like That...’  (HBO/iStock)
The cast that deserved better: the stars of ‘And Just Like That...’ (HBO/iStock)

So when it came down to it, even Samantha Jones couldn’t save And Just Like That.... Appearing for a brief cameo at the beginning of today’s season two finale, Kim Cattrall came accessorised with camp, colour and a fake British accent. Calling from a London taxi to say she couldn’t make Carrie’s bon voyage party for her apartment, Samantha brought much-needed fizz to a show dryer than sandpaper. Gosh, she was missed.

Since publicly burning bridges with Sarah Jessica Parker and declining to reprise her Samantha role full-time, Cattrall has turned up in wall-to-wall misery elsewhere – the ghastly Netflix comedy Glamorous, plus shambling revivals of How I Met Your Mother and Queer as Folk – as if to say that she’s not opposed to starring in absolute crud; she just despises the Sex and the City team that badly. But, in a turn of events few could have seen coming, Cattrall ended up dodging a bullet – over the course of its frustrating, punishing and routinely inexplicable second season, And Just Like That... has become the worst show on television.

This wasn’t the result of a downhill slide, however. And Just Like That... has always been a bombsite of a series – clothes scattered, junk flying everywhere, but just about bearable thanks to some committed acting and the appeal of this universe being revisited. The promise that it could get better carried it even further. Comparatively, season two has been one depressing calamity after another, the show no longer able to elegantly glide over its baffling creative choices. Rather, it’s staggering through the mud of it all in sky-high heels.

This year, Carrie restarted her relationship with Aidan (John Corbett), a gooberish lug she cheated on during a Sex and the City story arc that marked the dramatic apex of the entire series. She also destroyed a podcasting company rather than say the word “vagina” on air, paid $100,000 in exchange for a book endorsement in a newsletter, and carried around a tiny, ghastly purse shaped like a pigeon. Elsewhere, a soul-searching Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) didn’t so much find herself as find ritual humiliation and aborted threesomes. That was when, of course, she wasn’t losing her phone in piles of seaweed or being endlessly pilloried by her partner Che (Sara Ramirez), a cruelly omnipresent stand-up comic as allergic to jokes as they are to the concept of limited screentime on And Just Like That.... Charlotte (Kristin Davis) went back to work, did kegel exercises and sold Sam Smith some ugly paintings. Everyone had terrible, terrible children. At least one character ejaculated dust.

I wasn’t always an And Just Like That... hater. In fact, I was once one of its louder apologists, and certainly one of the only writers who rush-wrote a review of its first two episodes back in December 2021 and insisted on its apparent genius. I was, at the time, hopeful. They killed off Big (Chris Noth), the luxe New York prince to whom Carrie’s life seemed to revolve around – it was incredibly dramatic! I was also intrigued that the show was happy to depict Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte as slightly out-of-time; wealthy white women in their fifties politely struggling through a world and a New York that has changed alongside them. At first, I even liked Che, who would rapidly transform from an anarchic new presence on the show to TV’s most absurdly horrifying villain. In hindsight, my words were written from a sort of “delusional critic” persona – someone who careens between wisdom and ignorance and genuinely wanted And Just Like That... to be good.

But And Just Like That... was not good. What emerged was a series that seemed to be built on a mea culpa. This was a show full of regret over Sex and the City’s apparent infractions (the excess, the triviality, the lack of women of colour and queer people) but without any of the charisma or bravery to tackle them properly. This year there never seemed to be enough time to properly develop any of the women of colour introduced on the show, while the sheer number of subplots almost entirely detached from our main cast (Che’s a vet now! Anthony’s never bottomed!) became increasingly exhausting; a pile-up of narrative non-sequiturs with little payoff nor purpose. By the end of the season, each 44-minute episode was being devoted to at least seven different storylines at once.

This plagued our long-time heroes as well, with complex ideas dangled seductively but then snatched away before anything could properly ferment. At one point, Carrie pondered whether her decades wrapped up with Big were “a big mistake” and if she should have been with Aidan all along. It was the script equivalent of dropping an anvil in the middle of a busy street, and left Miranda speechless, but it was never revisited. The only truly great scene of the season involved Sarita Choudhury’s Samantha-esque real estate agent Seema admitting to feeling resentful over Carrie’s new relationship, and insisting she needs to step back from being friends for a little while. It was heartbreakingly performed by Choudhury and Parker. As far as emotions go, it felt real and honest, and the exact kind of low-stakes interpersonal conflict that the original series thrived upon. Yet it was wrapped up two scenes later, Seema’s melancholy never explored again.

She’s back: Kim Cattrall as Samantha in the ‘And Just Like That...’ finale (HBO)
She’s back: Kim Cattrall as Samantha in the ‘And Just Like That...’ finale (HBO)

The show’s odd timeline added further confusion. This season’s 11 episodes seemed to take place over the course of a year, beginning in May as the characters attended the Met Gala, leaping to Halloween by episode five, Valentine’s Day for episode seven, and presumably early summer again for its two-part finale. It resulted in a show not just untethered from reality but at least a quarter non-existent, with characters constantly reacting to things we never actually got to see. An integral part of the last three episodes of the season, for instance, has been Carrie struggling to connect with Aidan’s son, a character we’ve only seen briefly over a video call. We’ve been told that Carrie has hung out with him repeatedly while visiting Aidan’s Virginia farmhouse – but that’s a location we’ve never seen, either. How can an audience connect with plotlines that only exist in spoken asides?

You can get answers to many of the show’s mysteries by listening to the And Just Like That… The Writers Room podcast, in which showrunner Michael Patrick King and his team discuss the process behind each episode, and fill in some of the blanks when it comes to dropped stories. Why did the show never go to Virginia? Weather reasons! Why is professor and amateur soufflé-maker Nya (Karen Pittman) barely on the series anymore? Scheduling conflicts! Why didn’t the writers feel mortified that they had glamorous documentarian Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker) agonise over her unexpected pregnancy yet never once utter the word “abortion”? Because they thought the story was brilliant!

The podcast tends to be a humourless slog without a shred of self-awareness to it, so I’d avoid it – but it does offer a major red flag as to why And Just Like That... has never worked. Because if your audience is having to listen to a behind-the-scenes podcast to fully grasp nonsensical creative decisions, surely you’ve dropped the ball as a television show?

Avoid: Sarah Jessica Parker as the once brilliant Carrie Bradshaw (HBO)
Avoid: Sarah Jessica Parker as the once brilliant Carrie Bradshaw (HBO)

Where the series fully lost me this year, though, is in its treatment of its main character. Carrie Bradshaw was always the centre of the Sex and the City universe – a complex, brilliant, sometimes loathsome yet always mesmerising agent of chaos. She was a writer. A social anthropologist. An endless self-saboteur and drama queen. On And Just Like That..., though? She’s become some lady. Buoyed by Big’s millions, she no longer has to work, or write, or do much of anything. Her occasional questions about life go unanswered. She’s a sounding board for the crises of others rather than a maker of her own. She’s even stopped making terrible puns!

As she became more and more wrapped up with Aidan this season, selling her trademark Greenwich Village walk-up apartment to appease him, worrying about his family and indulging in behaviours that would repulse the Carrie of old – Carrie Bradshaw would never, ever embrace life as a stepmother to multiple teenage boys; are you serious? – she became a void. Perhaps, with better script work, this could have come off as a natural evolution. Call it growth, maturity or Carrie settling into a life free of internal conflict. But as it was presented on-screen, this felt like a woman completely losing her mind and her identity and absolutely no one saying a thing about it.

We left Carrie in her fancy new townhouse, happy to give in to Aidan’s request of a five-year hiatus for their fledgling relationship. There was no fight between them, no questioning of an absurd ultimatum. It was pure anti-drama, indicative of a series so eager to be proper and positive (why does every character have wildly successful dream jobs now?) that it’s sacrificed any sense of conflict or danger. Unexpectedly, considering so much of the series seemed to get wrapped up in the finale, a third season of And Just Like That... has been confirmed, but I’m not sure that I see hope for it creatively. Not when the only thrilling moment of the season involved an actor who hates the show sitting in the back of a car being sassy on her iPhone.

‘And Just Like That...’ is on Sky Comedy and Now