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Sex and the City belonged in the Nineties, where its sexual politics, feminism and worldview were wildly progressive. Today, though, the original series looks quaint. Backwards even. And Just Like That…, its much-anticipated sequel, knows it. This 10-episode revival isn’t just shocking because of what happens in it – claims by showrunner Michael Patrick King that no one gets killed off prove to be a total lie – but because it knows its main characters are older, whiter and completely out of step. It is a brave, unexpected and ultimately rewarding move.
In hindsight, it’s also annoying that so much of the advanced press for the series was dominated by Kim Cattrall. Her Samantha, as everyone now knows, is not a part of And Just Like That…, with the actor cutting ties with the show, while confirming a fraught relationship with star Sarah Jessica Parker in the process. In the new show, Samantha’s absence is explained in a surprisingly brutal scene. Much like Cattrall and Parker, there was a falling out between the friends – Carrie dropped Samantha as her publicist for her forthcoming book – and a hurt Samantha high-tailed it to London. Despite their attempts to reach her, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) haven’t been able to get her to reconsider her exodus. She is referenced throughout, particularly in a few emotional moments in episode two, but she is otherwise gone.
As the new show continues, though, it becomes clear that And Just Like That… has very different things on its mind than the Samantha-sized hole in the ensemble. This is a series set in a new New York, with Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte adrift on an island that has advanced in ways both big and small. They aren’t just paranoid about their hair going grey, they’re also detached from modern discourse on sex, race and politics.
Carrie is a regular guest on a podcast fronted by a “queer, non-binary Mexican-Irish diva” named Che (a raucous Sara Ramirez), and is visibly uncomfortable about the show’s sexual frankness. She balks at a question on her masturbatory habits, and her trademark puns – always deployed when conversation gets too heated – are met with bafflement from her younger co-hosts.
At home, she and husband Big (Chris Noth) are revisiting music by Linda Ronstadt and Todd Rundgren – a leftover habit from the worst days of the pandemic, which is referenced nicely if not elaborated too much upon – while Miranda’s husband Steve (David Eigenberg) is going deaf. Charlotte is bemused by her daughter Rose’s fashion sense, which is loose, young and deliberately anarchic in a way she doesn’t understand. Essentially, everyone here is creaking.
It’s most overt in Miranda’s subplot. She’s gone back to school to study human rights law – she recognised “wearing a pink pussy hat” wasn’t actually doing a whole lot for women – and finds herself needlessly complicating her every interaction with a glamorous Black professor named Nya (a dazzling Karen Pittman).
There’s a great scene here in which Nya – cool, smart, at ease with life – heads to a subway station while on the phone with her husband, and spots an anxious Miranda on the same platform. “S***, she’s coming over here,” Nya whispers, Miranda proceeding to intrude upon her space like an incredibly eager white woman fixated on doing the absolute most at all times. It’s a fascinating new approach to take for the show. It’s Sex and the City acknowledging its own problem areas – from its whiteness to its incredibly narrow view point it previously pretended didn’t exist – but also not beating us over the head with its newfound self-awareness.
There’s also drama. In the worst possible advertising for the already beleaguered Peloton exercise bike, Big has a heart attack mid-workout. He’s found dying in the shower, eventually leaving a widowed Carrie devastated but numb. Big’s death provides the show with an immediate gravity reminiscent of the best seasons of the original series. If the terrible movie versions of the show overdosed on froth and nonsense, wildly misreading the pull of its TV source material, And Just Like That… gets Sex and the City back to basics. There are still guffaws and glamour – Parker, in particular, looks unsurprisingly spectacular – but it also has emotional heft.
Elements here are certainly missed, from Carrie’s near-absent voiceover to the retired theme music, but these first two episodes are otherwise a return to form. It’s a minor miracle. Not only because the show got so lost during its adventures on the big screen – Sex and the City 2’s sheiks and souks and “Lawrence of my labia” seem beamed from an entirely different dimension in comparison – but because TV reboots often misread what worked well about their original incarnations. And Just Like That… doesn’t feel like cloying nostalgia-bait, or a sad rehashing of the past. It’s so good, in fact, that Kim Cattrall must be kicking herself.
‘And Just Like That...’ is streaming on Now and airing tonight (9 December) at 9pm on Sky Comedy