And Just Like That review: An awkward City of the future
Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first two episodes of And Just Like That.
For years now, I've felt a little weird about Sex and the City. It's like I need to defend the franchise while I throw it out the window.
There's this floating allegation that the original series, which ran on HBO from 1998 to 2004, has not aged well. It was a pioneer in premium cable's mature content revolution, and a then-rare phenomenon of female-focused storytelling. Now it mostly gets brought up as a model of white privilege walking and whatever intersectionality isn't. I don't know. I love most of the show — everything until Baryshnikov — and I think the most problematic parts are precisely half as problematic as anything any mouthy Manhattanite said out loud 20 years ago. Sex and the City was edgy in a dreary period for mainstream culture, back when an onscreen female orgasm earned an NC-17 from the patriarchy. The past ages poorly, which is why we bury corpses we don't burn.
That said: The first Sex and the City movie was boring. The second one ("Abu Dhabi do!") is a crime against humanity. And the last season was already a bit creaky, which means we're approaching 20 years since Sex and the City was its best self. The HBO Max revival And Just Like That justifies its spin-off existence with one legitimate shock and a new mood of middle-aged uncertainty. But it's also a sweaty enterprise, stretching to include vast political sensitivities in a way that feels more self-serving than self-aware. I miss Samantha, man, and I miss how Kim Cattrall was the last SATC star willing to look utterly ridiculous.
In fairness, And Just Like That misses her too. It takes less than a minute for someone to mention the absent "fourth Musketeer." The third scene of the premiere is a long chat between Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) about why Samantha left them behind. (Blame the decline of the publishing industry.)
There's an empty seat at the brunch table, which the remaining three leads each try to fill with new faces. Carrie is the token cisgender white co-host on a podcast run by swaggery comedian Che (Sara Ramirez). Charlotte (Kristin Davis) adores Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker), another parent at her kids' fancy school, and a character with a presumably rich interior life who is almost immediately labeled "Black Charlotte." Miranda leaves corporate law to study human rights at Columbia, where she learns a lot from a professor named Nya (Karen Pittman). While Miranda wines and dines her teacher, Carrie shares daylight cocktails with Seema (Sarita Choudhury), a successful realtor struggling through the horrors of online dating.
Look. If you're asking "Is this show just about giving white ladies nonwhite friends?" the answer isn't "No." In the vintage Sex and the City episode formula, the women got together to talk about their lives, split into (usually) romantic subplots, then reunited to laugh over their troubles. And Just Like That isn't as obviously structured — the 40-plus-minute episodes could all use an edit — but you can spot the same dynamic, with these new acquaintances filling the plotspace boyfriends used to occupy. In the original series, the foursome offered each other a respite from dating confusion, and a space where female energy could recharge from masculine blunder. Here, the remaining trio are a safe harbor of middle-aged familiarity in a diverse world of youth and accusation. Miranda's son calls her a sex-shamer. Che warns Carrie she's coming off as "the uptight cisgender married lady." Charlotte thinks one Black woman is another Black woman. Everyone worries about becoming a meme.
All of which is less interesting to talk about, maybe, than the twist I've buried here in the middle of the review. And Just Like That begins with Carrie and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) happily settled. They have a getaway in the Hamptons and an extra why-not apartment: that DINK life! Then Peloton kills Mr. Big. I know, we're not supposed to blame the beloved home-cycle cult for the death of Sex and the City's first man. But this new series only exists because Peloton kills Mr. Big.
That death is sad for a lot of reasons, not least because ever-naughty Noth is fantastic in a few scenes of domestic bliss. His heart attack also makes And Just Like That variously moving and confounding. The second episode focuses on Carrie's grief — a sorrow that's more palpable given the prominence of the late Willie Garson as her forever pal Stanford. Watching Garson walk around somebody else's funeral is one of those unfakeable moments of TV revival art: time's passage caught on screen.
And then awkwardness reasserts itself. Miranda's first interaction with Nya is a face-slapping moment of white stupidity — and then Miranda rescues her professor from, like, a TikTok attack, and all is forgiven. Episode 3 gives Che an extended stand-up comedy sequence about how TV fails in its representation of nonbinary characters by backgrounding them — but on a narrative level, that set piece entirely exists to bestow emotional catharsis unto the lead characters. Charlotte rescues herself from the whoops-I-thought-you-were-somebody-else incident by name-checking Gordon Parks, Deborah Roberts, and Barkley Hendricks. I couldn't help but wonder: Is And Just Like That challenging its characters' perceived faults, or is it congratulating them (and, by extension, the makers of the show) for being so gloriously willing to learn? Did we need to see Charlotte artsplain Black painters to a room full of Black people?
"I think I was just so worried about saying the wrong thing in this climate that I said all the wrong things," Miranda confides to Carrie. Am I part of the problem now, calling out a sitcom so desperate to avoid being called out? I wish the jokes were better ("I started back in the day with OKCupid, which was not okay, it was like Are You F---ing With Me Cupid?!") and the once-savvy Manhattan observations feel tourist-y (like did you know a lot of New Yorkers have dogs?) Still, there's a lightness here that improves from the movies' general thud. Miranda and Steve (David Eigenberg) are in an old-married groove that might be a slump, every night built around their streaming service and their dessert ritual. Nixon remains an invigorating performer, even if I don't always recognize sharp-edged Miranda in the revival's wannabe ally. Charlotte has convincingly aged from a New Yorker cartoon of a socialite into a New Yorker cartoon of a mom. I've seen four episodes, and the fourth one strains less to include the new supporting cast; people stop talking about ISSUES and start talking about their issues.
Parker has to spend these early episodes in mourning, which is both logical and exasperating. But the road ahead looks intriguing, with old habits rediscovered alongside new beginnings. An image I didn't realize I needed to see in 2021: Carrie Bradshaw, cigarette in hand, the city that once was hers passing by outside her window. And Just Like That tries too hard to bring its cultural brand into a new era, but it reclaims a core humanity lacking in the previous franchise extensions. It won't kill you, unlike Peloton. Grade: B-
The story of Sex and the City continues as Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda navigate life, love, and friendship in their 50s.