The Sex and the City revival forces its iconic characters to struggle in a world that’s changed a lot in 20 years.
This article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of And Just Like That.
In 2004 when Sex and the City ended I was in eighth grade. I vividly remember being in history class the day the finale was set to air, and my teacher overhearing me talking about it. Aesthetically he was a very regular, middle-aged straight white man, and a rather unremarkable dresser. I’d never peg him for an SATC fanatic. His eyes lit up though, and for a moment we both forgot what setting we were in and began feverishly discussing who Carrie should end up with, Mr. Big or The Russian. Reality flashed back in though as he paused and asked, “Isn’t that show a bit old for you?” My eyes asked back, “Isn’t it a bit gay for you?” And then we just moved on, but that small interaction was indicative of the vast impact the show had. At the time that it was originally on, it was groundbreaking, and that captivated audiences of all demographics.
Unfortunately though, like a lot of cultural staples of the past — SATC didn’t necessarily age well. What was once a show pioneering ideas of women being able to be career-focused, sex-obsessed and living their own lives under less patriarchal terms, is is now more a time capsule of the late 1990s and early 2000s’ awkward dance with raging cishet, white privilege. Over time, episodes have been dissected and realized to have horribly mishandled issues of gender and sexuality, and the show’s stereotypical treatment of race, and almost complete exclusion of characters of color, was beyond an oversight.
But now almost twenty years later, it was decided that the two abysmal films that followed the show could not be where we left our pioneers of chic, slutty white feminism. And Just Like That has arrived to give fans a new chapter — one that finds our once-thirty-somethings looking for love now as fifty-somethings struggling with staying relevant in a world that is changing just as fast as their once-youthful looks. And with that new conceit, AJLT gave itself quite a bit of room to address its former flaws.
The first episode casually reintroduces us to three of our original four ensemble cast, Carrie (who is of course wearing two purses and a hat), Miranda and Charlotte, in a familiar setting — meeting for a fancy lunch. We get the awkward Covid jokes that every show seems to feel obligated to make now, and an immediate blast from cooky side characters’ past as Bitsy Von Muffling breezes through to annoy the girls and ask the pivotal question: where the fuck is Samantha? We’d all been wondering how the show was going to address the absence of one of its main characters. AJLT cleverly let the moment indulge in a bit of awkwardness as Charlotte blurts out, “She’s no longer with us;” not because she’s dead, but because she’s moved to London. Carrie and Miranda chime in and it’s made clear that she’s just not part of their group anymore, a nod perhaps to the unceremonious way Kim Cattrall put her time on the show behind her in harsh public statements.
But then we hop right into where all this time has led the girls. Carrie has transitioned her writerly fame into more of a pop culture figurehead position on a podcast with a famous comedian. She’s trying to navigate Instagram too, and Miranda, who is “old school,” refuses to engage with either as she focuses on getting her masters in human rights so she can evolve her law practice to be more humanitarian. Charlotte is still frivolously obsessed with social status and house wifery, but in this iteration, her friends are more annoyed by it than they used to be. Each of the girls are confronted by not just aging, but also by a world that is not as comfy for rich, white women as it used to be. As they discuss the nuance of hair coloring, Carrie defends Miranda’s gray hue to Charlotte who misses her youthful red. “We can’t stay who we were,” she says. As the show’s first two episodes unfold, that seems to be the theme for the whole revival.
Miranda’s awakening begins on her absolutely cringeworthy first day of class. She walks into her “policies and principles of humanitarian law” seminar at Columbia and immediately makes inaccurate pronoun assumptions, and then proceeds to ramble for the class about why she mistook Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman) for a student “because of her braids.” In her ranting she says she wanted to take the class because Wallace was black. She goes on to try explain that she wasn’t trying to point out the hairstyle because it was a “black hairstyle,” and that she knows “hair has nothing whatsoever to do with appropriateness or intelligence,” before finishing out getting caught up with ageism and the gray hair thing again. It’s a lot. Later on, we once again watch Miranda heinously clomp through trying to be the good white person. As Wallace struggles to find her ID for the campus security, Miranda rushes in to try to accuse the security guard of racially profiling. After the incident as she waits for her gold star, she’s surprised that Wallace isn’t thanking her. She tries to justify that all the good white folks were told “if you see something, say something,” with a tone still begging for validation. Wallace has to teach her what a white savior is, and it becomes very clear that AJLT is not fucking around.
For Carrie, her growth lies in her new podcasting life on the show “X, Y and Me,” where her boss and host of the podcast, Che (Sara Ramirez), crams a lot of social justice speak into their programming. With a “woke moment” button they tap to make politically correct disclaimers, within a quick few minutes we touch on non-binary identities, the patriarchy, it being problematic to ask people of color to speak for their entire race, sexual consent and mansplaining. At first it feels like the show is going to choke us with its own wokeness to prove a point, but then the nuance happens — Carrie bristles at talking about such big ideas, especially being candid about sex. She whines to Che afterwards that she just wants to take listener calls about relationship questions. Che reminds her that she was a pioneer of awakening attitudes towards sex in her column, and if she wants to stick around she’s going to have to catch up to the times or ditch her shiny new media job.
We’ve done a lot of work as a culture to move things the hell along in the kind of programming we get. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but as a whole, television has gotten much more queer, and centers people of color far more often — and that trend needs to continue. It feels like the writers behind AJLT understood previous SATC criticisms and tried to rise to the challenge of elevating the show’s new chapter. And while focusing on the discomfort of boomers in a far more socially progressive society does fall into the category of white whine, it’s an important part of the tapestry of our evolving world as well. Letting the heroines of SATC lore become middle-aged women who fumble social situations in a world that is less racist and homophobic is about as real as AJLT could have gotten — and it’s a learning opportunity for older viewers of the show. While Charlotte has yet to have a comeuppance in these first two episodes, there is a great opportunity there to address privilege that hopefully we will get to see as well. It’s a fruitful start for the series, where it seems we have largely traded the former show’s sex for this show’s social justice.