AND JUST LIKE THAT… (Michael Patrick King). First two episodes now streaming on Crave, then air every Thursday until February 3.
You know how some people, at a funeral, will choose not to look at the body in the casket – especially after a tragic, disfiguring accident – and say, “I’d rather remember them the way they were?” Faced with the mangled corpse that is And Just Like That…, Sex And The City fans might want to follow suit.
HBO’s influential series, based on Candace Bushnell’s book, ran for six seasons (1998-2004), sold a zillion DVD box sets and spawned two movies of decreasing quality as well as one awkward, short-lived prequel, The Carrie Diaries.
For millions, it defined a certain era and introduced us to a wide variety of sexual situations, as well as fancy cupcake stores, cocktails, shoe designers and performance artists. I sheepishly admit I first heard about Marina Abramović’s work through the show. No doubt the series prompted many, many people to buy one-way tickets to go and try to find love, career success and a decent apartment (ha!) in Manhattan.
The original show lives on, of course, not just in our memories but on various streaming platforms. I’m sure you know a few people who binged everything SATC-related during the pandemic.
But sadly, the legacy is in serious jeopardy of being tarnished by the new 10-episode series named after Carrie’s often glib epiphanies or life lessons learned near the end of episodes.
A death and a funeral take up much of the first two episodes, which are currently streaming. The word Peloton has already taken on a different meaning after its use in the bizarre climax to episode one.
But more significant than the loss of a recurring cast member is the loss of one of its four co-leads. And Just Like That… desperately needs Kim Cattrall‘s PR maven Samantha. Her absence is explained away in the first scene: she’s moved to the UK after she and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) had a falling out over some business regarding publicity for one of Carrie’s books.
What you realize watching the show without Samantha is that not only did she have the funniest lines – often sexually-tinged puns – but she added some den mother, been-there, done-that wisdom to the lives of Carrie, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon).
It would have been fascinating to see how Samantha responded to the women’s various first-world-problems: not just Carrie’s sudden loss but also Charlotte’s concerns about how to deal with a gender-nonconforming child and a lily white friendship circle and Miranda’s issues, which include living with her horny teenage son and his girlfriend, alienating her fellow graduate students with her un-woke sensibility and her sexless life with husband Steve.
And certainly Samantha would have dispensed some good advice for Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone), whose marriage kicked off the second movie and is now, surprise surprise, faltering. Actually, scratch that; Samantha would have understood early on that their marriage didn’t make sense at all and would have convinced both to leave each other.
Checklist of issues
What is so damn depressing about this sequel series is that show runner Michael Patrick King seems so busy checking off hot-button issues and appeasing his white liberal guilt that they render their iconic characters ridiculous.
Former sex columnist and author Carrie, when she demurely refuses to talk about masturbation as a guest on a hit podcast hosted by Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez), a non-binary, queer stand-up comic, gets told she needs to “step her pussy up” if she wants to continue being on the show. Firstly, why can’t Carrie talk about masturbation, a subject that must have sprung up at dozens of brunches and columns? Secondly, why does she care so much about this podcast? And finally, who says “step up your pussy?”
It would have been much more interesting to show the 50-something Carrie fighting with some Gen Z Instagram or TikTok influencer over her particular bit of media turf – perhaps as a clever callback to the classic Twenty-Something Girls Vs. Thirty-Something Women episode.
There is a storyline about Miranda’s alcohol consumption that is so eye-rollingly bad it feels lifted from some teen-targeted PSA (wouldn’t an opioid addiction better represent 2021?). More interesting is her narrative involving her growing attraction to everything about Ramirez’s Che. Considering Nixon’s own late-in-life coming out, this story could go to some intriguing places.
For anyone watching SATC today, it’s an incredibly white show. As if to compensate for that, King has provided each of the white women with instant POC friends. Charlotte is bonding with Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker), a power mom at her daughter Lily’s school; Miranda, after an awkward first encounter with her law professor, Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman, given way more to do than she did in The Morning Show’s second season), is now going out to dinner with her; and even Carrie gets a non-white friend in super stylish realtor Seema (Sarita Choudhury). And then there’s Che, of course, who in Ramirez’s bold performance (Che even gets a fake Netflix comedy special taping), emerges as more vital and interesting than any of the leads.
Four episodes in, there aren’t any major Asian characters, but Charlotte’s adopted daughter, Lily, is Asian (she even plays classical piano!), so I guess King figured he’d checked off that box.
All of this would be fine if these new characters didn’t feel so awkwardly shoe-horned into the script. SATC worked so well because it confidently introduced viewers to trends and fashions. Now its characters are out of touch and trying to play catch up; it’s just not as interesting to watch.
Besides Samantha, the Latin-influenced score is also absent, and Carrie’s narration is less pronounced. Episodes clock in between 40 and 45 minutes, which means the rhythms are different this time out.
Many of the show’s characters talk about feeling tired. Obviously the creative team felt the same way. After all, when you have hired legendary actors like Brenda Vaccaro and James Naughton – not to mention SATC regulars like David Eigenberg and Evan Handler – and give them nothing to do, you know you’re in trouble.
This series is in trouble. I’ll still watch every episode, for old time’s sake, even though just like that, my fond memories of SATC are slowly being destroyed.