And Just Like That: A Postmortem for a Sequel That Was Dead on Arrival

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Warning: spoilers ahead for season 1 of And Just Like That

And just like that… Sex and the City became the archetypal bad boyfriend you can’t bear to cut loose. There were good times, sure, way back before the show became a franchise. (Remember how Susan Seidelman directed three episodes of season 1? Or that time New York magazine roasted Carrie in its “Single & Fabulous” issue?) But for many fans, myself included, the spark went out when the series finale promoted Mr. Big from “toxic bachelor” to Carrie’s Prince Charming. Others would get turned off by the inane SATC movie or its offensive sequel.

Yet, for some reason—Y2K nostalgia? Omicron boredom? Morbid curiosity?—we watched And Just Like That. Despite lukewarm reviews and the absence of Kim Cattrall’s iconically libidinous Samantha Jones, the sequel had what HBO Max would pronounce the “best debut day of any series” in its short history. The premiere caught viewers off guard with Big’s unintentionally hilarious death by Peloton; Chris Noth, the actor who played him, was soon resurrected in an opportunistic but inevitable Peloton commercial. In a depressingly contemporary third act, after multiple women accused Noth of sexual assault, his scenes were cut from subsequent episodes and the ad was pulled. As Ferris Bueller, an obscure alter ego of Sarah Jessica Parker’s husband Matthew Broderick, once said: Life comes at you fast.

The allegations that the man whose character embodied SATC’s romantic ideal had preyed upon women only underlined what should’ve been obvious from the moment the show was announced—and what the season’s scripts would go out of their way to confirm: AJLT was over before it even started. Executive producer Michael Patrick King, who has long been the keeper of the franchise created by Darren Starr, and whose other TV projects include 2 Broke Girls and The Comeback, excels most at putting bon mots in the mouths of over-the-top female characters. Carrie’s mourning took King out of his comfort zone, not only slowing the pace of a narrative that had always been defined by the kinetic motion of city life, but also introducing an element of tragedy that never quite meshed with the more familiar, breezier story lines. I mean, were we supposed to laugh or cry when Miranda’s first hookup with Carrie’s nonbinary podcast boss left a convalescent Carrie to soak her bed in pee? Because I just felt deeply uncomfortable.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon in 'And Just Like That'Craig Blankenhorn/HBO Max

The other women’s arcs were, somehow, worse. Formerly a sweet-natured priss, Charlotte devolved into the worst kind of helicopter parent, micromanaging every element of her children’s lives while still finding bandwidth to judge her friends’ choices. (No wonder Lily can’t even insert a tampon independently!) Poor Miranda kicked off the season ready to reeducate herself for a second career in public-interest law, only to Karen her way through Columbia and, ultimately, blow up her life in New York to follow her new love Che Diaz’s bliss to California. She and Steve never seemed like a great match, it’s true, but suddenly her family, her political convictions, and her career no longer mean anything to her? That’s not the Miranda we know. Meanwhile, the reduction of Samantha’s presence to a series of terse text messages with Carrie made a franchise notable mostly for its blunt depictions of women’s sexuality seem weirdly prudish.

If AJLT’s casting of a new woman-of-color friend for each member of the central trio came off as conspicuously compensatory, it was also, admittedly, preferable to the alternative: more whitewashing of a city where white people make up less than 43% of the population. Karen Pittman’s Dr. Nya Wallace, a law professor who, after a rough first day of class, looks past Miranda’s flailing-white-lady exterior to find a confidant, was the most fully realized of these characters. Charlotte’s posh filmmaker pal Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker) seemed underwritten by comparison. Carrie’s real-estate agent Seema, with her cigarettes and her love of handbags, might have been a bit too alternate-reality-Bradshaw on paper, but the great Sarita Choudhury made the character her own. And then, beyond the gender binary, there was Che—a comedian who confused motivational speeches for jokes, a preposterously on-the-nose embodiment of every attribute the original cast was missing and a gift to meme makers everywhere.

Despite its fearless (or naive) embrace of cringe, AJLT did tiptoe around one delicate topic: money. Whether through their own high-powered jobs or via marriage to a master of the universe like Big or Harry, Carrie and her friends—once striving career women whose expensive tastes sometimes resulted in obscene credit-card debt—now live the lives of one-percenters. They buy whatever they want, do whatever they want, travel to Paris whenever they want.

Such financial security lowers the show’s stakes to near-nonexistence. Considering that the Bradshaw-Prestons owned two Manhattan apartments, and that when Big left his ex a seven-figure inheritance the only apparent injury to Carrie was emotional, it’s probably safe to conclude that her future isn’t hanging on the success of a podcast or a memoir. Which, taken together with a growing global hostility toward the super-rich that has fueled recent hits from Succession to Parasite, might explain why King so often glosses over the characters’ wealth. When he does acknowledge their privilege, it’s indirectly, through humor. For them, Brooklyn is just a place you go to volunteer. Charlotte, Lisa, and their kids roll up to one such outing in a stretch limo. Rather than dirty her hands, Seema writes a “big, fat check” and lights a cigarette. As the season progressed, this deflection increasingly distanced viewers from the characters.

Still, if the constant social-media chatter was any indication, we kept watching. And our loyalty paid off, on Thursday, in a strange, cursory finale that confirmed AJLT had been doomed from the very beginning. No major character’s resolution made sense, even as the setup for a possible second season. Miranda lighting out to L.A. to become Che Diaz’s #1 fan? Charlotte getting abruptly bat mitzvahed at a ceremony Rock dropped out of, at the last minute, because it offended her fluid identity or something? (Also, how rich would you have to be to let your kid back out of such an expensive event after it starts?) Carrie dumping Big’s ashes out of her Eiffel Tower purse and into the Seine, then taking another shot at love with the silver-fox producer of her new advice podcast? (Eat your hearts out, Frasier and Roz.)

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More than anything, the episode felt sparse, anticlimactic, and unfinished—three things a finale should never be—too attenuated by the loss of too many original SATC cast members to stand on its own. In a genuine, real-world tragedy, the actor Willie Garson became too sick with pancreatic cancer, midway through production, to finish shooting what Parker has described as “a very significant story line” built around his character, Stanford Blatch. (Garson died in September.) Samantha was not just gone, but also tarred by the unbelievable implication that she wouldn’t swallow her pride to visit her grieving friend in New York. It was obvious where Noth-as-Big had been hastily cut out of Carrie’s dream sequences and flashbacks, and in the finale, his absence from those scenes rendered them all but nonsensical.

By the time Carrie arrived in Paris, the only closure to be found was with a ghost who could no longer be represented onscreen and a friend who existed only in her phone’s Messages app. It’s hard to imagine a clearer indication that the story had exceeded its expiration date. Sadly, fans’ bottomless appetite for SATC has made the further erosion of the show’s legacy worryingly likely. If they film it, we will come—even if the best thing we could do for the story would be to let it die.

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