tv review

And Just Like That … Is Sexless in the City

Photo: HBO Max

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After watching the first four episodes of And Just Like That …, the follow-up series to Sex and the City, I couldn’t help but wonder: Where is the sex?

The HBO series about the romantic exploits of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her three best friends, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristen Davis), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), broke ground during its late-’90s and early-2000s run for its frank depiction of the female sexual experience and the fortifying nature of friendships among women. And Just Like That … reacquaints us with three members of that famous quartet — Cattrall opted out of this ten-episode HBO Max series, so Samantha is only present via references to the fact that she’s currently living in London — as they navigate life in their mid-50s, which apparently involves a lot of confusion about the modern world and only a little talk about s-e-x. Is And Just Like That … watchable? Very much so. Is it also laughable, often unintentionally? Yes. Yes, it is.

As the first episode begins, Charlotte is still happily married to Harry (Evan Handler) and seemingly has a healthy sex life, though it’s not something that’s really discussed. Miranda and Steve (David Eigenberg) are also still together and raising their now-teenage son, Brady (Niall Cunningham), though, as later episodes explain, they are not having sex at all. “Are we a couple,” Miranda asks, “or roommates with ice cream and a kid?” And then there’s Carrie and Big (Chris Noth), married, deeply in love and ensconced in their mammoth Manhattan apartment, where they drink wine and groove to Todd Rundgren. There is one kinda-sorta chastely filmed sex scene between the two of them, but without spoiling the huge twist that comes at the end of episode one, which dropped today alongside episode two, let’s just say their bliss doesn’t last.

The only sex we actually witness in the first four episodes provided to critics involves Brady doing it with his girlfriend, which is something I don’t think anyone needed or wanted to see. Middle age, in the And Just Like That … universe, is apparently not a time for sex. It is a time, if you’re Miranda, for going back to school for a second degree and saying literally all the wrong things to your younger Black professor (played by Karen Pittman). It is also a time, if you’re Miranda, for constantly ordering Chablis, something I have never seen a human being under the age of 75 do.

If you’re Steve, it is a time for wearing a hearing aid, which helps explain why Steve can’t hear how ridiculous his speaking voice is. (How has he managed to sound, more, not less, like he’s from Queens over the past 20 years?) If you’re any of these people, it is, apparently, a time to be very skittish about other people smoking weed, an issue that comes up more than once. And if you’re Carrie, it is a time when writing a newspaper column has been replaced by co-hosting a podcast called X, Y and Me, in which Carrie acts as a representative of cisgender, hetero women but gets super-uncomfortable when the conversation gets graphic. When asked a question about masturbation by the main host, Che, a queer, nonbinary stand-up comedian played by Sara Ramirez, Carrie hems and haws, later explaining to Che that she’s more comfortable talking about relationship stuff. Carrie Bradshaw, uncomfortable with sex talk? I couldn’t help but wonder what the fuck was going on.

And yet, as in any piece of revisited IP, And Just Like That … will trigger many familiar pleasure centers for an audience that remembers when people used to gather on Sunday nights to watch the original show (and not tweet about it, because Twitter didn’t exist yet). Carrie still dresses like she’s headed to the runway; her costumes, designed by Molly Rogers and Danny Santiago, remain a joy to behold. (The ensemble she wears on a significant occasion in episode two is absolute perfection.) Many of the side characters from the series and the two movies make appearances here, including the outspoken Anthony (Mario Cantone) and his now-husband, Carrie’s bestie, Stanford (Willie Garson, in a posthumous performance; the actor died in September). New York City is still a vibrant supporting player in all this action; And Just Like That … acknowledges that COVID happened but also makes it clear that it somehow went away, just like that. When Carrie gazes fondly at her shoe collection, she still coos, “Hello, lovers.” Truly, the most arousing thing on this show may be Carrie’s closet, and yes, I would absolutely hit that.

Creator Michael Patrick King, who writes and directs multiple episodes, has made an effort to do some nipping and tucking in the areas where the original Sex and the City fell short. This version of Carrie Bradshaw’s world finally includes people who aren’t white. We slowly begin to learn about the interior life of Miranda’s professor, Nya, and Charlotte becomes close with a Black mother (Nicole Ari Parker) at her daughters’ hoity-toity private school, making a clumsy and offensive attempt to cement their friendship in episode four. With the character of Che, King & Co. attempt to broaden their landscape to include the experiences and perspectives of queer people beyond the trope-y gay-best-friend roles Anthony and Stanford fulfilled. The problem is that you can always hear the storytelling gears turning. Even the big twist that is supposed to knock viewers sideways is blatantly telegraphed ahead of time, playing out so operatically that it pushes any subtlety into another Zip Code.

There are occasional flashes of the insight and humor that helped make Sex and the City such a phenomenon in its day — a wry comment from Miranda here, Carrie embarrassing herself in amusing fashion there. But And Just Like That … comes across as desperate to seem cool and relevant in a very different TV landscape. Watching it made me feel old, and not because I, like these ladies, have aged since the original series. Nothing about the show feels organic; so much about it is painfully forced. Which is unfortunate for a series whose title implies that, sometimes, life is full of surprises.

And Just Like That… Is Sexless in the City