Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett

Borderline bleak

Sex and the City’s sequel is more mini-lecture series than TV drama

Artillery Row

Like any diehard Sex and the City fan, I find myself once again working my way through the entire box set, this time as an antidote to the truly awfully sequel And Just Like That — a car crash that it’s impossible to look away from.

Where Sex and the City celebrated independent women in their 30s searching for love and making mistakes along the way, in And Just Like That it seems unclear whether we are even supposed to like the three central characters who are now in their 50s. Miranda is in full mid-life crisis mode — an alcoholic who apparently hates herself and everything about her life; Charlotte is a stick-in-the-mud mum not hip enough to cope with her daughter’s gender angst; and Carrie, once so quick with a witty one-liner, is devoid of any spark.

You might think the producers would have been aiming for entertainment

Sex and the City could cover an astonishing breadth of dating dilemmas in one episode. In one episode, Samantha sleeps with Charlotte’s brother who is leaving a sexless marriage, Miranda navigates dating a single dad and dealing with his son, and Carrie falls in love with a boyfriend’s charismatic family, rather than her boyfriend. In comparison, in one recent episode Charlotte’s tedious search for more ethnically diverse dinner party guests is a central plotline.

Instead of a fun or thoughtful look at how love and relationships change as we grow older, And Just Like That is an apology for the original show. Like so many popular shows from the 90s and early 2000s, Sex and the City has been held up to today’s impossible standards of political correctness and found wanting. Over the past few years, the show has been criticised for, among other things, how it handled transgender characters, bi-sexuality and for a lack of diversity.

You might think the producers would have been aiming for entertainment, but it seems that they chose education instead: the show is more akin to a mini-lecture series than an enjoyable drama, with each episode appearing to address some imagined wrong from the older series. Six episodes in, we have already covered non-binary genders, the correct way to talk to black people (how insulting and patronising for everyone involved) and cultural appropriation.

I laughed once, when new character and Carrie’s podcast boss, the non-binary Che Diaz kept hitting a “Woke moment” buzzer when they wanted to educate their audience on some particular wokeism or offer some kind of trigger warning for content. Surely this character is a send-up, a parody of wokeness? But the joke’s on me: the woke buzzer is meant to be taken seriously by philistines like me. Indeed, Che is now a central character and supposedly a comedian — although the high-point of her stand-up routine is saying “Fuck” a lot. I’ve never missed Samantha more — the only central character not to return. The sexually liberated straight-talker would never have apologised her way through the 2020s.

But the most glaring discrepancy in this reboot is its utter joylessness

And what of the men? Sex and the City always put women front and centre, but the male characters were still important, occupying a secondary but vital role. But now, the men are all but erased. Big is dead; Harry is a shadow of his former ball-busting self, now reduced to being told how to behave around black friends by his wife, Charlotte; and Steve, oh poor Steve, he has been transformed into an old man at 50. Steve is going deaf and can barely hold a conversation any more, and so has effectively been silenced. When Miranda cheats on him with Che, no attempt is made at sympathy for Steve. He is barely even considered. The old programme dealt with infidelity, most notably when Carrie has an affair with a married Big. The writers still took care to show the other side of the story, including a well-deserved, icey telling-off from Big’s by-then ex-wife later in the season, where it dawns on Carrie just how much she has destroyed for someone else.

But the most glaring discrepancy in this reboot is its utter joylessness. I was a teen when the show first aired, just beginning to discover romance and sex. For an awkward adolescent girl trying to navigate these new experiences, it was a revelation. Teenage girls are taught to fear sex: warned it could lead to unwanted pregnancies and being treated badly by boys. In Sex and the City, sex was allowed to be celebrated by women — something they could not only enjoy, but be in charge of. It was empowering. It was outrageous. Through laughter and tears, the four heroines encountered everything in the dating world from “funky tasting spunk” to the civil war between “marrieds” and single people.

Sex and the City was joyous, but And Just Like That is borderline bleak. One scene where a post-hip-surgery Carrie wets her bed while Miranda cheats on Steve with Che in Carrie’s kitchen is particularly devastating. So far, Miranda’s affair with Che is the only time we see one of the central characters actually have sex. Here has been a missed opportunity to depict women in their 50s as still sexually desirable. Instead, Carrie considers a facelift. Compare this to Netflix series Emily in Paris (incidentally made by Sex and The City Darren Star) in which Sylvie — head of the PR agency where Emily works — is in her 50s, sexy and knows it, and enjoys passionate affairs.

Growing up in suburbia, Sex and the City was eye-opening for me on homosexuality and transgenderism, but it didn’t feel like a message rammed down my throat. In one episode, Carrie attends an LGBT prom after a short-lived dalliance with her former high-school boyfriend. As we watch gay, lesbian and trans couples slowdance around the room, Carrie’s voiceover says: “So, maybe it won’t look the way you thought it would look in high school. But it’s good to remember love is possible. Anything is possible. This is New York.” For all its flaws, Sex and the City had heart. It’s disappointing that this reboot rings so hollow.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover