Peloton blames shocking ‘Sex and the City’ death on character’s ‘extravagant lifestyle’

Cynthia Nixon, from left, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kristin Davis in the “Sex and the City” revival “And Just Like That …”
(HBO Max)
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This story contains major spoilers from the premiere of “And Just Like That ...”

Since its debut in 1998, “Sex and the City” has been a trendsetter. Cosmos, Manolo Blahniks, Magnolia Bakery, Fendi baguettes, great big flower pins: They all became cultural sensations after getting the endorsement from Carrie Bradshaw and friends.

But the first episode of “And Just Like That …,” the limited series reboot that premiered Thursday on HBO Max and ends with the death of a beloved character after a vigorous workout, has cast an uncomfortable spotlight on the Peloton bike.

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“Sex and the City” produced many memorable deaths over the years. Who could forget Kristen Johnston falling out the window in “Splat!” or Miranda’s mom dying in the same episode as Carrie’s cherished laptop?

But — and here is where I will warn you, in my most serious tones, to proceed no further if you haven’t already watched the premiere episode in full — nothing can, or ever will, compare to Big getting killed off via Peloton.

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Yes, John James Preston, a man who survived marriage to Natasha and the wrath of Aidan, died of a heart attack after taking his thousandth class on the high-end stationary bike.

I don’t know if series creator Michael Patrick King has a particular grudge against the fitness company — maybe he’s just a SoulCycle guy? — but rarely in the history of pop culture has an enviable product placement ever gone quite so wrong. Sure, star instructor Cody Rigbsy just finished in third place on “Dancing With the Stars,” but Peloton’s indirect role in the demise of one of the most iconic romantic leads in the annals of television puts it in a position nearly as awkward as Big’s stance on the bike.

“I’m sure ‘SATC’ fans, like me, are saddened by the news that Mr. Big dies of a heart attack,” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventative cardiologist and member of Peloton’s health and wellness advisory council, in a statement to The Times. “Mr. Big lived what many would call an extravagant lifestyle — including cocktails, cigars, and big steaks — and was at serious risk as he had a previous cardiac event in Season 6. These lifestyle choices and perhaps even his family history, which often is a significant factor, were the likely cause of his death. Riding his Peloton Bike may have even helped delay his cardiac event.”

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It continued: “More than 80% of all cardiac-related deaths are preventable through lifestyle, diet and exercise modifications. And while 25% of heart attacks each year are in patients who already had one (like Mr. Big), even then they are very, very treatable. The lesson here is, KNOW YOUR NUMBERS! It’s always important to talk to your doctor, get tested, and have a healthy prevention strategy. The good news is Peloton helps you track heart rate while you ride, so you can do it safely.”

On Sunday, the company — which was aware of its appearance in the episode but not the details of the storyline — released a new, tongue-in-cheek response ad featuring Noth and King. “Working with Ryan Reynolds and his marketing company Maximum Effort, we created this spot in less than 48 hours,” a spokesperson told The Times. “We had no prior knowledge of the storyline involving Peloton and this was not a product placement but rather a casting opportunity for one of our instructors.”

The episode starts out perfectly well for Peloton: The series finds Carrie and Big, who’ve weathered quite a few storms over their years together, in a decidedly happy place in their marriage.

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We learn that over the pandemic Big and Carrie have bonded by cooking and listening to records together.

And like a lot of other affluent people, Big has gotten really into Peloton. Like, really, really into it.

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The bike occupies a place of honor in his sleek, capacious apartment, between the fancy shower and the walk-in closet the size of a suburban garage. Fresh white towels are rolled up neatly on a shelf next to the bike. If only there were a window looking out over Central Park, then it would look just like seemingly every Peloton advertisement.

Big is particularly fixated with an instructor named Allegra, who is played in a virtual cameo by real-life Peloton star Jess King. (“Thank you for all the messages,” King posted on Instagram late Thursday, acknowledging the cameo.) The character even comes with a mini backstory: She’s from Barcelona, Big tells us, and teaches in Spanish. Big’s quasi-romance with Allegra has become a running joke with the couple. He skips Charlotte’s daughter’s recital to spend the night with her — a.k.a. work out — and is hoping for a shout-out — a big thing in the Peloton community.

Carrie even calls Allegra a whore (you know, in a funny way). Big’s attachment to an instructor he knows only through a screen is the kind of distinctly modern relationship that would have set up a theme for a whole episode of “Sex and the City” 1.0.

“I couldn’t help but wonder,” Carrie might say in voiceover while clacking away on her computer, “could the woman making Big’s heart race also be stealing it?” B-plots could follow other characters seduced by one-sided relationships: Miranda flirts with a distinguished peer over social media, only to find out it’s a bot. Charlotte goes mad representing an elusive, Banksy-like artist at the gallery. You get the picture.

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Instead, Big unclips from his 1,000th ride, drops his phone in the shower and promptly keels over. When Carrie makes it home sometime later, instead of immediately calling an ambulance, she stands there for what feels like an eternity, screams his actual name, John — that’s how you know it’s serious — and runs to the shower, where she wraps her arms around him and kisses his face lovingly as the water soaks her beloved blue Manolos. Yes, it makes for a dramatic visual, but come on, Carrie. Pick up the damn phone!

“And just like that,” Carrie says in the episode’s only voiceover, “Big died.”

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It is an instantly classic “Sex and the City” moment — frustrating and ridiculous yet oddly moving. And it all centers on a piece of fitness equipment that costs roughly as much as the average American’s monthly mortgage payment. It’s not great optics for a company that had to recall 125,000 of its treadmills after the death of a child earlier this year.

Then again, a scene in Episode 2, “Little Black Dress,” feels like a disclaimer mandated by the Warner Media legal department. As they prepare for Big’s funeral, Steve wonders why their friend, who had a known heart condition, was even riding “that bike.” (Note he does not say “Peloton.”)

Miranda, as sensible as ever, explains that, no, it wasn’t the bike that killed Big. “He was on that bike for over a thousand rides,” she says, again conspicuously not using the word “Peloton.” “He got the OK from his cardiologist. Exercise is good for the heart.”

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Try telling that to heartbroken fans.

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