How terrible is the ‘Sex and the City’ reboot? We duke it out
The “Sex and the City” reboot “And Just Like That ...” hit Earth by way of HBO Max on Thursday morning, like the asteroid in “Don’t Look Up” and with potentially similar results; a quick glance through early reviews raise the specter of a franchise-extinction event. Still, critics are not the audience; “SATC” fans are the audience. And no doubt there are millions of viewers who long to know what Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) are up to as they sashay through their sixth (and seventh) decade.
Well, not Samantha. As every true fan knows, Cattrall declined to be part of the resurrection process, and reading the subtext of the on-screen explanation for what has become a very famous off-screen estrangement between Cattrall and Parker is indeed a highlight of the pilot. Samantha, we are told, has gone to London after, we later discover, Carrie fired her as her publicist. Not surprisingly, Samantha is not responding to Carrie’s texts.
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Everyone else is present and accounted for, however, including the late, great Willie Garson, who died as the series was being shot. So if nothing else, “And Just Like That ...” has Garson’s final performance.
It also has TV’s first death by Peloton, taking Carrie’s beloved Mr. Big (Chris Noth) in the process.
Does it have anything else to recommend it? Staff writer Meredith Blake and culture critic Mary McNamara have differing opinions.
The fitness company has what may be an unwelcome cameo in HBO Max’s ‘Sex and the City’ reboot. But a spokeswoman cited the character’s bad habits.
Mary McNamara: It is impossible for me to overstate how awful I think the first episode is, and the second episode comes in a close, well, second. So awful I was screaming. So awful I was fast-forwarding through the most cringeworthy bits and then having to double back in the vain hope they were not as cringeworthy as I thought they were going to be.
Where to start? With the lunch during which Miranda talks about podcasts like she is 150 years old and Charlotte tells her to dye her hair? With Carrie and Mr. Big smooching over red wine, while Carrie salts the fish and Big rhapsodizes Todd Rundgren? (I could have lived my entire life without hearing Chris Noth sing along to “Hello It’s Me” — just as I could have lived my life without seeing Big masturbate, a scene over which I will draw a veil.)
Maybe when Charlotte tries to force her skater-kid daughter into a frilly designer dress or when Miranda acts like having a young Black female law professor in braids is something remarkable.
I understand that creator Michael Patrick King is trying to atone for the extremely white cis straight nature of the original show, but does he have to make his main characters behave like absolute morons? Charlotte has never been the edgiest tool in the box, but I know she reads Vogue, where style can mean pants. Who on Earth forces their daughters to wear fancy dresses anymore?
I admit that as a white cis straight woman who is almost exactly as old as the main characters, I am no doubt taking certain things a bit personally — Steve (David Eigenberg) is deaf! Because, as he says, “I’m old.” He’s in his 50s, man, not his 70s.
And, certainly, the kind of racist microaggressions Miranda commits happen all too often ( she also clearly has a drinking problem), but the scene was so ridiculous it failed to land its point.
Oh, and Carrie walking in on a collapsed Big and failing to call 911? That scream you heard on Thursday morning was me, because Carrie may have killed Big.
Meredith Blake: Mary, your screed was so delightful and convincing that I am now reluctant to admit [whispers] ... that I didn’t hate “And Just Like That ...” In fact, I thought it was enjoyably bonkers and surprisingly moving — a vast improvement on the movies, especially the sequel, though I realize that’s a very low bar.
Here’s where I issue a caveat/humble brag: I attended the splashy premiere in New York — complete with an after-party in the space that used to be Barneys (#RIP) — and it may be that my critical faculties were dulled by champagne and a very receptive audience.
But while I acknowledge your criticisms and share your outrage at Carrie for using her husband’s death as a photo-op, I would remind you of one thing: “Sex and the City” was never exactly subtle.
The characters have always been ridiculous! Charlotte was always a retrograde priss, Carrie has always been slow to adapt new forms of communication despite being a professional communicator — remember how she took years to buy a cellphone and was mystified by EMAIL? And the eminently sensible Miranda has also always been prone to humiliating herself. None of this is new. I swear!
What is new is all the death and the specter of mortality that hangs over the first batch of episodes. It’s not just Big’s fatal spin on the Peloton — can I start using “taking your 1,000th ride” as a euphemism for death? — but also the many references to the “horror show” of the pandemic. (Speaking of which, given Cynthia Nixon’s race for governor, I really hope they find a way to make some Cuomo jokes.) Garson’s lovely performance, particularly his scenes at Big’s funeral, give the show a poignance I don’t think it’s ever had before.
“Sex and the City” was always at its best when it balanced the outrageous with the sincere. There’s plenty of the usual decadence: Carrie and co. still show up at the most mundane gatherings dressed like absolute lunatics, but they’re all dealing with very recognizable issues that come with middle age, long-term marriages and parenthood. I felt like these episodes were anchored by something real. This show is ultimately about friendship, not just the bond between Carrie, Miranda and [sighs] Charlotte, but the relationship between the audience and these characters. I’ve followed them for 23 years. I’m not about to give up now!
What did you make of the new additions to the cast?
McNamara: Well, now you are making me feel like a complete Grinch, though I don’t think “improvement on the movies” should be the bar for any series, much less such an influential one. (I simply choose to pretend the movies never happened, which is my right.) I hear you on all the original character flaws, and perhaps I am remembering the original through a haze of legacy — that it was such a significant show does not mean it was episodically significant. But I also felt like I was being pelted with “We’re older now,” “Who knows what to say anymore,” “There are so many podcasts” in a way that was neither smart nor funny. And the fact that it is on HBO Max, rather than HBO, does make me wonder if the standard for one is a bit different than for the other.
As for the newbies, Sara Ramirez is a delight as Che Diaz, Carrie’s podcast producer/co-host — I am already longing for a spinoff about Che. Ramirez always does a lot with a little, and Che seems quite capable of whipping Carrie, Miranda and maybe even Charlotte into shape. Charlotte’s new friend Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker) seems promising, even if she is referred to at one point as “the Black Charlotte,” something I think we all know could never exist. And I’m hoping Miranda’s professor Nya (Karen Pittman) will give Miranda some space to shine as something other than Carrie’s sounding board.
But even as I write this, I am worried that each of the original gals is being teamed up with a younger, more “diverse” friend for educational purposes. And for all its homogeneous limitations, “Sex and the City” shouldn’t have to apologize for existing — without it, there would be no “Sex Lives of College [Girls],” another (far better) HBO Max series, or Amazon’s wonderful “Harlem,” just to name two of the most recent female-centric, sex-positive comedies.
None of the new characters can fill Samantha’s shoes, however. Her dry wit and sensible insouciance would really help a lot in the humor department. You are right about the specter of mortality lurking about, but although COVID is referenced a few times, it feels more like an age-related fear, which Samantha, who is in her 60s, could have dispelled with a few well-chosen asides. Plus, there is no way she would let Carrie get away with wearing a freaking fascinator to her own husband’s funeral.
I will say that the sheer emotion of my, and other people’s, reaction to the show says something about the hold the characters still have on us; we have obviously not grown indifferent. What do you think about the whole “And just like that ...” voice-over tag line, though?
“Sex and the City” star Kim Cattrall makes her network TV debut in Fox’s “Filthy Rich” as the cunning matriarch of a televangelist family.
Blake: You are right that a certain demographic is especially attached to this series and these characters. Yesterday I had at least a half-dozen separate text conversations with friends who do not write about TV for a living yet were watching the episodes while “working from home.” This show will always be an event for a certain demographic.
As for the tag line voice-over, it appears that King has chosen to use Carrie’s signature narration more sparingly, to punctuate each episode and emphasize the way that, “just like that,” life can change in less time than it takes to drop an iPhone in the shower. I appreciate that he’s trying to open up the lens of the show to make it less about Carrie, who was always an exasperating character, and more about the diverse new ensemble.
But I do miss the voice of the original series, the way Carrie’s whimsical, witty, occasionally cloying narration tied together the episode’s themes and made each installment feel like an actual column and reminded us she was, in fact, a writer. Maybe that’s why I’m so personally invested in it. The device has inspired a thousand spoofs and made “Sex and the City” what it was.
My heart also aches a little at the lack of Samantha. Think of all the COVID innuendo she’d be dishing out (“Honey, you can swab me anytime”) and the quarantine hookups she’d be enjoying. It is truly a loss.
The “big” question now is where this new chapter will take Carrie, who is newly single and probably rich enough not to have to worry too much about whatever pittance she’s earning on that podcast. (And I wonder why that second episode spent so much time with Big’s secretary; does she have some secrets to divulge?)
At the risk of sounding callous, I hope that once she is done grieving — in, say, an episode or two — Carrie gets back on the dating scene. Not only because romance after loss is a valid theme to explore, but it would also inject a little of the original magic back into the show. And just like that ... Carrie is back on the market.
Before we go, we are legally required to discuss the clothing. I actually screamed when Lisa showed up at Charlotte’s apartment in a rustic burlap sack covered in metal gewgaws. I know Carrie’s fascinator was triggering for you. Anything else?
McNamara: As a woman who worked at a magazine in New York for a time, Carrie’s wardrobe always added a layer of genuine fantasy to the old show and now the new — if you’re going to show so many women wearing flowing white in Manhattan, you might as well have dragons circling the skyline. Also, I must take a moment to applaud Parker’s ability and willingness to rock a ballet neckline. For all their talk about getting old, they do not seem to have Nora Ephron’s neck concerns.
And while I will never forgive the funeral fascinator, there is a scene in an upcoming episode where it is made clear that no one can run in the shoes all the characters wear, and I appreciate that.
Blake: There comes a time in every woman’s life when she must face the truth: Reliable arch support is worth more than any pair of Manolos.
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