Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: HBO Max
This review contains major spoilers for the first two episodes of And Just Like That.
And just like that… Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte, but not Samantha, are back to delight and exasperate in equal measure.
Yes, HBO Max’s hotly-anticipated Sex and the City spin-off, sans Kim Cattrall, is finally here - and if it has one similarity to its trailblazing predecessor, it’s the ability to leave the viewer conflicted.
Based on episodes one and two, the show is a decidedly mixed bag: neither the dismal embarrassment many expected, nor the return to form others hoped for. And that ambivalence is oddly comforting.
To be clear, a continuation of 2011’s disaster movie Sex and the City 2 this is not. It’s as glossy and eye-candified to look at as ever but does away with the escapist fun and vacuous excesses of the original show very quickly. Indeed, Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie shoehorns in but one unhinged shoe-greeting (“hello lovers!”) before tragedy strikes.
Indeed, this sex columnist-turned-podcaster - along with Cynthia Nixon’s lawyer-turned-student Miranda and Kristin Davis’ gallerist-turned-overbearing parent Charlotte - are now in their mid-50s, with real s*** to deal with. And that’s reflected in the gravity of their storylines, which fearlessly grapple with themes of aging.
Given audiences’ unusual level of investment in the characters, this reviewer suspects they’ll reluctantly embrace the change.
A somber tone takes hold, reminiscent of the central slog of the first SATC movie. But while that narrative was rooted in silly, soapy melodrama, this reflects the passing of time, underscored by the loss in September of Willie Garson, who returns as Stanford, at just 57.
Serious storylines allow SJP to act her heart out here; in fact, she’s on point and excellent throughout, reminding you that the franchise has always depended on her magnetism. Nixon is also reliably note-perfect as Miranda, circling a mid-to-late-life crisis, while Davis is tasked with performing a super-annoying parody of Charlotte that threatens to derail the show entirely until Carrie – thank heavens – calls out her ridiculous behaviour.
The biggest caricature, however, is Stanford. While his husband Anthony appears to have marginally grown and mellowed, Stanny’s vile, having become an insecure narcissist and Big Gay Stereotype; ironic given the show’s extensive, and sometimes clunky, diversity and inclusion efforts elsewhere.
Step forward the fantastic Sara Ramírez as Che, a queer, non-binary podcaster who is Carrie’s new boss - plus, excitingly, a potential new love interest for Miranda, judging by the pair’s crackling chemistry at, of all places, a funeral (!). Further diversifying a previously all-white main cast are Karen Pittman as Miranda's new law professor Nya and Nicole Ari Parker as Charlotte's new friend Lisa; albeit neither gets much of a look in during episodes one and two.
And Just Like That... at least seeks to address SATC’s problematic history with race via Nixon’s gob-smackingly awkward first scene with Nya - in which Miranda’s attempts to prove she’s anti-racist verge on well, racist. But to what extent it atones, if at all, remains to be seen. Because, for all its efforts, And Just Like That... remains a show focused on ludicrously rich white women – even Miranda now has a walk-in closet – which the absence of Samantha does not appease.
I missed Cattrall more than I expected. Nods to her character prove unexpectedly emotional, but the reasons for her fall-out with Carrie are unsatisfying, and there's collateral damage in the distinct lack of sex. Carrie and Che discuss it on their podcast, but it’s cold and clinical rather than fun and frivolous; qualities that emanated from Sam. There's a bizarre masturbation scene involving Mr. Big, before a surprisingly warm Chris Noth dissolves it with irresistible humour. If anyone's getting all the action these days, it's Miranda’s son Brady, which, given most of us were present at his birth, is all kinds of wrong.
The fashion is still there, but somewhat mercifully, it's not driving the plot anymore. And it’s Charlotte, not Carrie, who weaponizes a designer label, and against her own dress-despising daughter to boot, hinting at intriguing storylines to come.
There are shots of nostalgia - the reappearance of Molly Price as the full-throated Susan Sharon takes you back; here’s hoping for more of Jennifer Coolidge’s manic shoe designer – but these are mere echoes of a show that literally, purposefully doesn’t exist anymore. But what’s appeared in its place is something potentially more interesting. And best of all: they’ve dropped that damn theme tune!
And Just Like That... is available to stream on NOWTV now.