You can’t blame anyone for wanting to look backward instead of forward in these times, but we really need to do something about these reboots. It has become painfully evident that all this looking back comes with a price — namely, ruining the memories and legacies of the stories we once held dear.
While subpar reboots are thick on the ground of pop culture at the moment — “The Matrix Resurrections,” “Scream,” “How I Met Your Father” — nowhere is this more evident than in the “Sex and the City” reboot on HBO Max, “And Just Like That …”. As we have approached the finale, available Thursday, the points of contention have built to a crescendo: Why introduce all of these new characters if you’re not going to give them real storylines? Why did our favorite sensible character, Miranda, become such a flibbertigibbet in this iteration? How did the new character Che Diaz so quickly flip from stealing the show to obliterating it with the sheer tonnage of their memeability? Why are the now-55-year-old women at the show’s center acting like they’re 85? Why does Carrie keep texting with the absent Samantha as if Kim Cattrall, who refused to return in her iconic role, might actually show up? (She won’t.) Why did this outfit, which could only be described as Inspector Gadget But With Makeup Brushes, happen?
And most importantly, what happened to the original’s elegant storytelling, its deft balance of humor and pathos, its graceful way of bringing together disparate plotlines into a well-crafted theme?
I do not register these complaints lightly. I had great hope for the series, particularly because I thought it could do for women in their 50s what it had once done for single, professional women in their 30s. That is, portray their real struggles, but also show us how fabulous they can be. I reviewed “And Just Like That …” positively in this very space in its early days because of that hope. I knew it wasn’t perfect from the beginning, but I understood the pressure it was under — I wrote a book about the original series, so I’m very familiar with the great expectations placed on this show, as well as the unfair, sexist criticism it has endured from the start. I have spent a large swath of my life defending this series as worthy of serious consideration, as a work that was as important as “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” when so many wanted to reduce it to shoes and Cosmos. No one was rooting harder for “And Just Like That …”.
I also liked some of the concepts introduced as the series began. Carrie’s longtime love and husband Mr. Big — sorry, I’ll never be able to call him “John” — died, and I was compelled by the idea of Carrie grappling with the inevitable end of even “forever” love. Miranda, meanwhile, was breaking out of her hetero identification upon meeting nonbinary comedian Che. This also struck me as a fresh and promising storyline that reflected actress Cynthia Nixon’s own real life. The three actresses from the original — Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kristin Davis — slipped comfortably back into their roles.
At first, I was relieved to see that the series didn’t have the women acting like they were still in their 30s, or pandering to Gen Z, or doing only menopause puns. But as the season progressed, so many other things did go wrong. “And Just Like That …” lost its early promise and became definitive proof that reboots too often offer us little more than a kind of pop culture purgatory. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the show’s mistakes. Here, the main missteps of “And Just Like That …”, and what they teach us about the downside of trying to revive the past.
1. It was a show about having once been a show and all the things people didn’t like about that show.
“And Just Like That …” never crossed that magical threshold where characters in scripted stories transform into fully inhabited people in a fully realized world. That’s at least in part because it was so preoccupied with two decades’ worth of criticism of the original — and, in particular, the mediocre first film sequel and execrable second movie. Most of that criticism was warranted. The original series was clumsy to the point of embarrassment on issues of race even though it otherwise reflected New York City so well. It was out-of-date even for its time when it addressed bisexuality and the one episode in which it included transgender characters as a side note/joke. The entire second movie was a commercial for white privilege.
“And Just Like That …” played, many times, like a point-by-point demonstration that its creative team heard and understood these criticisms. Exhibit A: We are introducing several women of color as supporting characters! Exhibit B: Here is a careful discussion of the use of “they/them” as a pronoun! The end result was more inclusive, which is great, but the added nonwhite and queer characters still felt tokenized, rather than blending seamlessly into the familiar “Sex and the City” world.
2. It took on too much during all of this overcorrecting, piling on too many characters and storylines.
The new characters included Miranda’s Mexican-Irish-American love interest, Che; Miranda’s Black grad school professor, Nya; Carrie’s Indian-American real estate broker, Seema; and Charlotte’s Black mom friend, Lisa. That’s not to mention those characters’ love interests and husbands and the guy who did the podcast with Che and Carrie and… This sprawling cast, plus the three remaining women from the original, was too much for a 10-episode season of a half-hour show. Add in the show’s apparent ambition to tackle every possible “aging” issue — hearing aids, hip surgery, face lifts — and every possible “woke” issue, and you had an incomprehensible mishmash, rather than the tightly written gems the original produced.
3. It took its characters down too many pegs. The beauty of the original was its ability to subtly undercut its characters, who enjoyed a lot of privilege, just when they were getting a little too full of themselves. The classic opening credits ran the tape on this every week: Carrie sees herself looking glamorous in an ad for her column on the side of a bus, only to be splashed by dirty street water when the bus hits a puddle. So, fine, show us our beloved Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda struggling relatably with the changing times, but there’s no need to punish them (and us) relentlessly. Charlotte and her husband, Harry, grappling with their child’s gender struggles made sense. Miranda babbling microaggressions at her Black professor on the first day of grad school? Maybe she was nervous, but this was pushing it. Miranda’s complete lack of confidence and competence throughout the season? This felt like sacrilege against the original’s smartest, most grounded and most widely admired character.
4. It lost its purpose and its joy.
This isn’t unique to “And Just Like That …”; it’s a core reboot problem. In this case, the original captured the zeitgeist with its drive to show single women in their 30s in a totally new way: not as spinsters, not as a “Cathy” comic strip, but as glamorous and enviable. It did this while still reflecting such women’s real challenges and teaching us new ways to think and talk about sex. “And Just Like That …” didn’t have the same sense of vital mission and reason for being, which sapped it of its joy. The reboot’s incessant punishment of its characters and its focus on oldness drained it of all the original’s sparkle. (My sister calls this version “Sad and the City.”)
Perhaps the most indelible image from this season is Carrie sitting at the window of her old apartment in the iconic Atelier Versace Mille Feuille gown she last wore in the original’s Paris episodes. It’s a fun idea — what do you do with your old haute couture? — turned into a (presumably unintentional) Miss Havisham reference. The beauty of new things is that they’re fresh and vital, coming from an original artistic impulse that births them into a specific moment for a specific reason. There’s so much excellent television right now. We should keep the shelf space and bandwidth for those vital new works to spring forth.
5. Endings are a critical part of any art, especially television. And reboots undo that.
We make a big deal about finales, we debate them and dissect them, because they lend meaning to the years of our lives we’ve spent watching a show. The “Seinfeld” finale angered millions because it literally indicted the characters that viewers had fallen in love with over nine seasons. The “Lost” finale whipped fans into a frenzy because it failed to answer many of the questions the series had posed. The “Sex and the City” finale was polarizing because it prioritized the love between Big and Carrie over the love she had for her friends and New York City. But at least it made a statement and gave us a sense of resolution. Revisiting the characters undoes a lot of that, whether by killing Big or — worse — pretending the years of love between Miranda and her husband, Steve, meant nothing. This does critical damage to our ability to rewatch and appreciate the original. Endings mean something. We should let them be final, and let original great works rest in peace.