The past is calling... Image: Landmark Media / Alamy Stock Photo

Stop this Carrie on

The women from ‘Sex and the City’ are back: older, not necessarily wiser, and struggling to escape from their own pasts
July 19, 2023

The girls are back in town—again. And Just Like That, the spin-off show from Sex and the City, has returned for its second season. The first season, which aired in 2021, did not go down that well. Audiences and critics alike complained that the introduction of more up-to-date plot points, such as nonbinary identity and racial politics, felt clunky; and that without the radiantly charismatic way in which Samantha—Kim Cattrall’s character, who is restricted here to cameo appearances—used to dance on the edge of propriety, the show lacks bite.

What are we in for this time? Thankfully, there is a less strong sense that the new show is a form of penance for the failings of Sex and the City (too white, too cis, too apolitical) now that the new supporting cast of non-white, non-gender conforming actors feels more integrated and requires less setup. But, unfortunately, this season has even more of the flavour of Emily in Paris—another Darren Star production—than of the original Sex and the City: frothy and glamorous, and therefore watchable, but never truly challenging or groundbreaking.

Maybe that’s fine. We like froth. But it’s a shame that And Just Like That is a different, less toothy beast than its predecessor, because you can’t help but compare the two and find the new show wanting.

It’s devolved into what critic Kyle Chayka has called “ambient TV”: background entertainment, followable while you also scroll through your phone. Without the novelty factor of the first season of And Just Like That—what have these iconic characters been up to in the decade since we last saw them in the best-forgotten movie Sex and the City 2?—and without the striving that these women had to do during their less career-certain twenties and thirties, there’s little to keep us truly engaged. There are no stakes.

I don’t think this new season fails on every front, though. The place where it feels most true to life is in its suggestion that dating is just as uncertain and exciting and fraught and disappointing for women in their fifties as it is for women in their thirties. I don’t pretend to be an expert in middle-age dating mores, but from the experience I do have talking to single women of that age group about their love lives, things don’t really change. I remember chatting to a friend’s mother about dating, and she said that the only noticeable difference is that the stereotype at 30 is that women want a relationship and men don’t, whereas at 50, after divorces, it’s the other way round.

And so: Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie is still unsure what to make of a man asking her to hang out on a Tuesday rather than a Thursday; Seema (Sarita Choudhury) wonders whether it’s OK to date a man living with an ex; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) frets over whether her relationship is primarily sexual or primarily emotional. Their conversations sound appropriately similar to the ones they were having 20 years ago, round the brunch table.

That said, this isn’t anything new. Sex and the City’s original run felt as though it was shining an (admittedly glamourised) light on what it is like to be a single woman in the modern world—in a way that had not been done before. And Just Like That suffers from the fact that, since the 1990s, plenty of other shows have done this and done it better. (To name just three: Girls, Broad City, Grace and Frankie.) It’s not that the show doesn’t feel modern. But just being modern isn’t enough to stop it feeling stale.

This season surely has to be the final iteration of Sex and the City: indeed, it seems to be seeding that finality in its first few episodes. Carrie wonders aloud whether she ought to move on from her podcast, also called Sex and the City. “I’m still fighting to save Sex and the City,” she says, “and I’m not sure it fits me anymore.”

In a recent interview with the New Yorker, Parker described herself as a “bitter ender” with regards to playing Carrie. I hope this is the end, because, as much as it pains me to say, it certainly tastes bitter enough.