In the pantheon of all-time TV greats and the revolutionary era of the medium that kickstarted in the late ’90s, it’s been all too easy for critics to overlook the importance of Sex and the City. One of the defining series of the so-called Golden Age of television, the comedy about sex, womanhood, and friendship in the Big Apple is seldom mentioned alongside its burly serious male counterparts. Carrie Bradshaw was never seen on the same level of radical, difficult, or boundary-busting in the way her HBO contemporaries like Tony Soprano were, even though it would have been very easy to make such a case. Between the memes, the terrible movies, and good old-fashioned sexism, Sex and the City has taken a few hits to its perfectly manicured image. Some of the criticisms were long overdue, noting the stark whiteness of Carrie’s New York and the often-contradictory depictions of sexual freedom (seriously, how was a sex columnist this scornful of golden showers and threesomes?). The HBO Max sequel season, And Just Like That…, was billed as a welcome opportunity to right some wrongs, all while delving into the frequently ignored narratives of women in their 50s living sensual, complicated, and messy lives.
It’s not gone well, to be honest.
Plenty of critics have delved into why this new season isn’t working. If my Twitter feed is anything to go by, even die-hard fans of the show, the ones who paid their hard-earned money to sign up to a new streaming service just for this pleasure, are now hate-watching it more than anything else. And Just Like That… feels like an endless cycle of missed opportunities and curious misunderstandings of characters who the fans know inside out. For a show hoping to bring dimension to older women, it feels too much like the writers are disdainful of these people for ageing.
Step forward Steve Brady.
Introduced in the second season, Steve Brady, played by David Eigenberg, was a bartender who fell into an on-again, off-again relationship with Miranda Hobbes. He was sharp with his wit, meeting Miranda beat for beat, but with an appealingly klutzy side. He was grounded, acting as an anchor to Miranda when she needed it most. Even when they broke up in the original series, their friendship endured, to the point where they ended up having a son together. He was a bit of a wife guy, the proud support act to Miranda’s alpha lawyer energy, and their adoration of one another felt like a well-earned evolution for her character. For me, the moment when Miranda spontaneously proposes to Steve over cheap beers, seemingly surprised by her own desire, is the most romantic moment in the entire show.
When the first film had Steve cheat on Miranda, it was the first sign that these characters’ lives after the series were being needlessly set adrift by the showrunner. Now, in And Just Like That…, Steve is barely a character. We know nothing about his own life outside of the shell of a marriage he now has with Miranda. They haven’t had sex in years and he’s losing his hearing, a quality that seems to be his only defining trait in this new show.
Miranda, meanwhile, is going through her own journey with her sexuality following a passionate encounter with Che (Sara Ramirez.) Many fans have seen Miranda as something of a queer icon for years and imagined a plausible future where she found love with someone other than a man. The way this narrative is taking shape, however, is tedious and poorly drawn. Che has the dimension of a stick figure (they like comedy and weed and that’s kind of it?) and not much chemistry with Miranda, despite Ramirez and Cynthia Nixon’s best efforts. A show famous for its no-holds-barred approach to sex turned their scene together into a meme. Did it make sense for Miranda? Maybe, but I’m not sure that means much in this series, which feels so hopelessly lost.
There’s nothing theoretically wrong with the idea of Miranda and Steve drifting apart as she discovers a new side of herself in her 50s. Hell, that sounds like it could be fertile grounds for something really interesting. So, why is it so hard to watch? I think it’s because, in order to make this plot work, the writers have turned Miranda and Steve into children. The abject infantilizing of their characters in order to justify an infidelity plotline is cheap. These 50-somethings have been reduced to kids in terms of the way they approach everything. It’s as if it’s too complicated for the writers to create an honest, if prickly and emotionally tangled, portrait of two people who just stop loving one another like that. Instead, Steve has to be reduced to Grandpa Simpson, a yelling and seemingly inept Old Man who it’s totally okay to cheat on.
Why is Steve’s hearing loss a punchline? How has he suddenly totally forgotten how to have sex or talk to his wife like a man who’s loved her for decades? Did everyone forget that Steve’s defining characteristics in the original show were his supportiveness, wit, and f**k skills? Is it so implausible to imagine that Steve is struggling with things as much as Miranda? Apparently, it is. The series doesn’t seem to trust its audience to accept that Miranda can do something like cheat on her spouse without it being motivated by his regression into an exhausting stereotype.
Sex and the City always had trouble trying to balance its grittier elements with the high-heeled fairytale it sold to audiences. It’s one of the reasons the Carrie and Big relationship ending in a Happy Ever After in the series finale never sat right with me (they were SO toxic together, you guys!) Yet the show made its decision in the original run to have that perfect happy ending, with all four women paired off with their dream guys and together as BFFs in the bright lights of the big city. The trite attempts to drum up drama for the movies proved that this take on the story had run its course. There was clearly space to dissect the fairytale in And Just Like That…, to examine how such endings aren’t really the end and life goes on once readers put the book down. People change. Our bodies begin to break down. That sense of sureness we had in our younger days dwindles. Love changes. And Just Like That… understands these problems on a surface level but seems petrified of exploring them. Miranda and Steve’s degradation is but one example of the problem. Charlotte’s a screeching bully, Harry’s got no personality whatsoever, and every person of color introduced to the case has one defining characteristic if they’re lucky.
It’s cheap. If you want to commit to a narrative that you know will upset some fans, the same ones you sold the perfect romance to, then you need to do more work than turning one of its most popular heroes into an off-putting antagonist for a clueless heroine. It’s left the show looking like the smarmy basket of tropes that the naysayers said it was back in the early 2000s. The difficult women of TV’s Golden Era deserve better, and so does Steve.
Header Image Source: HBO Max