(Of course, spoilers)
Let’s acknowledge something: And Just Like That… got one hell of a rough deal from pre-production to its rollout. Some of it was self-inflicted, like the whole, very dumb, very fun feud between Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Catrall. Then, there’s the whole issue of filming in NYC during the pandemic (during the Summer of 2021, the cusp of the “everyone getting too relaxed” phase), Costume Director Patricia Field choosing not to return (to focus on Emily in Paris, bad call) and the heartbreaking, much-too early death of Willie Garson. And to cap it all off with a neat bow of crap, Chris Noth was exposed as the most predictable sexual predator in Hollywood (a l l e g e d l y), forcing to re-edit several scenes from the last episode.
I couldn’t help but wonder: Could that excuse or even account for the huge mess that is AJLT?
I would cut them some slack with how some storylines unfolded. But everything else? A trainwreck whose fault lies squarely at the feet of its lead showrunners, namely Michael Patrick King and SJP. However, the one thing I can acknowledge is that if this series failed, it was not for lack of trying. Perhaps, all its problems can be traced to AJLT trying too much and too hard, which I will always prefer to coasting on laurels and formulas that don’t work anymore. Also, trainwrecks are well known for being compelling to watch.
Let’s also acknowledge AJLT is already waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than the movies.
Though it was yet another product of the unending nostalgia-mining which has clogged our pop-culture, the fact is that AJLT tried to do something different, tried to address the gaping blindspots of Sex and the City, tried to frame the storylines around the challenges and experiences that women in their 50s could actually go through (not just white, NYC one-percenters), tried to tell a bittersweet story instead of falling back into the worst rom-com tropes, and managed to place the characters into something closer to our reality, instead of a heightened, late-capitalist fantasy.
They tried, and that’s commendable because we are in a culture that treats beloved IPs like apologists treat the Bible: Stick to the source, don’t change anything, don’t question anything, just repeat the text and squeeze every drop of revenue. AJLT didn’t go that way, sometimes for the better, though mostly with mediocre results. But they took that plunge. In a way, AJLT has been a ballsier about its IP than everything Disney has done with Star Wars not directed by Rian Johnson (DUSTIN: OH NOOOOOO, WHY DID YOU SAY THAAAAAT! THE NECKBEARDS WILL EAT YOU ALIVE!!!!).
But in practice, the production team wasn’t up to the task of consciously updating Sex and the City to our day and age because everything they failed at stems from the structural flaws of the original series.
That’s obviously the case with their attempts at infusing our current social and political sensibilities to the most ’90s of liberal series. The inclusion of three female characters of color, LTW, Nya, and Seema (played by Nicole Ari Parker, Karen Pittman, and Sarita Choudhury, respectively) was an attempt to do something more than tokenism. They gave them backstory, problems that weren’t centered exclusively on being women of color in the US (Nya with her IVF treatments, Seema looking for love, and LTW… well, she really didn’t have any real problems). Hell, there were scenes centered on LTW, Nya, and Seema that didn’t include the lead trio. But as they remained recurring characters, those scenes come across more as attempts to pass the racial Bechdel test than an actual attempt to make them the main players. For a while, I thought that at least they would avoid having them as white-lady whisperers, but nope. Nya almost immediately becomes Miranda’s confidante, LTW becomes a sister-motherly figure to Charlotte, and Seema helps Carrie get her groove back.
Of course, the less said about Che Díaz the better. So here’s what I’m going to say about Che Díaz: I thought they were cool, a fun character (PAJIBA OVERLORDS: YOU’RE FIRED!) — not the most interesting character, certainly irksome, but mostly because of how poorly written they were. But the thing is, Sara Ramírez is my che and they have the charisma to lift a character that is mostly there to move the plot along.
(Side note: Che goes by that name because of Che Guevara. The moniker “Che” is typically used to refer to Argentinians, as they commonly use it in their dialects as an interjection, akin to “yo,” “hey,” “dude/gal,” etc. That word likely comes from the gender-neutral word for “people” in the Mapuche language. Did the writers or Sara Ramírez do their research or was it a coincidence? If it’s the former, then my advice would be to do more of that).
I can understand why Che Díaz came across as unbearable, what with (unwittingly) wrecking Miranda’s marriage. But that’s more of a problem with Miranda’s arc: She was turned from a Boss into an aimless mess and Steve from The Man into an infantilized, disposable, runner-up love interest. A waste when there was such an interesting story to be told there with Miranda in her 50s rediscovering the scope of her sexuality: Why did Steve and Miranda stop having sexual intimacy (a good moment to address the effects of the pandemic on long-term couples)?; how are their dynamics with a teenaged and hormonal Brady?; how did the administration of the former guy make Miranda question everything she had done with her life so far? The latter was a great opportunity to explore the cracks in white liberal USA and their embracing of Leftist ideas. The great thing about her character is that she might have been messy, but never aimless. She falls for Che and ends up acting like … well, like one of the lovestruck kids from Euphoria. As was mentioned in The Take’s postmortem of AJLT, it makes no sense Che would fall in love for this Miranda, when the original Miranda would’ve reasonably swept them off their feet. In the final chapter, Miranda drops everything, including an internship at Amnesty International, to follow Che to Los Angeles to film their show. Hopefully, they address what a dumb move that was in follow-up seasons.
Worse still, the last episode had her dying her beautiful silver-fox bob to red. No consistency even in that.
Charlotte didn’t go the full Flanders, but she’s been turned into a boring rich housewife with boring rich housewife problems and boring storylines. Predictable, like her trying to awkwardly make more Black friends. There is one exception: Rose comes out as non-binary early on in the series, going by the name Rock, a process that does not go easy on Charlotte and Harry. There was a great arc there, a challenging one for the key demo of AJLT, showing how even liberal or progressive parents can still struggle to understand and embrace “new” (not new) gender paradigm “shifts.” Unfortunately, that whole thread was dropped after a few chapters, replaced with something about Lily running into Charlotte and Henry in a compromising position and another one about Lily trying to put on a tampon for the first time. By the final episode, Rock decides not to go through with their “They Mitzvah” (Side note: In the competition between Jewish vs Catholic childhoods, Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s single-handedly make up for not having Christmas. Have you seen the lame-ass shit we get for our First Communions? We don’t even get a party!) because they don’t want any labels. Instead, Charlotte takes up the opportunity to do the Mitzvah, because of course, she had thrown a lavish party that shouldn’t go to waste.
There is one saving grace, one storyline that actually worked: Carrie’s grieving after Big’s death. Grief is always an interesting way to develop a character’s arc, and they made damn good use of it in AJLT. Killing off Big in the first episode was a great creative decision, not just … in hindsight. SJP delivered a performance that combined Carrie’s wit and sense of humor in the way she conveyed suffering, eschewing any melodrama. It made Carrie by far the most interesting character in AJLT, which … was never the case before, where she was mostly an observer. Her commentaries are insightful this time, because we hear them in her own voice, talking with others (I always found Carrie’s voiceover in SATC to be … fake deep). Her attempts at dating other men are both hilarious and touching, including a scene where she and a fellow widower Pete (Jon Teney) try to go on a first date, get drunk, and end up throwing up. She is also ladened with subplots that go nowhere, but they fit her mental state, trying to pick up the pieces of her identity after losing the man she had been entangled with for nearly 25 years. By the final chapter, with no sparks between her and Pete, she ends up falling for the producer of her new, solo podcast: Sex and the City. The last scenes have her spreading Big’s ashes over the Seine, a bittersweet closing of a cycle, where she also reconnects with Samantha (via text messages only).
There were the seeds of a great show beneath what And Just Like That… turned out to be. I think they might still be there if the showrunners actually leave the decision-making to other people. I want to see the leads interacting with other women, especially younger counterparts. There are not enough stories about friendship and mentorship between women of different generations, and shows like Hacks only whetted our appetites. If there’s a new season (there will be), give us more of that and messiness that makes narrative sense, not as a result of unforced errors. These ten episodes were a failure, but ones that pointed in the right direction. And for f*ck’s sake, get a script doctor to punch up those terrible dialogues.
But yeah, we should give And Just Like That … another chance.
Alberto Cox would’ve recommended you to watch this great Netflix series about cool, 50-year old women called “On the Verge”, created and starring Julie Delpy, but it doesn’t seem to be available on US’ Netflix and boy are they dicks with the VPNs.