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When And Just Like That, the HBO Max continuation of Sex and the City, dropped on Thursday, there seemed to be one throughline among critics: It’s all about grief.
While no fan of the hit HBO series could have imagined that the shocking loss of Big (Chris Noth) in the first episode would, tragically, somewhat mirror the publicly unexpected death of series star Willie Garson, the SATC follow-up — which takes place as New York City emerges from a deadly pandemic — is tonally in stride with what much of television has opted to do over the last year. That is, it has chosen not to avoid the obvious.
Though rarer on the mass shared scale of a global pandemic, death and grief are a part of everyday life, and the show has decided that it can remain funny, romantic, and help Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte unpack who they are while still exploring what it means to lose your youth, friends, lovers and even one’s signature hair color.
So while some critics and viewers might find its more somber moments out of step with Sex and the City’s initial run, star Kristin Davis says that’s not quite so. The And Just Like That actress told The Hollywood Reporter that she understands that the HBO Max series “came out strong,” but she doesn’t quite agree that grief is defining the show.
“I would not say that this series has chosen to focus on grief as an overall. I know that we came out of the box with that, so I get everybody’s feelings. And I also feel that culturally, we are experiencing a lot right now [such as] grief, anxiety — many things,” she tells THR while pointing to the impacts of both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement. “For me, we always, in Sex and the City, had elements of drama [around topics] like breast cancer and fertility. Things other than just sex.”
For star Cynthia Nixon, the show’s decision to include grief and loss was about finding a way to take the characters in a direction they hadn’t already been. “I think, at root, we wanted to take all these characters and kind of pull the rug out from under them in comedic ways and in dramatic ways,” she says.
While the intention might be dramatic, it is also not tonally wrong for the SATC continuation. These themes make narrative sense both in terms of the show’s environment, Nixon points out, and with where characters like Miranda (Nixon) and Charlotte (Davis) are in their lives.
“We’re coming out of a period of so much widespread death. I lost people in the pandemic, and I think many of us did. I also think when you’re 55, hopefully, you’ve got 30-plus more years, but there’s more life behind you than there is ahead of you, and you’re very aware of that,” Nixon says.
One way the show opted to underscore those messages is by permanently taking Big from Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker). “There would be nothing more destabilizing that you could do to Carrie,” she explains. “In the same way you’ve taken Miranda’s identity as a corporate lawyer — or she’s taken it, thrown it on the ground and stomped on it. She’s taken her red hair and done away with it.”
“Being 55, you’re still young enough to have one or two or three more big chapters. Change your career if you want to, but you also are aware that the time to do that is starting to run out,” Nixon continues. “Death is a part of life, but it does remind us how precious our loved ones are to us. Charlotte says it’s a beautiful thing. I don’t know if it’s a beautiful thing, but it is a thing that makes you reevaluate your life and where you are.”
The actress, who is also directing an episode of the series, says that change “sometimes seem horrendous,” but notes that loss can be the impetus for evolution. All the expected — and unexpected — changes on And Just Like That then are both an act of grief and growth. “Most of us don’t ever welcome change. We usually fight change because change is so scary. We like to just keep doing what we know how to do,” she says. “But life has changed.”
Those moments where everything is upended, Nixon says, are when people actually go out and “proactively decide to change.”
“I think about so many people whose lives changed after Sept. 11, and not even necessarily if they knew someone who died,” she continues. “It was like that sense of — just like that. Something enormous can happen and the world can change. Death can seem so, so much closer than we realized.”
According to Nixon, this growing collection of upended expectations, or “just like that” moments, will continue to affect all the show’s characters, with the series star promising there are “many more” coming. For Miranda, in particular, what’s coming up will make what viewers have already seen “look small.”
While grief of the overt and subtle kind will remain an element — if not the totality — of And Just like That, it has also surrounded the series, filmed during the pandemic under COVID-19 protocols and after the death of one of its stars. Beloved actor Willie Garson, who played Carrie Bradshaw’s best friend Stanford Blatch on the original HBO series, died at 57 in September.
During the And Just Like That New York premiere on Wednesday, several of the show’s writers told THR that Garson’s passing did require the show to “shift” as he had already filmed what would be some of his last on-screen appearances. Nevertheless, it would be acknowledged. “I think [Michael Patrick King] figured it out in a very beautiful way,” said writer Samantha Irby.
For Nixon and largely the entire cast and crew, his death “was obviously completely unlooked for, unknown” as Parker “was the only one that knew he was sick when we were filming until things became undeniable,” she says.
Everyone was told once that time came, she says, and they were able to shoot with him. “Thankfully, not just when we [didn’t know] he was sick, but after so that it could be something that we could discuss and listen to him about,” Nixon shares. “I know that was very important for us, and I think it was actually important for him to not be hiding that from us anymore.”
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