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When Sex and the City debuted on HBO in the summer of 1998, “girl power” was already a ubiquitous cultural force. The Spice Girls were enthralling millions of kids around the globe with their Third Wave “I can be whatever I want!” brand of disco-pop feminism. Pensive singer-songwriters like Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple and Tori Amos were inciting young women to express their fury while the female-led Lilith Fair music festival offered fans community.
Girls and women coming together — finding rage and peace together — could change the world, we were told. Years after riot grrrl acts like Bikini Kill demanded “Girls to the front!” at their punk shows and screen classics like Golden Girls, Designing Women, Thelma and Louise, The First Wives Clubs and Waiting to Exhale reinforced the power of female friendship, Sex and the City, too, revitalized the notion that fairytale romances may come and go, but your bliss will always be found in sisterhood.
Or maybe it won’t after all. Maybe there are some things you just gotta do by yourself when your tribe disappoints you. That’s the splash of cold reality I got from the somewhat sobering finale of And Just Like That, which sees Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) figuring out what to do with her deceased husband’s cremains, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) contemplating a pitch from her new significant other and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) planning an unwanted “they mitzvah” for her disengaged child.
I, for one, appreciate seeing life beyond the enchanted happy ending. Call me a glutton for discord and cynicism, but I sincerely hope this series is greenlit for a second season. These are still my women, through and through (even if they no longer see each other with that same rosiness).
HBO Max’s And Just Like That, the admittedly flatter and glummer (yet no less watchable!) sequel series to SATC, spends ten episodes questioning whether we really can rely on our supposedly stalwart girlfriends for support as we age and grow. When Big (Chris Noth) unexpectedly dies of a heart attack while his wife attends a school performance, Carrie spends an episode avoiding Charlotte (Kristin Davis), who can’t help but make his death all about her and the guilt she feels over pressuring Carrie to go to that recital in the first place. After becoming widowed, Carrie can barely even get her lifelong bestie Samantha to text her back. (Samantha remains an unseen character in this series given that, after six seasons and two feature films, Kim Cattrall opted out of returning to the franchise.)
In one of the show’s most hilarious and grim sequences, Carrie, who’s recovering from hip surgery, tries to call her caretaker from bed before she pees herself. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), however, is too busy getting finger-banged in the kitchen by Carrie’s swaggering boss Che (Sara Ramirez) to notice her charge is in distress. Carrie is so dismayed by this event that their fissures remain through the rest of the season. And as we witness in the 40-minute finale, airing Thursday, these women are sick and tired of being judged by each other. Kinship is nice, though isolation is freeing, too.
In this series, our three protagonists exist mostly in silos, swallowed up by grief, family obligations or depressive fantasizing. They spend time with new friends and colleagues, yet rarely in group settings — Carrie becomes close to her real estate agent, Seema (a sexy, smoky-voiced Sarita Choudhury, who could easily replace Cattrall as the vixen of the main quad); Miranda is mentored by her younger professor, Nya (Karen Pittman); and Charlotte befriends another socialite, Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker), who relates to her Manhattan Mommy lifestyle better than her BFFs ever could.
There are fewer casual weekend brunches and more stony-faced passive-aggressive confrontations in this sequel series, particularly in the finale, when Miranda makes a life-changing decision that pushes her outside the boundaries of her comfort zone. “Am I not allowed to change a little bit? Or a lot?” she pleads to Carrie. “Do I have to follow my own rigid rules until the day that I die?” As she’s starting to realize, there’s more to life than constantly winning your friends’ approval.
Miranda has been the subject of a number of disheartened thinkpieces and tweets this year, with SATC fans accusing the AJLT writers of character assassination. Many viewers are upset that Miranda cheated on her husband, fell in love with a narcissist and swiftly ended her dead-bedroom marriage without at least telling her spouse she was unhappy. Their love of David Eigenberg’s sweet and bumbling Steve Brady clouds their memory: Miranda was always ambivalent about her compatibility with Steve, even after giving birth to his child. SATC offered Miranda a pat, compulsively heteronormative coda. She never felt limerent, all-encompassing passion before she met Che. With a routine-oriented mate and out-to-lunch teenage son, all Miranda had at home was her alcohol addiction and fundamental loneliness.
She finally recognizes that she no longer wants the current of her detached marriage to drift her toward the grave. Yeah, Che might be a “comedy concert”-performing douche who hosts a podcast that no human would ever listen to, but I respect that Miranda has the right to love whomever she wants — even if that means following them to Los Angeles instead of participating in a prestigious internship for her master’s program. Carrie, as it turns out, may not be willing to afford her that same respect.
Sex and the City, which ended in 2004, convinced us that women could have it all: orgasms, love, money, babies, careers, shoes, mortgages, marriage and all the fabulous escapism you could possibly want. And Just Like That rewrites that conclusion with a little more earthbound sagacity this time. We can’t have it all, actually. We can’t just settle into listless partnership until we croak. We can’t expect our kids to remain malleable for the rest of their lives. We can’t assume our partners will live forever. And, perhaps most importantly, we can’t lean on our cliques indefinitely. Sisterhood doesn’t always have to be sacrosanct.
There are innumerable reasons to lovingly hate-watch this series, from its try-hard cultural tone deafness to its superfluous vision of carefree mega-wealth to its insistence that insufferable Che Diaz is the funniest and most famous comedian in the world. Still, I genuinely looked forward to it every week. Call me a classic Charlotte, but I prefer to see the emotional intelligence hidden underneath all its impossible dumbness. Perhaps we’ll all judge these characters way less, however, when we stop seeing them as sublimating our own identities.
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