I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.
After devouring the first three episodes of And Just Like That, the Sex and the City reboot that premiered last week, the nicest thing I can say is that I’m glad HBO isn’t releasing all the episodes at once because I’m not sure I could stomach more than forty-five minutes in one sitting. I like my bad television the same way I like my children: in small doses.
Yes, it’s that bad.
To be fair, I was never a die-hard SATC fan; therefore, I’m not inclined to cut the reboot some slack simply because of nostalgia. Nor can I give the awkward dialogue and overall cringy vibe a pass because hey, at least they’re trying. Shows about women in their fifties may not dominate our streaming platforms, but that’s no reason to give AJLT an ‘A’ for effort. The show has missed a golden opportunity to reconnect with its loyal fanbase by peeling back the layers of wisdom and experience women of a certain age possess. Instead, each character has devolved into a one-dimensional trope.
Sex and the City was never about relatability. It was aspirational, single life on steroids. It was a formula that worked. But now the show’s writers have dropped the women up middle-age creek without a paddle, and I can’t figure out why. Are they punishing them for aging? Does no one really believe women in their fifties can make for interesting storylines? Did someone ding a writer’s car in the parking lot?
Navigating the events of midlife is at the heart of what AJLT is trying to do, but the effect is awkward and stunted. It’s as though all the show has to say about women in their fifties is that they’re wildly out of touch. By repeatedly poking fun at cancel culture, AJLT blatantly mocks its characters as well as its audience. But the women aren’t in on the joke, and the result is an audience that’s laughing at them, not with them.
Take Charlotte, who’s gone from being adorably prissy and mildly neurotic, to a full-fledged Manhattan Tiger mom who obsesses over her family’s matching outfits. Three episodes in, Charlotte is firmly established as a selfish helicopter parent incapable of recognizing her own emotional instability. As for Miranda, her cringe-worthy attempts at being ‘woke’ come off like a workplace seminar on inclusivity: forced and insincere. The once sarcastic, self-assured lawyer now frets obsessively over how to deal with everything from her classmates’ preferred pronouns to her own hair colour.
Miranda is clearly going through something, but the show’s writers seem more committed to box-ticking than letting her character get real. Designer clothes, shoes, and upscale apartments will only keep the audience around for so long. There has to be good writing. And unfortunately for fans of SATC, it just isn’t there in the reboot. It’s like all three women have just crawled out of a cave asking what year it is. They’ve aged, but they haven’t grown. Two decades of cultural change have come and gone, but Miranda still can’t believe Black female law professors exist, Charlotte is gobsmacked that not all girls want to wear florals and Carrie is still, STILL, reduced to a quivering, insecure mess in the face of Natasha, Big’s ex.
Creating good, strong, authentic female characters used to be a near-universal problem in film and television, but things have improved over the past decade or two. Women are no longer just the wife, girlfriend, or secretaries. We have thoughts, opinions, and jobs – big important ones! But And Just Like That has catapulted us back to the dark ages with this bizarre Leave it to Beaver meets Desperate Housewives mash-up
If memory serves, Sex and the City had both style and substance, whereas And Just Like That has only style. And maybe that’s by design; maybe I shouldn’t assume stories about older women must be told with gravitas. Maybe the joke’s on me. But I can’t shake the feeling that the writers of AJLT are trying to make these characters as one-dimensional as possible as if to prove (or remind us) that women of a certain age just aren’t that interesting and that their (first world) problems are entirely of their own making.
No one is mad the characters aged, it’s what they’ve become
Are we being punished for wanting to see how midlife is treating Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte? Are the writers sitting around their table saying, “Okay, you asked for it,” and cracking their knuckles malevolently? Oddly (given the finished product), the writers’ table is stacked with women, including one of the best and most hilarious writers I know: Samantha Irby. And yet the fingerprints of the show’s male creators and producers seem to be everywhere.
And Just Like That is only three episodes in, so maybe it will find its groove by the time the ten-episode run is over. And we all know sequels are never as good as the original (Just ask Sex and the City 2, the movie). But it’s discouraging to hear the stars of the show dismiss bad reviews as ageism because this is entirely missing the point. No one is mad the characters aged, we’re upset about who they’ve become, and that the show’s writers have pummeled Sex and the City’s ground-breaking legacy into dust.