Warning: this review contains spoilers from the first episode of And Just Like That.
The first 20 minutes of the long-anticipated, much-hyped reboot of Sex and the City, And Just Like That (Sky Comedy/HBO Max), are terrible. The Manhattan streets are alive with the sound of crowbars jimmying more exposition into the dialogue than Carrie’s closet has shoes. Samantha’s absence (Kim Cattrall declined to take part in the new show, apparently as a result of longstanding animus between her and Sarah Jessica Parker) is briskly dealt with. She moved to London (“Sexy sirens in their 60s are still viable there!” says someone with their tongue not firmly enough in their cheek) in a fit of pique after Carrie told her she didn’t need her as a publicist any more. That this does not square with anything we have ever known about Samantha apparently matters not a jot. Viewers are then led at a quick jog through the news that Carrie’s Instagram account has really taken off now she is on a podcast, Charlotte is still dyeing her hair, and Miranda has left her corporate law job and is heading back to college to get a masters degree in human rights law after realising she “can no longer be part of the problem”. Writer and showrunner Michael Patrick King gets her to lay out the show’s organising principle too, for the cheap seats at the back. “We can’t just stay who we were, right? There are more important issues in the world.”
You worry – King was, after all, the man responsible for both the execrable SATC movies – but you forgive, because it has been nearly 20 years since we were last together and there was always going to be a bit of awkward catching up to do. The next test of faith, however, is harder and lasts longer. Because then the show starts to address all its past issues and the criticism it has amassed (like its reputation for being the whitest, after Friends, most blinkered show on 90s television) among audiences who weren’t born when it first aired, AND haul itself into the modern world.
There are – and this is not said lightly, as it was the worst thing committed to celluloid in recent memory – shades of the crassness of the second SATC film in its confronting of gender-fluidity, sexual orientation, racial sensitivities and privilege. It does so mostly by dragooning new characters into spelling out the problem and granting our three Musketeers a valuable learning experience. And there is a series of excruciating scenes, that could have been written by a high school student for a particularly terrible high school sketch show, between Miranda and her new Black lecturer Dr Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman). They make the former look like the idiot she has never been (“I’m sorry,” she says fretfully after hitting a mugger attacking Wallace, “I wasn’t sure if that was a white saviour moment or not?”) and shunts the latter into an unrewarding role as saint. The onslaught of “woke” teachings lends the show a smugly self-congratulatory rather than ironically self-aware air. This does nothing to make it sing like the original, which – even if it was narrow and elite – knew its world inside out and could allow the comedy and the drama to arise in ways that felt effortless.
Perhaps more importantly for the overall success of the series, it reduces the original characters to a baffled trio trying to negotiate a strange new world, as if the only thing ageing has to offer us (or women at least) is confusion and failure.
All that said – there are reasons to hope that these are teething troubles only. There is a handful of good lines, there are flashes of the old spirit and there is one sex scene – centred round Big (“I’m getting some lube. I’m not 30”) – that recalls the genuinely pioneering original, and what fun it used to be.
There is also, at the end of episode one, a twist that means Carrie at least will have more to do than be aghast at the changing face of modernity. In her new situation, she will be forced to navigate life differently and explore other parts of what it means to grow older. We can only hope the same will be true of the rest, and that the group dynamic can be re-established (including one or more of the so-far peripheral characters, whose casting is too good for them to be sidelined) for the joy and benefit of all. Or at least all who survived. That was a bold launch episode move. RIP.