A "Sex and the City" revival minus Samantha? We're just not that into it

The next chapter of HBO's iconic series is dropping the "sex" – and that's the least of its problems

By Melanie McFarland
January 12, 2021 12:58AM (UTC)
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Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Kristin Davis in "Sex and the City 2" (New Line CInema)

Considering the terror and depression the world was subjected to last week, this weekend's news of a "Sex and the City" revival on HBO Max should have felt like a gift. Instead and somewhat predictably, it was met with a distinctly divided reaction.

Wisely for all involved, and perhaps to placate those of us who have our doubts, the new series will be titled "And Just Like That . . ." entirely removing the "sex" from the title.

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Some people are very, very excited about this news. Fashionistas, Millennials and Zoomers, maybe, who grew up watching sanitized-for-syndication repeats on basic cable (or the real deal, also readily available on HBO) – surely the news of Carrie Bradshaw, Charlotte York Goldenblatt and Miranda Hobbes' imminent return to series television made untold numbers of folks giddy.

Notice the absence of Samantha Jones from that list – and with that, let's talk about the rest of us. Those who blocked out the orientalist nightmare that is 2010's "Sex and the City 2," who reappraised the original's hapless white feminism and willful ignorance as to the multicultural nature of New York City and forgave it all owing to what a kick Kim Cattrall's performance made watching the original series, can't be faulted for thinking "Please, no, not this."

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Love the idea or not, this is happening.

According to the announcement, the 10 half-hour episodes of "And Just Like That" drop us back into the stories of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) to show us how they're handling love and friendship in their 50s. (The original series ran for six seasons on HBO between 1998 and 2004.)

And just like that the revival's producers – a list that includes the three stars, each of whom is reportedly pocketing $1 million per episode – found a way to ditch Samantha Jones, and Cattrall more specifically.

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If there were ever a way for this group of characters to return to us, creating a show around theme that focuses on about relationships as opposed to sex is probably a good way to go. Also, when last we saw the original quartet Samantha was the only one enthusiastically banging on the regular.

As for shedding the "Sex and the City" label I don't even think the series needs it since Parker is a brand unto herself (although that name recognition did not save her other post-"SATC" series "Divorce"), and Nixon's been steadily working and taking part in her own prestige pieces on top of running for governor of New York in 2018.

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That there's no love lost between Cattrall and the rest of her co-stars is amply established, and confirmed by Cattrall's on-the-record declaration that she refused to take part in any future "Sex and the City" projects. Many of those statements were related to inquiries about the possibility of a third "Sex and the City" film, which kept up for long enough for some version of a next chapter to be all but inevitable.

Plus, with entertainment corporations eager to populate their streaming services and lure subscribers with familiar titles and brands, there's a solid business case for HBO Max to pick up a "whatever happened to" version of "Sex and the City."

In a timeline that has seen a respectable revival of "Saved By the Bell" and a mixed but mostly enthusiastic reception for "The L Word: Generation Q," the only thing stopping SJP and her fellow stars and executive producers, including Michael Patrick King, from moving on with the franchise was a halfway decent premise and the remaining stars' desire and availability.

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"Sex and the City" remains the gold standard among series about adulting and is more familiar to younger generations than most series. Shows targeted at younger viewers such as "Girls" reference Carrie Bradshaw's adventures, and the character was entrancing enough to have yielded two seasons of "The Carrie Diaries," a fantasy of what she was like as a teenager.

Plenty of room exists for those stories featuring women living vibrant lives over the age of 50 beyond the odd basic cable entry and, this is said with the utmost reverence and affection, "The Golden Girls." Done well, "And Just Like That" could turn out to be a worthy inheritor to that beloved classic series and provide women additional fantasy character archetypes to emulate as we mature.

We get why "And Just Like That" is happening. It's the handling of the premise that makes me skeptical.

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That refers to "Sex and the City 2" which, again – yikes. King wrote, directed and produced both films, and his other notable and recent efforts include "2 Broke Girls" and "AJ and the Queen."

If you've endured the terrible writing on those shows you would be worried about "And Just Like That," too.

What hope a person might dare to have here rests in the executive producer titles Parker, Nixon and Davis share with King. One can only hope that they include some measure of creative control. Besides, despite its multiple sins the second movie left Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte in a place where their stories could continue.

Miranda ditched the workplace that didn't respect her voice and found one that did. Charlotte began discovering a way to carve out time and space for herself in the marriage. Samantha, hopped up on menopausal treatments made from yams, continues to hook up every which way. Carrie and Big (Chris Noth) found a way to settle into their marriage without losing their individual identities and still figuring out that they have to "work on the sparkle for the rest of their lives."

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She also kept her iconic apartment to give her space to work and provide storage space for her old couture – meaning that while she never became the old woman who lived in her shoes, as she once worried about aloud, she married a man wealthy enough to provide her stilettos and such with rooms of their own. Not at all what Virginia Woolf imagined when she floated that concept.

There's open road and characters with strong legs here, which gives a person reason for higher hopes than might accompany other announced revivals, including a proposed return for "True Blood," which looked thoroughly staked by the time it ended, and "Dexter," whose revival Showtime also confirmed and will resume the stories of Michael C. Hall's serial killer in . . . New York state.

That show has a terrible finale to atone for, but so did "The L Word," and its resurrection fared well enough with viewers. That show's audience has a share of crossover with "SATC," making is easily predictably that "And Just Like That" will emerge as a hit regardless of how well it continues these tales of Mr. Big and Carrie's city.

Still, given the stakes and one of the central minds behind it, I can't help but wonder whether we'll ever be as into it the way we were back in the original's heyday.

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"Sex and the City" and "Sex and the City 2" are both streaming on Netflix. All episodes of original series are streaming on HBO Max.


Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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