Wednesday, February 28, 2024

And just like that, ‘Sex and the City’ woke itself up

My take on the latest Sex and the City reboot.

Among the list of things I’ve not had a particular interest in revisiting at the end of 2021 is Mel Gibson returning to work despite being one of the most repulsive men in Hollywood, Anderson and Andy drunk AF on New Year’s Eve (good reason to turn off the TV), another Covid variant (good reason to stay the fuck home), and, I’ll be honest, a “Sex and the City” reboot, even with a glossy new title, “And Just Like That…”.

While I, along with pretty much every gay man I know, devoured the original “SATC” the way the four leads devoured cocktails, by the time the movies came out, I felt it had overstayed its welcome and, unlike its namesake city, needed to go to sleep. When I found out Samantha, aka Kim Cattrall, would not be returning to the reboot, my immediate thought was that they’d have to call it “… And the City” or, better yet, call it a day. 

For better or worse, however, the series is back, Big-less time, and, being the gay-card member that I am, I felt inclined to watch. Once again, I’m rather addicted, but for reasons far more complicated than the simple thrill of watching a hunky man’s bulge cinematically align with Carrie Bradshaw’s middle section in the opening credits. And when oh when is that guy getting his own origin story? 

“And Just Like That…,” when it’s not a straight-up hot mess, is a mixed bag on all counts, trying to be all things to everyone, but, and here’s the reason I can’t stop watching, so’s the whole gay country. 

Four sex-chatty white chicks who drank to excess, ate muffins each morning, and somehow never gained weight or liver damage didn’t cause much of a commotion back in the day, nor did a sexually ambitious older character, the aforementioned Samantha, or an emotionally unavailable boyfriend (Big) who pretty much mind-fucked Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie until they, um, tied the knot—withholding your actual name should raise enough red flags to weave together Oscar’s red carpet. For gay men, especially those of us walking the same New York streets, the show was always our mirrored selves, and the only thing we love more than expensive shoes we can’t afford or bottomless martinis or random hookups is the wedding of our dreams. Big might have been imperfect, but the man had money and a house in the Hamptons! “SATC” certainly tackled modern life for women in their prime, but it also perpetuated the fantasy that New York is a white-filled wonderland. 

Times have changed. So, if it’s female fantasy you want, hit that other Darren Star show, “Emily in Paris,” which is kind of like the original “SATC,” minus the clever dialog, humor, and pretty much everything else that makes for interesting television. But lead Lily Collins does wear clothing so outrageously unaffordable it makes “That Girl” Marlo Thomas’s outfits look positively Kmart. 

The new “chapter” of “SATC” has lots of fun and fluff, as well as discussion about being women in their older prime, but it’s also so filled with so much political correctness and Woke-isms that you can practically hear the focus groups’ comments surrounding each episode. In an attempt to make everyone happy, and to avoid the dreaded new C-word, Star, intentionally or not, has fashioned a show that’s no longer about four women, or even three, but rather a series that tries its darndest to teach us lessons about the way we are supposed to behave in the modern world. It’s an Afterschool Special for grown-ups. The question it never asks, or answers, so far, anyway—at press time, I’ve seen five episodes—is, “Do we really need to bring these characters back?”

The rebooted “Will & Grace,” though flawed, reignited much-needed laughter in the time of Trump and also organically aged the characters’ situations. Other than sentimentality and Carrie’s particular fashion sense, this show seems to exist for the simple reason that everyone involved, well, almost everyone, wanted it to. Making sure we were up to P.C. snuff was merely part of the necessary deal. 

Ironically, there are two elephants in your Peloton-graced living room. (Oh, and by the way, should you ever see me in a state of almost-death, please call 911 before clutching me in your arms.) The first, by far, is Samantha Jones, whose presence is catastrophically missed. “The Golden Girls” died without all four women eating cheesecake in the kitchen, and, despite what feels like a cattle call of hopeful replacements, Samantha can’t be replicated. I’m going to go all-out and mention someone really un-P.C. here, but “The Conners” without Roseanne lacks all sense of a grounding voice—Jackie’s saddled with too much talk, and Darlene doesn’t have the chutzpah to play the female lead. There’s a similar dynamic here, making the show feel, at times, like a three-legged table. Odder still is that Samantha’s character was the most ahead of her time, an older woman who would now be labeled sex-positive, and who’d counter-attack slut-shaming with a simple flash of her cat-ate-the-canary smile. I’d kill to hear her thoughts on sex and the city of new labels. 

And then there’s/was Big, dead at the end of the very first episode at almost the exact same time his alter-ego Chris Noth died a public death. Noth’s real-life #metoo moment was so perfectly timed to go with the new show’s political correctness it seemed like a brilliantly dark publicity stunt. Heck, it out-ironied Jon Hamm’s rehab stint right before the final season of “Mad Men” aired, you know, the show about crashing alcoholic Don Draper. I don’t know how “AJLT” is going to wrap up, but if they don’t have an entitled, rich white male plot prepped, they could just tag on the latest bad news about Noth at the end of each episode. 

There’s so much going here it’s exhausting just getting to the new plots, exhausting as they are. 

Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) gets the ball moving, keeping her hair defiantly gray, and drinking too much and not sleeping with her husband and having no idea how to handle her teenage son and being attracted to a woman while she returns to college with a Black female professor (Karen Pittman, so wonderful in “The Morning Show,” so wasted here) and an incredible lack of basic, new communication skills. This might be where the Woke lessons begin, but it’s entirely unbelievable that Miranda, the smart one, the clever one, the one who was almost patronizingly over-the-heads of the other women, could possibly be so new to Woke World. She’d have written three books on the subject by now, not become the Rose Nylund of Columbia University (RIP, Betty White). Carrie? Possibly. Charlotte? More than likely. But Miranda? That’s almost as ridiculous as Charlotte (Kristen Davis) having a straight-out-of-“Who’s the Boss?” plot about needing to find a Black friend. Yep, they go there, and, while the friend (Nicole Ari Parker) does a fine, if kind of thankless, job, it’s such a ridiculous storyline it makes you almost relieved when she moves onto her other problem at hand—her daughter doesn’t like being a girl. 

Is gender identity relevant? Damn straight it is. So is the need to familiarize ourselves with people outside of our contentment zone. My own life in Manhattan is often color- and trans-deprived, and, until recently, millennial deprived, and that’s pretty much how my gay world has been constructed since I first moved to Chelsea in the ’80s. We queers (“gay” back in the day) clung to the ones like us, and the ones like us were mostly white, went to the same gyms, hit the same bars, and showed off our bodies on the same beaches.

Times they are a-changin, as “And Just Like That…” demands we know, but the problem here is that everything under the P.C. sun is being thrown into the plot’s pot, so much so that we almost overlook the fact that now-coupled Anthony Marentino and Stanford Blatch (Mario Cantone and the late Willie Garson) are reduced to cliched, bickering gay bitches. “Um, Woke Police, I’d like to report a trope crime. It seems that two characters on the new show have stolen Elton John’s identity.” Hey, I’m a homo, I’m allowed to make fun of Sir Elton. 

Finally—I told you, it’s more exhausting than Kathy Griffin still playing the New Year’s Eve victim card—there’s Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie, our hero, who’s tackling the loss of her husband, a bad back, joining a podcast, and hats that now wear her and not the other way around—dock me two points for that jab. This brings us to the podcast host, Che (Sara Ramirez), a nonbinary comic who, of all the new cast members, seems to be the one most poised to replace Samantha. They’re sexually open, they’re funny (or, if the Netflix special episode is any indication, aren’t really but are supposed to be), and they’re intermingled with each of the three leads.

Ramirez is competent in a large role, and the show probably would have benefitted with just one major new character, but she feels more forced than fitting. Unless it’s Samantha, four’s a crowd. Watching the show, I keep doing that thing where, when Carrie texts her friend in London, I’m hoping Samantha will surprise everyone and walk through the door. Why couldn’t Cattrall’s “absence,” and not Noth’s bad behavior, be the real publicity stunt? And, yes, the Internet is full of rumors that, indeed, they might give us a peek of Cattrall before show’s end. 

What’s missing in most of the reboot is the sense of unity the original show gave us in spades—and, by the way, I’m around the same age as the leads, so why do they act so much older than me?

Ms. Jones would be ashamed at their age obsession, as would most of the fifty-something women I know. There’s no way this show would exist without ageism being tackled as well, but these women seem to wallow in their demise. They’re like the gay men I grew up with who now walk around Eighth Avenue and, instead of enjoying the new day, bitch about all the old stores and bars that have closed. When a series is reissued as a Power Point presentation of political correctness, terrified of that one viewer who’s going to send a mean tweet, it’s inevitable that mediocrity will be the real new cast member. Yep, it’s blandness that finally won over the writers’ hearts. 

With all that over and done with, finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say there are things to like about “And Just Like That…”. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t add that, like all great shows, movies, pop and rock stars, this series is being held to a higher standard than most of what you see on any given Netflix and Chill night. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how the next episodes unfold, most of the best stuff happened on Episode 5.

Carrie Bradshaw and Seema Patel | HBO Max

First off, Carrie’s relationship with yet another newbie, Seema Patel (Sarita Choudhury), feels more organic than the others, more than likely because there’s no discussion of Patel’s heritage (the actor is of Indian and English descent). The two simply exist together and grow, and talk men and dating and life after literal and figurative deaths. And Patel’s quite good in the role. 

The best surprise, and best scene in the whole show, takes place after Carrie’s homebound self finds two unwelcome surprises in her kitchen—a drunk Miranda and a female-assisted orgasmic Miranda—while struggling to pee in a Diet Snapple bottle. Parker and Nixon are excellent in the moment (as they have been from the inception of the series), and what unfolds is wonderful, comedy and drama beautifully combined. They fight, they slug it out emotionally, and the characters evolve. Miranda’s “bottom” a little later on is heartbreakingly perfect. While I’ve made jokes throughout this piece about the drinking on “SATC,” I’m all serious, not sassy, when I say, and I’ve been saying for years, they needed to make at least one of the leads an alcoholic. No one drinks the way those women do without consequences. Here’s hoping the rest of the show lives up to all the possibilities the fifth episode laid out. 

And just like that, and with all this Woke-ism, I’m exhausted and need a nap. 

David Toussaint

David Toussaint is the writer of five screenplays (with six film festival awards between them) and four best-selling non-fiction books. A professional journalist since the age of 15, he’s written for such publications as Huffington Post, Queerty, and Conde Nast Traveler. Toussaint is also a professional playwright and actor.

David Toussaint has 24 posts and counting. See all posts by David Toussaint

2 thoughts on “And just like that, ‘Sex and the City’ woke itself up

  • When are we going to see a gay man ANYWHERE on network or streaming television who is not either a camp caricature whose existence is only designed to enhance straight female characters OR a man in drag and/or a man serving as a judge of a drag competition or a man decorating and/or styling hair for straight people. And Just Like That is pathetic and offensive in its depiction of gay men.
    There are now numerous high-profile series led by lesbian protagonists. They often involve woman/woman sex scenes (see L Word, High Town, Work In Progress etc) which are undoubtedly enjoyed by straight people. Physical contact between male characters is still limited to fighting and the occasional hug.
    GLAAD is doing a really shitty job with its annual count of LGBTQ characters . Mainly more stereotypes to mock every year.

    p.s. i watch and enjoy every series with a gay woman in a lead role. I’m glad there is SOME progress.

  • Right on the money. I keep thinking to myself, ” how they hell did someone greenlight this?!” Is SJP really on board for all of this, “stuffed down your throat wokeness?” I’m 53, since when was that the age that you stopped having sex, had hip replacements and pretty much met your waterloo?
    Bottom line, AJLT, Carried killed Big.
    Thanks for saying what I’ve been thinking and brewing about. I guess I was looking forward to some levity in a time we so desperately need it.


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