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And Just Like That review: Sex And The City revival is embarrassing

Sex And The City did things no show had done. And Just Like That is the opposite

A still from ‘And Just Like That’
A still from ‘And Just Like That’

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The Diwali episode is not the worst bit. Sex And The City sequel series And Just Like That has come under fire for Carrie Bradshaw wearing a lehnga and calling it a sari, for having to be told what the festival is despite living in the world’s most multicultural city, and for an Indian character conveniently declaring that Carrie-in-a-sari is “not cultural appropriation, it’s cultural appreciation”.

The weirdest thing about the episode, for me, was seeing actor Ajay Mehta being cast as an Indian father—after having once played a waiter in the original Sex And The City. In an uncharacteristically low mood, Samantha Jones considers a tryst with him but, as if that would be too low, changes her mind and tips him instead. Casting Mehta as an affluent Indian in this Samantha-less reboot may perhaps be a misguided attempt at atonement. That, or they think we all look alike.

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Sex And The City ran for six seasons from 1998-2004 (all streaming on Disney+ Hotstar Premium) and the series—groundbreakingly—celebrated women wanting whatever they happened to want: from commitment to couture to career. If they chose the wrong man, the wrong approach, or chose to buy heels so expensive it drove them to homelessness, so be it.

The show not only depicted female friendship accurately but created lasting social templates for viewers to follow. Watching Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) is to share Cosmopolitans and gossip at their table. Carrie is clueless but opinionated (“Beauty is fleeting but a rent-controlled apartment overlooking the park is forever.”), Samantha is the outspoken firebrand (“I don’t believe in the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. I just believe in parties.”), Charlotte is easily embarrassed (“Can you please not use the F-word in Vera Wang?”) and Miranda always ready with the reality check (“He’s just not that into you.”) Imagine the Avengers, but better dressed.

Created by Darren Star, Sex And The City broke down taboos and made plot-lines out of subjects never discussed on television: Characters debated a golden shower, for instance, or compared notes on farting in a lover’s bed. Still, it was very much a show of its time. It is a suffocatingly Caucasian series, painting characters of colour cruelly and dismissively—if that. The Fab Four were misinformed, transphobic, and far less progressive than they imagined themselves. Yet watching Sex And The City now—when we perpetually worry about having tweeted something inappropriate—I find their tone-deafness comforting. They didn’t know better, and didn’t pretend to.

And Just Like That (an HBO Max series not yet streaming in India) has no excuse. Parker, Davis and Nixon bring back their characters for the revival but the lack of Cattrall’s Samantha—insultingly explained as having moved abroad after a petty financial spat—creates a void too vast for the three to circumvent. The show’s fiercest character was also its eldest, and this show about getting older needed to show us the most sex-positive character finding her way forward.

Instead, it gives us three confused women who keep saying the wrong things and while the case could be made that the show is holding an unflattering mirror up to its ageing, ignorant audience, this appears unlikely. And Just Like That makes its points laboriously—repeatedly pointing to the queer non-binariness of a character, or questioning the progressiveness of another—and the result is embarrassing. This show, where a podcast host presses a button to signal a “Woke Moment”, tries desperately hard to earn points merely for mentioning them.

Sex And The City did things no show had done. And Just Like That is the opposite. You want to see Sarah Jessica Parker wear terrific coats and have complicated, grown-up conversations with women her own age, watch Divorce (Disney+ Hotstar). You want to see New York friends navigating woke-land, learning as they go, watch The Bold Type (Netflix). Why does this show exist?

In one episode, And Just Like That damningly mentions a moment from season 2 of the original series, one where Samantha downs a martini and retrieves Carrie’s diaphragm ahead of a big date. Rewatching that classic—episode 6, season 2—makes it dramatically clear how pale an imitation the new series is. As Charlotte once said about her marriage, it is a fake Fendi.

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The worst bit of And Just Like That, dear readers, is that Carrie Bradshaw isn’t narrating. I came to Sex And The City late, mistakenly assuming the show wasn’t for me, but even as I admire the series, I unfailingly roll my eyes—and unfailingly mention that I am rolling them to The Wife, a committed superfan—whenever Carrie the narrator breaks out a childish metaphor. “Men in their 40s,” she says, “are like The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle: tricky, complicated and you’re never sure you’ve got the right answer.” Aargh.

It’s unbearably twee, but now—watching Parker type a resigned, solitary line at the end of each And Just Like That episode, à la Doogie Howser—makes me realise how much I miss that commentary. Its cheesy optimism is fundamental to Sex And The City, and the show’s starry-eyed love affair with New York. The divergent storylines are held in place by Parker’s relentless puns, much like the way Jerry Seinfeld’s inability to keep a straight face holds together the chaos of Seinfeld. There are numerous things wrong with this reboot, but I consider none more crushing than the fact that Sex And The City has lost its voice.

Streaming Tip Of The Week:

Alexandre Koberidze's What Do We See When We Look At The Sky (MUBI) is a beautiful fable about love and football. The meditative Georgian film takes us to the town of Kutaisi, and by the time we open our eyes again, it feels like we've lived there.

Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of ‘The Best Baker In The World’ (2017), a children’s adaptation of ‘The Godfather’.

@rajasen

 

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