I couldn’t help but wonder – would there really be a ready market for a Sex and the City reboot, nearly 20 years after it left our screens? And then the trailer for the sequel to the culturally iconic series – which ran for six award-laden, press-smothered seasons – arrived, and I realised just how desperately I’d missed it.
Not that I missed it in the usual sense, of course. We live in a world of constant reruns, access to all programmes at all times, YouTube videos to scratch any minor itch and Instagram fan accounts devoted to the characters, the clothes, the men and all points in between. But the hunger for new stories about Carrie Bradshaw and the gang was there, and the trailer reminded me of the best parts of SATC. The energy. The glee. The glamour. The chemistry between the co-stars, and the sight of well-scripted actors at the top of their game. And, to quote the title of the new show, And Just Like That … I was eager for more.
Perhaps you do not remember (hello, dimpled youths!) or were simply not a fan of the original series, created by Darren Star and based on Candace Bushnell’s bestselling book of the same name about her and her female friends’ dating lives in New York. I wasn’t, at first. Season one was – and on rewatching remains – an odd creature. Cold, hard and hobbled by Carrie’s propensity to break the fourth wall to talk about her latest conquest or the sociosexual phenomena on display, it was easy to boggle at but hard to love. However, as it continued, the writers and performers retooled it into something warmer and more immersive, allowing the characters to inform the action rather than the other way round.
It was an unusual series. It was led by women: chaotic columnist Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker); acerbic Manhattan lawyer Miranda (Cynthia Nixon); Waspy Charlotte (Kristin Davis); and sex bomb Samantha (Kim Cattrall). They spoke frankly about sex (Sam’s comment post-blowjob with a new man – “I’m dating a guy with the funkiest-tasting spunk” – pretty much became the show’s unofficial tagline), and they were friends. Proper friends, who mattered to each other, rode out storms together, fell out and made up. It was this depiction of female closeness as much as anything more overtly eye-catching that made it beloved, and an enduring success.
That is what we want more of, and which the reboot seems to promise. Unlike the two unspeakably awful spinoff films, released in 2008 and 2010, which emptied the franchise of everything fans genuinely held dear (most fans consider them non-canonical and mentally excise them from the record). While those projects simply filled the screen with fashion, the script with hot air and the plot (especially in the second outing, set in Abu Dhabi) with racism, And Just Like That … looks to have recaptured the essence of the show.
One element, of course, is missing. Cattrall is not returning (due, it seems, to a long-running incompatibility between her and Parker), meaning the new show will be Samantha-less. This is unlikely to be fatal. Not only are few characters (or actors) ever bigger than the show that makes them, Cattrall herself seemed increasingly uncomfortable and verging on parodic in the role (at least until Sam developed her first real relationship, with young Jerrod, and was allowed to bring some emotional, as well as vulval, vigour to proceedings). It has been great to see her make a name for herself with some fine performances since, in British TV drama especially, and you cannot help but feel that the all-round effect has been to allow us all – including Cattrall – to breathe a sigh of relief.
But let us turn again to the new offering. What do we know, from the official publicity, the leaked scripts, the papped shots of filming and all the other scraps fans have managed to gather and put on social media for the delectation of all?
We know that Big (Chris Noth) is back and that he and Carrie have some scenes in Paris. We know Carrie kisses someone else. We can see that no one is yet to figure out how to style Miranda’s (now silver-grey) hair. We know Brady is 19 and has a girlfriend and that we are all Methuselahs now. David Eigenberg returns as Steve – though there are suggestions that Miranda’s sexuality is going to follow Nixon’s, who has come out as gay since SATC ended – and Evan Handler is back as Charlotte’s husband Harry. The new series is the creation not of Darren Star (or indeed Bushnell) but of SATC showrunner and writer Michael Patrick King. He wrote the two films but also about a third of the original episodes, including the finale and it seems he might have refound his touch.
Like its contemporaries – among them Friends and Frasier – SATC was always unreflective of the diversity of city life. This looks to have been addressed by the addition of several new characters, including Sara Ramirez, a non-binary actor who is to play the non-binary, queer host of a podcast to which (former?) columnist Carrie is now a frequent contributor. There is also a carousel of new friends played by actors of colour who are apparently intended to fill the fourth space without any one being a direct substitute for Samantha. “In no way were we into tokenism,” said Parker in a recent interview, pre-empting the potential for criticism. “You can’t bring people on the show and not let the camera be with them! These characters are all gifts to us.” A further prophylactic against talking the talk rather than walking the walk is that half of the writing staff are people of colour, including award-winning writer and comedian Samantha Irby.
It’s hard not to risk that most unfashionable – if not downright terrifying – of all post-2016 actions and start letting our expectations rise. After all, this is the resurrection of a show that, flaws aside, came to symbolise a simpler, easier time – before Trump, before Brexit, long before Covid – and thus inescapably reminds us of when we were young and the world we knew felt more coherent and more cohesive.
Besides, SATC was a show that brought people together with water-cooler moments aplenty. Berger’s Post-it note! Bloody Aidan! Carrie farting in front of Big! Samantha fishing her friend’s diaphragm out! Trey’s unreliable boners! David Duchovny as the high-school boyfriend in a treatment facility! Mikhail bleedin’ Baryshnikov suddenly turning up and knocking it out of the park as Aleksandr “You are … comic?” Petrovsky. And, above all, the funky spunk – and a chance for women to see the way they spoke, laughed and related to one other in private offered as part of a mainstream story. The sex may have gathered the column inches and faux-outraged commentary, but even more shocking for many was hearing on TV what had long constituted pretty ordinary conversation among female friends.
Of course, it was far from grittily realistic. The shoe habit Carrie maintained on a column-a-week income is up there with Monica and Rachel’s apartment in the fairytales-of-New-York annals. But it had emotional truth in abundance, and helped a generation of thirtysomethings identify and articulate their experiences in a way few shows had done before or managed since.
Now Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte are in their 50s – an even more rarely represented group. The stranglehold youth has had over television (and even more so cinema) over the last few decades has until very recently been unyielding. The days of Dallas and Dynasty, whose female stars were well beyond ingenue age when the global hits began (Dynasty’s Linda Evans was 38; Joan Collins, 47), had been obliterated. The prevailing attitude towards (women’s) age is best summed up by the scene in 30 Rock in which Jenna Maroney is cast as the ailing mother of a Gossip Girl-type character. She tells her daughter not to worry. “I’ve had my life! But I’m 42. Time to die.” And actors’ sell-by dates are grounded in the truth enshrined in Amy Schumer’s famous sketch, performed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette entitled “Last Fuckable Day.”
But the stranglehold is starting to loosen – if not because of great leaps in progressive thinking then because of the power vacuums left by male titans of the industry who were finally toppled by #MeToo revelations and whose projects were ruined in the falls. Safe pairs of female hands were drafted in, and it has helped bring about a change that will hopefully continue to gain momentum.
The grand hope for And Just Like That … is surely that the cast and writers can reproduce for another generation – though it remains their generation – everything meaningful that lay beneath the extravagant fashion, glamorous cocktailing and proliferating brunches that made it all such fun to watch. That they can capture the issues, the problems, the jokes, the conversations, the relationships for middle-aged women as gloriously, as unashamedly, as they did for their younger incarnations. What a milestone and a triumph it would be if they could bring this culturally and socially invisible age of womanhood unapologetically to the fore and make us laugh as much with them – not at them – as we ever did.
And if their next round of adventures looped back to tie up a few loose ends, too, let the record show that there is still space in my heart for that. I wouldn’t be averse to Carrie having a second fling with an après-facility David Duchovny or coming across a down-and-out Berger and still kerb-stomping his head on behalf of us all. As long as there’s no bloody Aidan. I, for one, am too old to go through his nonsense again.
And Just Like That … starts 9 December, 9pm, Sky Comedy