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Can ‘Sex and the City’ Survive Without Samantha Jones?

The forthcoming HBO Max reboot of the beloved series will have to undo the damage wrought by the ghoulish movies that followed its run.

SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE, Kim Cattrall, 2008. ©New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett Collection

“Sex and the City: The Movie”

©New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett / Everett Collection

Samantha Jones may have been the one to tell off The Girls over one especially heated lunch in the episode “Frenemies”: “And you can forget Samba!” But the creators of “Sex and the City” are now the ones telling us, “You can forget Samantha Jones!”

Rookie streaming service HBO Max has announced a limited series revival of creator Darren Star’s “Sex and the City,” titled “And Just Like That,” named for one of Carrie’s classic quips whenever the proverbial other shoe (sorry) dropped. But just like that, it’s a predictably amputated version, because Kim Cattrall won’t be returning to the series as Samantha Jones. It’s now up to the writers to find a creative way to write her out of the series (and judging from a Twitter exchange between Sarah Jessica Parker and journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner, that drawing board is still blank.)

Without Sam Jones, whose freewheeling sexuality defined the series’ very ’90s ethos as much as any of the other women did, the ecosystem of “Sex and the City” topples. I’m saying this as a longtime fan who dragged an ex to take a picture of me at the West Village exterior used for Carrie’s stoop, endured the “Sex and the City” bus tour, and can recite most of the dialogue in my sleep. The world of “Sex and the City” feels empty without Samantha, who was partly there to take the air out of Carrie’s romantic obsessions, Miranda’s neurotic hang-ups, and Charlotte’s earnestly Pollyanna disposition. That the show is moving forward without Sam also may suggest she was dispensable all along, and that — Cattrall or no Cattrall — she doesn’t have a place in this new story. (Some of Cattrall’s former colleagues, including Cynthia Nixon, have suggested recasting the role, which is a uniformly terrible idea unless this new season is science fiction.)

Cattrall has long been vocal about not wanting to return to the franchise in any form. “I went past the finish line playing Samantha Jones because I loved ‘Sex and the City’,” Cattrall told The Guardian in 2019. “It was a blessing in so many ways but after the second movie I’d had enough.” She put it even more bluntly back in 2017 when speaking to Piers Morgan over a rumored feud between Cattrall and her co-stars. “The answer was simply, ‘Thank you, but no, I’m good,’” she said in regards to calls about doing a third movie. Cattrall has also hinted at a culture of bullying that pervaded during and after the show, which Sarah Jessica Parker has denied. Either way, it casts a stain on the legacy of a show about four women supporting each other unconditionally.

Along with writing Samantha out of the show, the showrunners have the perhaps more daunting but no less urgent task of undoing the damage wrought by director Michael Patrick King’s glittering but hollow 2008 “Sex and the City: The Movie” and 2010’s ghastly “Sex and the City 2,” two grotesque, funhouse-mirror versions of the series that I, along with others fans, prefer to ascribe to dispatches from an alternate, terrible universe. With eight-figure budgets splurged on seemingly everything but the storytelling, the films sucked all the charm out of the series, replacing it with glossy production values completely antithetical to the original series’ visual tone.

That’s not to mention the ghastly display of wealth and product placement — including a two-and-a-half-hour advertisement for Middle Eastern tourism that came across as brutally xenophobic. While elements of commerce and materialism were certainly critical to the show’s Manolo Blahnik-slinging early days, they were less lavish pageantry than the backdrop to Carrie’s endearing and tragicomic tendency to overspend. (To that point, HBO is shelling out major bucks for the revival, with the leads all banking more than $1 million per each of the 10 episodes.)

Ideally, as the laws of so many other cinematic universes seem to dictate, we could just pretend these movies didn’t exist, can’t we? It’s as good a way as any to wash out the sticky, sour taste they’ve left behind. Regardless, the show’s unflagging following (mostly myself included) will eat this up whenever it comes into being, as production is supposed to start later this year. A new “Sex and the City” without Samantha is a lonelier one. But it’s the show’s only shot at redemption, at this point, for those hauntingly bad movies that were, as Lindy West put it in a 2010 review almost as famous as the movies themselves, the equivalent to “a home video of gay men playing with giant Barbie dolls.”

Either way, I can’t help but wonder (sorry) where this journey will lead.

 

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