[Editor’s Note: Representatives from HBO Max have requested a spoiler warning be attached to this review, which covers the first four episodes of “And Just Like That.” However, actual spoilers — including the end of the first episode — will not be revealed here.]
“And Just Like That…” is quite a thing to behold.
The “Sex and the City” revival — under a new name because (officially) it’s now an HBO Max original series, and (unofficially) because the classic foursome is now a threesome, sans Kim Cattrall’s Samantha Jones — may be the 2021 series that breaks us or brings us together. It’s not good, per se, but it offers plenty to talk about and has moments, big and small, that resonate. The core premise helps justify a return to “SATC,” which is a relief after the forced, frivolous nature of “Sex and the City 2.” But whether or not Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) can generate enough insight, style, and comedy to prop up the episodes’ extended runtimes (44 minutes each, save for a slightly shorter Episode 4) remains to be seen. Fans of the original series will feel the familiar pull, drawing you back into the vortex of high fashion, budding romance, and devout friendships, while non-fans will be given ample fuel from this very well-off, very self-absorbed trio to power their hate-watching.
But one thing is crystal clear. “And Just Like That…” is desperate to make “Sex and the City” relevant again. Carrie is part of a podcast titled “X, Y, and Me” that has its own “woke moment” button. Miranda remembers going to the airport in 2017 to help immigrants affected by the Muslim ban. Charlotte spends an entire episode trying to find Black guests for her dinner party so her one Black friend won’t feel isolated. “How to Be an Antiracist” is name-checked, white savior complexes are flagged, and a non-binary stand-up comedian gets five full minutes on-stage to explain why TV shows should make space for more than just one character who identifies outside the gender binary. (Presumably, “And Just All That…” is complying with her advice because the crowd she’s performing for consists of non-binary characters, even if the only other speakers are Carrie and Charlotte.)
All this virtue signaling can be exhausting (just like real life!), but it’s no secret where writer, director, and creator Michael Patrick King is coming from. When “Sex and the City” first debuted, it was (rightly) hailed for its groundbreaking depiction of sex positivity (mostly through Samantha), flawed female protagonists, and so much more. But in the years since it ended (if not sooner), the series has been reassessed, with critics noting its incredibly vanilla depiction of New York City, exclusively privileged perspectives, and outdated views on gender and sexuality. Popular culture helped along the reevaluation with telling memes and new shows building off “SATC’s” success, but following the disastrous second film — with popular opinion enshrined within Lindy West’s pithy evisceration — all bets were off. The series’ legacy would always include a few considerable caveats.
“And Just Like That…” appears to be on a mission to quiet any alarm bells associated with the show’s past. Some topics fit right in with the series’ longstanding ethos, like normalizing the choice not to have kids or the pros/cons of romantic couples devolving into roommates, and no version of “Sex and the City” will ever apologize for its overt materialism. (You can almost hear the “ooo’s” and “ah’s” when Carrie first unveils her shoe closet.) But the new episodes also make room for people of color and characters identifying as LGBTQ. After a bad first impression, Miranda tries to befriend her human rights professor, Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), quickly exhausting the apparently inexhaustible woman with her nervous attempts to do the right thing. Charlotte is obsessed with a fellow mom from her kid’s school, Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker), who’s also a documentarian/humanitarian with a husband who might run for mayor. (The two get along so swimmingly, Mario Cantone’s Anthony calls Lisa, “Black Charlotte.”) And the aforementioned stand-up, Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez), is also Carrie’s podcast host.
So far, these new characters spend most of their time onscreen reassuring our main cast that they’re not being racist (or, on at least one occasion, pointing out when they are), but their partners and lives beyond Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda are given just enough acknowledgement to believe that actual development is coming. That’s good, because if there’s one predominant theme guiding “And Just Like That…” it’s the value of making new friends, even when you’ve already got a few good ones — a through-line only partly spurred by Samantha’s glaring absence. For all its heavy-handed flaws and self-indulgent tendencies, the new series shows an earnest devotion to grow along with its audience, whether that’s by inviting fresh faces to their dinner tables or acknowledging that no one (not even Carrie) stays the same forever. Maybe we don’t need a new “Sex and the City” series right now, but boy do we have one — and just like that, I’ll be watching again.
“And Just Like That…” premieres its first two episodes Thursday, December 9 on HBO Max. New episodes will be released weekly through the finale (Episode 10) on February 3.