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And Just Like That…: On 25 Years of Sex and the City


I first watched Sex and the City in my early 20s, broke and just post-breakup, in desperate need of my favorite cure for heartbreak—a good binge-watch. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and

Charlotte were an escape for me. Their clever banter and obscene jokes made you want to join

them, and their glamorous lives made you want to be them. I was making cosmopolitans at

home, resisting the urge to chain smoke, and immersing myself in a version of Manhattan I’d

never seen. It didn’t matter that I lived in Astoria and could barely afford cab fare, let alone

Chanel; I felt like I was right there with them, gossip, judgment, and all.

That was nearly two decades after the show’s premiere. In its time, it was even more influential; it won numerous awards for directing, costuming, and for the show as a whole, as well as significant acting wins for three of the four leads (sorry, Kristin Davis!). In a time when only 42% of Americans believed premarital sex was “not immoral,” SATC was a salacious scandal you couldn’t look away from. It wasn’t just the sex that made it unseemly—it was the women. Women being witty and quick, women swearing, women indulging in what they traditionally should not. Women relying on themselves and their friends, not some man. Women laughing, loud and often. As critic Nancy Reincke noted, “The threat to male dominance isn’t women laughing at men; it’s women laughing with women.”

You can’t talk about the impact of Sex and the City without talking about the fashion. Vogue, in kind for multiple mentions across the series (including Carrie’s questionable decision to “buy Vogue instead of dinner”), ran hundreds of articles about SATC and has let Sarah Jessica Parker grace the cover of their American edition alone 8 times. Demand for brands and styles worn by the series’ stars was explosive. Sales of Manolos tripled when the show started, according to a Neiman Marcus buyer in 2000. There were hundreds of columns and blogs dedicated to dissecting their outfits. When creator Darren Star spoke about his inspiration for SATC, he was “amazed to find that women watched the shows for clothes as much as the story.”

That focus on style was deeply woven into the show. To some extent, clothes tell the story; Carrie’s wacky and incongruous style is less about trends or appealing to men and more a form of self-expression. When she tries on outfits before going out, she’s trying on personas, figuring out who to be that day; she explores herself externally as much as internally. While the walk-in closet being such a significant part of Carrie and Big’s relationship is oft-cited as silly and shallow, I see it more as a metaphor. When Aidan was moving in and asking her to clear some closet space, which would involve throwing out some clothes, he was asking for her to throw out pieces of herself, to become a little less multifaceted to make room for him. Ultimately, Big promising and then gifting her the walk-in was an offer of freedom; it was Big saying, you don’t have to change for me.

Of course, Sex and the City’s impact wasn’t all positive. Watching for the first time just post-college, I didn’t quite understand how unrealistic the NYC of SATC was; I still mourn the days I thought I could sell my writing for $4.50 a word. Though even with all the ways they try to justify Carrie’s lifestyle (she makes over twice at Vogue what actual writers made at the time, her gorgeous apartment was rent controlled at a sweet $750 a month, she has only $1600 in her bank accounts), the dream Sex and the City sold to young women flocking to the city was a lie. Carrie maybe could have afforded constant fancy dinners and cosmos, a $40,000 shoe collection, or an extravagant designer-studded wardrobe—but not all three.

Sex and the City’s wrongs don’t stop there—1998’s “controversial” is 2023’s “problematic.” It’s been widely noted that the series has very few Black or POC characters; when they do show up, their roles are littered with racism. In season three, Samantha spends an episode dating a Black man whose sister, an “angry black woman” stereotype, disapproves of their relationship, leading Samantha to complain, “Talk about politically incorrect, she can’t diss me just because I’m white!” Though she insists her change in speech patterns in the episode isn’t “Black talk,” it’s repeated in a season six episode in which she wears an Afro wig (and carries around a pick to accessorize) to hide the effects of chemo. In that same season, Miranda briefly dates a Blackneighbor whose primary purpose is to make her realize she loves Steve—and then angrily stalk them through the halls of her building, furious at the end of a short relationship. When

Samantha dates a Latina lesbian in season four, shortly before they break up, we’re treated to a fight that exemplifies the “fiery Latina” stereotype, a jaunty Latin tune over the sound of smashing plates.

Sex and the City’s treatment of LGBTQ+ issues wasn’t much better. Carrie’s gay best friend Stanford (and, later, Charlotte’s friend Andrew) represent the only acceptable queer people in the show’s eyes—fabulous, cutting, and flamboyant. In contrast, Carrie believes bisexuality is just “a layover on the way to gay town” and calls trans women “half man, half woman.” Samantha once calls her neighborhood “trendy by day and t****y by night.” When Samantha is briefly a lesbian, Charlotte claims, “She’s just doing this to bug us.” It’s a remarkably close-minded view of sexuality, especially for a sex columnist, and a little behind even for its day. Carrie is, at heart, a prude. She claims to be “sort of a sexual anthropologist.” If so, it’s in the mold of turn-of-the-century anthropologists: culturally insensitive and highly judgmental. She’s so “confused” by a man’s bisexuality that she breaks up with him; she refuses to try anything even slightly outside the vanilla; she regularly judges and criticizes Samantha for her sexual exploits. Yet, she happily watches the sex tapes a male friend made without his partners’ consent, puffing a cigarette and adding wry commentary. The only thing sexually progressive about Carrie Bradshaw is that she’s unmarried and having sex at all.

That’s not nearly as egregious as her views on sex work. Uses of “whore” and “hooker” abound, mainly regarding dressing provocatively. When Carrie’s friend, described as a “professional girlfriend”, introduces her to a hookup, he leaves a thousand dollars on the nightstand. An offended Carrie wonders, “What exactly about me screams ‘whore’?” even though she could desperately use the money. When Stanford’s former escort boyfriend is outed by Anthony, he can only be redeemed by discounting his past, claiming, “That’s not who I am anymore. I was real messed up back then, but I have it together now.” Only Samantha sees sex work as anything less than reprehensible. “Money is power. Sex is power. Therefore, getting money for sex is simply an exchange of power”.

So what about the new show, And Just Like That…? Has it fixed the wrongs of SATC’s past? Has it changed too much or too little? Well, people still smoke, but mostly weed or American Spirits; people still drink, but there’s only one Cosmo in all of season one (season two TBD). Carrie’s given up her smoking addiction, and Miranda her emotional drinking. They seem to have realized that bisexuality and trans people are real, and (gasp!) not all of their friends are white anymore. In a finale moment somewhat representative of the season, a trans woman rabbi talks Carrie and Miranda through their friendship issues. Even that moment epitomizes the issues with the show—the rabbi comes out of a bathroom stall and tells them exactly what they need to hear without knowing either of them. We know nothing about this character, so she’s more of an enlightened plot device than a person. As much as the original SATC cast needed diversity, assigning the three remaining leads each their dedicated “supportive POC friend” does not an inclusive show make, since giving them all fleshed out storylines turns out to be impossible. In dedicating itself to fixing the wrongs of Sex and the City, it seems more interested in professing how “woke” it is (though, of course, they got in their requisite whore jokes) than focusing on what made the original series so successful despite its flaws—the intimate, glowing female friendships among the central quartet. While the three leads stepped into the roles effortlessly, like welcoming in an old friend, the awkward writing held everything else back.

The showrunner of And Just Like That, Michael Patrick King, helmed the original show’s last season and wrote and directed the critically panned sequel movies. Darren Starr, the show’s creator and original showrunner, wasn’t happy with King’s finale, saying, “I think the show ultimately betrayed what it was about, which was that women don’t ultimately find happiness from marriage.” Yet King and two of his more prolific writers from the later seasons of SATC wrote most of AJLT’s first season. While it makes sense to keep writers who know the characters, you can’t update a show without updating the writer’s room, and it’s painfully apparent which episodes were written by the old writers versus the new. As much as And Just Like That… falls into some of the same pitfalls as Sex and the City (excessive consumerism, prudishness, Carrie being a terrible friend), it does hit some unfettered high notes: disability representation, a focus on physical and mental health, Charlotte’s nonbinary child naming themselves Rock. And, of course, the fashion. The fashion.

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