PEOPLE Critic Reviews 'And Just Like That' : An 'Envelope-Pushing' Departure from 'Sex and the City'

PEOPLE's critic breaks down the first season of the Sex and the City revival And Just Like That...

And Just Like That... The Documentary
The cast of And Just Like That... . Photo: HBO Max

HBO Max's divisive Sex and the City sequel And Just Like That…, a show so bafflingly different from the original it could have been called What Was That?, landed softly in its tenth and final episode. Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie returned to Paris for a quiet moment of emotional closure with the ashes of the now-dead Big. (Chris Noth, who played Big, was originally going to make some sort of corporeal appearance in the episode but was written out following allegations of sexual assault. He has denied the allegations.)

Then it was back to Manhattan, where Carrie was now helming her own podcast: She gently advised a troubled listener, "You will laugh again, especially if you have one or two good friends in your corner." (Note the number: Unconsciously or not, Carrie has subtracted a third friend, Kim Cattrall's Samantha.) And, finally, Carrie shared a spark of erotic connection with the man you knew from the get-go deserved the chance: the handsome, salt-and-pepper podcast producer (Ivan Hernandez), who'd been waiting patiently in the shadows of the recording booth since episode 1.

For more on And Just Like That…, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

This was a much better outcome than any further dates with the handsome, salt-and-pepper widower, Peter (Jon Tenney). In one of the stranger moments in the series, he and Carrie ended a night out by vomiting together onto the curb. It was like something out of season 1 of Fleabag.

The finale, in other words, suggested the show you may always have wished And Just Like That… to be, romantic, comfortable and kind — a bit like Diane Keaton's Something's Gotta Give, a romcom for the seasoned woman. And it felt, at last, as if the show was righting itself into a proper vehicle for this older Carrie. Almost two decades after the original Sex and the City, she hadn't lost her slightly melancholy glamour: You could still imagine her, like Audrey Hepburn, lingering outside the windows of Tiffany's or the now-extinct Barneys.

And Just Like That
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO Max

But, just like that, the show was done —for now. (A second season seems highly likely.)

As to the previous nine episodes, they were an earnest, uneven, envelope-pushing departure from Sex and the City. And Just Like That…, its title trailing a bothersome elliptical tail, took on important contemporary issues (race, gender) while still paying obeisance to the more traditional Sex and the City topics of Manhattan real estate, fashion and accessories: At one point Carrie wore a hat with a brim as broad as one of the rings around Saturn. By necessity, And Just Like That … also dealt with the challenges, also known as the indignities, of growing older. When Carrie had a consultation with a plastic surgeon (Jonathan Groff), he told her that aging faces can be described as "hollowers and saggers."

"Hollowers lose volume," he said. "Saggers are prone to hang and develop bags. You're a hollower."

The show, unfortunately, was both — sagger and hollower — as it tried to manage an ungainly, expanded narrative (episodes often stretched beyond 30 minutes). If anything, it seemed to be reinventing itself over and over as it went along, starting with Big's death while cycling on his Peloton bike. This was a colossal twist — the subsequent cultural shock was sizable enough that the company issued a statement suggesting that Big's "extravagant lifestyle" contributed to his heart attack. But it was a bold and decisive stepping-off point, even if Big's funeral service had a chic sterility that seemed to be organized around the theme "Go, Already."

It made sense, too, to give someone —anyone — everyone — a genuine midlife crisis, although Cynthia Nixon's Miranda had one so dramatic and swift it threw the show out of balance. Miranda renounced her old Sex and the City life, leaving her law career and dropping her husband Steve (David Eigenberg) for a nonbinary standup comic named Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez). (She also had a drinking problem, until she apparently didn't.) Nixon, a very fine actress, managed to invest this storyline with authentic anguish and exultation. But the show was awfully unkind to Steve, who seemed whiny, confused and enfeebled. The scene in which Miranda told him they were through was like watching a Star Wars porg being neatly sliced in half by a lightsaber. He squeaked and was annihilated.

Sara Ramirez, Cynthia Nixon
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO Max

Was any of this funny? No. And Just Like That… wasn't very funny at all. How could it have been, with so little focus and so much going on? Perhaps it would have been funnier if Cattrall had returned and resumed her ripe, arch performance as Samantha. However, Samantha (so we were told) had decamped to London. From there, invisible, she served as a sentimental and rather cheap gimmick. She signaled her abiding friendship for Carrie by springing for a magnificent bouquet of flowers for Big's funeral — we saw her note — and, at the very end, she texted that, yes, she would love to see Carrie again.

For Samantha fans, though, this felt like manipulation, since showrunner Michael Patrick King has ruled out Cattrall's ever coming back. Perhaps, like Big, Samantha should have just been killed off. While running on a treadmill.

Oddly enough—although by this point the word "oddly" should come as no surprise — there was no humor at all in the one character who should have been funny, Sara Ramirez's Che. We saw her doing her act several times, and her material was just terrible. You had to wonder what clubs she'd been working.

And Just Like That…
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO Max

Meanwhile, in perhaps its most significant attempt at reinvention, the series bolstered the diversity of its cast by bringing in other new characters played by Nicole Ari Parker, Karen Pittman and Sarita Choudhury, all of them glowingly attractive, intelligent performers, but ultimately without enough to do — although Choudhury's Seema, with her commanding personality and appetite for sex, came closest to being "the new Samantha," And Just Like That…'s equivalent of the Holy Grail.

Looking back, the best moment in the series may have been its simplest: Carrie sat at her computer, writing a memoir, as Carly Simon sang "Spring Is Here." You saw the seasons changing outside. For once you were able to breathe.

Related Articles