The show returns with Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie as a widow and Cynthia Nixon’s Miranda in Los Angeles. What is unlikely to change is its superpowered ability to get on viewers’ nerves, writes Caryn James.
Some shows make it too easy to throw their own lines back at them. During a blunt lunchtime conversation about sex, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) compares a certain male bodily fluid to “an old friend that gets on your nerves – I think I’d miss it if it were gone”. That also sums up the comfortable, unexciting And Just Like That… which returns for its second season despite a bumpy, divisive first round. The new episodes of the Sex and the City sequel do a smoother balancing act, as the series tries to move the characters forward while also satisfying fans who want the familiar group back. But the show is still a sometimes annoying and dull nostalgia-fest offset by clumsy dollops of self-awareness about living in the 2020s.
Look at the way social media and entertainment news have run amok with word that Kim Cattrall, publicly disgruntled with her Sex and the City experience, would return as Samantha, even though she reportedly has a single scene in the new series, filmed apart from any other cast member. And the trailers have been ginning up anticipation for Carrie’s former fiancé Aiden (John Corbett).
Season two veers closer to the tone of Sex and the City. There is more sex in the same old fantastical New York, where there is always a handsome, eligible man around the corner and always a new book deal for Carrie to land her on the best-seller list and give her plenty of money for silly shoes. Of course, Big’s death must have left her rich as well as widowed.
Other aspects of her life are different. Carrie is having no-strings sex with Franklyn (Ivan Hernandez), who produces her new podcast called Sex and the City. Even she wonders if the Sex and the City brand is too tired to survive. And her friend and former podcast partner Jackie (Bobby Lee) lectures her, “The world has changed since you’ve been out there. It’s not OK to objectify people anymore. Men have feelings too”. Like so much of the show, the line is true, mildly funny and all too blunt. It lands as a ploy to get out from under potential criticism before doing business as usual.
The new characters brought into the series work better this time around. Charlotte’s friend, the documentary filmmaker Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker), Carrie’s friend, the high-end realtor Seema (Sarita Choudhury) and Miranda’s friend and former professor Nya (Karen Pittman) are now blended into the core friend group. They have their own plotlines and are more fully their own characters. Costume designers Molly Rogers and Danny Santiago have also given Lisa a sleek, high-fashion wardrobe in vibrant colours. She outdoes even Carrie’s often elegant look these days; her tutu-wearing Sex and the City eccentricity behind her. But the added characters’ plotlines are, in some cases, dead ends. One episode has all the friends dressing for the Met Gala, then doesn’t let us see the Met Gala, one of the show’s many teases that get on your nerves.
With reassuring ease, Parker beautifully navigates the turns in Carrie’s life, including the up and down pattern of grief and looking ahead, laced with her sardonic wit. Kristin Davis makes the improbable, indulged Charlotte seem believable as she deals with the challenges of raising two adolescent children. Lily is on the verge of having sex, while Rock is recruited for a possible Ralph Lauren advertising campaign. It’s a nice, wry touch when Lily writes a song called “The Power of Privilege”.
Poor, withering Miranda. For all her blathering about being brave and finding her true self, she has turned into a dithering, besotted, insecure and boring person
But then there is most derided storyline of all, Miranda’s (Cynthia Nixon) romance with the non-binary stand-up comic Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez), sometimes called television’s worst or most hated character. Oh my, that is still a mess, a collision of abysmally-written people, who both now seem cobbled together in the writers’ room.
Miranda has followed Che to Los Angeles, where they are starring in a television pilot for a sitcom called Che Pasa, which even they know is cheesy. It still seems that Che is meant to be talented and edgy, but that was never convincing. And when someone in a focus group for the pilot calls the television Che a “phony, sanitized, performative” version of what it is to be non-binary, it’s a meta moment that nods at the real-life criticism without changing anything. Despite that, this season Ramirez shows some heart in Che, a self-acknowledged narcissist. But poor, withering Miranda. For all her blathering about being brave and finding her true self, she has turned into a dithering, besotted, insecure and boring person, in all seven of the episodes available for review (of the season’s 11).
Still, fans are hungry for more, even if it’s the same old more. Take a breath on Aiden, though, he doesn’t show up for quite a long time. After all her progress, if Carrie ended up in a back-to-the-future relationship with him that would be annoying, but getting on some viewers’ nerves may be this series’ superpower. Samantha Irby, a writer on both seasons, responded to criticism of the first in a recent New York Times interview, saying, “People will hate season two too, but they’ll watch it”. The most astute prediction just came from inside the house. / info: bbc news