And Just Like That: Sex and the City sequel redeems itself with a genuinely shocking scene

Contains spoilers ... Episode 1 seems unsure of itself at first. Then it gets our attention

Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker: 17 years later, the good news is the old chemistry endures. Photograph: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection

Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker: 17 years later, the good news is the old chemistry endures. Photograph: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection

 

This article contains spoilers

Sex and the City is back, but with a new name and one major absence. Actually make that two major absences by the end of the first episode. But more on that in a moment.

The big gaping void in the line-up is Kim Cattrall, who chose not to reprise the part of the man-eating publicist Samantha Jones for And Just Like That (Sky Comedy, Thursday, 8am and 9pm). The news was seemingly not well received by the rest of the gang, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw is soon sticking the Manolo Blahnik boot in as Carrie and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) discuss Samantha’s move to London. This, we learn, was the result of a fit of pique on Samantha’s part when Carrie fired her as her publicist.

“I understand that she was upset,” says Carrie/Sarah Jessica Parker of Samantha/Cattrall. “I thought I was more to her than an ATM.” Oof! Somewhere out there Cattrall must have the feeling that someone is pricking her with voodoo pins.

Carrie is still perky to the point of annoying, Miranda is still buttoned down, and Charlotte is still a princess living her own private fairytale

“Samantha” and her lack of gratitude for all that “Carrie” has done for her aside, the theme of an enjoyable if ultimately shocking first episode is that Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte are all deep into middle age. And thus no longer “with it”. (We are reminded that Miranda was even older – a woman “in her 60s”.)

But the tone is sometimes a little off, and it’s not clear whether And Just Like That is poking fun at the wokeness of millennials and Gen-Zers or framing Carrie and chums as fuddies who need to move with the times.

This ruins some otherwise promising scenes, such as when Miranda signs up to a class by a Columbia law professor only to cackhandedly misgender another student and to then start blathering on about the African-American prof’s braided hair. It’s a screwball turn that feels unfair on Miranda, always the most together of the ensemble (and on the famously progressive Nixon).

Carrie is likewise bumping up against a changing social climate. She is the “cis white female” voice on an annoying podcast, where the host takes her to task when she turns prudish during some risque banter. As with Miranda and the professor, And Just Like That doesn’t know how we should feel about wokeness.

And while there is a suggestion that it is the non-binary host who is the blinkered one rather than Carrie, the script doesn’t quite have the courage of its convictions and declines to paint anyone in an unkind light (aside from Kim Cattrall).

Sex and the City has received a great deal of criticism over the past decade or so for its whiteness and its straightness. (The only major gay character was a clutch-purse of caricatures and played by a straight actor.) But it was progressive in putting the female experience front and centre. It breezed the Bechdel test at a time when women on TV were generally onscreen as foils to male characters.

Seventeen years and two dreadful movie spin-offs on, the good news is that the old chemistry endures. Carrie is still perky to the point of annoying, Miranda is still buttoned down, and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is still a princess living her own private fairytale.

With Samantha out, there’s a vacancy for a fourth musketeer, who turns up in the shape of Charlotte’s friend Lisa

With Samantha out, there’s a vacancy for a fourth musketeer, who turns up in the shape of Charlotte’s friend Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker), though she isn’t especially prominent in the first episode (and doesn’t feature heavily in the marketing). We are also reintroduced to Carrie’s gay bestie Stanford Blanch (Willie Garson, who died in September).

The biggest twist in the first episode is that ... it finishes with a huge twist. Carrie and her Daddy Warbucks husband, Big (Chris Noth), are living in postlockdown bliss, cooking together each night and listening to Big’s favourite Todd Rundgren vinyl. But then Big has a heart attack on his exercise bike and dies in Carrie’s arms.

It’s genuinely shocking – a shard of ice plonked into a heady comeback cocktail. More than that, Big’s big exit does something the rest of the instalment struggles slightly to achieve: it gets our attention.

And it suggests that, far from a Sex and the City 2.0, And Just Like That may be something darker: a series about grief and ageing and how, just when you’re at a point where you think you’ve figured out life, it finds a way to catch you out all over again.