With a Kim Cattrall cameo finishing off the season with a flourish, the show has become mocked and loved in equal measure. Why does it inspire such conflicting emotions, asks Laura Martin.
At the opening of the finale of And Just Like That series 2, for a mere 70 seconds, fans finally got what they had been waiting for: the long-awaited cameo from Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for the And Just Like That series 2 finale
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Filmed as a phone conversation between Samantha and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), the scene saw the inimitable Ms Jones call to say she wouldn’t be able to make her surprise flight to New York after all. She wished Carrie well, and in another pleasing throw-back for avid Sex and the City viewers, made reference to the time she crashed Soho House New York pretending to be a British woman called Annabel Bronstein.
Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) finished the season in Greece, after putting her relationship with Aidan on pause (Credit: Max)
That Cattrall’s appearance was held until the final episode of the series felt like a bit of a dangling carrot to viewers for sticking with a show that could be a slog, and has invoked a multitude of ever more complex feelings.
On X, formerly known as Twitter, throughout the new run, viewers attempted to explain their conflicting thoughts: “And Just Like That is so wild because I watch every episode through my fingers like a horror movie and when it’s over I wish it was 5 hours longer,” wrote one person, while another added similarly: “It is an absolute disaster of a programme and in no way true to the original, but I can’t stop watching it and can’t wait for a new episode every Thursday.”
Some might brand it a “hate-watch” – an expression that has become popularised in the past decade to refer to shows we love to mock. But that seems a term more fittingly applied to a universally panned series like HBO Max’s recent The Idol, a show so bad that viewers tuned in purely to see how much more offensive it was possible to get. The way in which AJLT – created by SATC director and writer Michael Patrick King, and following three-quarters of the original quartet of gal-pals; Carrie, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and a whole ensemble cast of new friends, almost 25 years on from their original life in New York – is viewed feels completely different to that. It’s more of “a cringe-watch”: something fans view with a mixture of affection and embarrassment. And even as they loudly complain about its missteps online, they’re guaranteed to be glued to it once more when its returns for a third series, as has just been announced.
There’s a real sense of betrayal around Miranda’s character. What’s interesting there is it shows you the level of investment people have – Professor Deborah Jermyn
“I’d describe it as feelings of dizziness and anxiety mixed with extreme guilty pleasure,” says Dylan B Jones, co-host of the So I Got To Thinking Sex and the City podcast, trying to describe his relationship with the show. “And if social media feedback on the show is anything to go by, most fans are experiencing similar feelings.” His co-host, Juno Dawson agrees: “I’m not sure I’ve felt for anything the way I feel for AJLT. It’s like being in a very long-term relationship, and you’re not in love anymore, but you’ve come too far to quit. There’s still glimpses of the person you fell in love with, but I do spend time questioning why I’m still here.”
The debate around And Just Like That has been thriving right from when it premiered in 2021, thanks to what Jones describes as the “surrealness of seeing characters we’ve loved for decades, being subjected to extraordinarily perplexing narrative decisions”. He’s right: some of the characters did a complete 180: in AJLT series one, Miranda, despite being an intelligent, high-flying lawyer in SATC, became a floundering, awkward and needy woman. She was, then, suddenly an alcoholic, which apart from a few throwaway comments, was all but forgotten in season two, and then had an affair with the highly divisive character, non-binary comedian Che Diaz (Sara Ramírez).
Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) has become one of the most show’s most critiqued characters (Credit: Max)
If the storylines felt pulled out of thin air, perhaps they were. Speaking in The Cut, Cynthia Nixon explained Miranda’s coming out: “It was honestly a two-sentence conversation between Michael Patrick and I … He said, ‘What do you think? Should we make Miranda queer?’ I said, ‘Why not? We’re queering up the show in general'”.
“A lot of the audience’s outrage with Miranda is feeling like the show’s writers have done her a disservice and not [been] true to the core of the character, so there’s a real sense of betrayal around that,” explains Professor Deborah Jermyn, Associate Professor in Film Studies at University of Roehampton. “What’s interesting there is it shows you the level of investment people have. The fact they are so angry about her arc shows you what commitment they had to the original character.”
Some big mistakes
Similarly, in episode seven of season two, there was widespread fan horror expressed at one sentence uttered by Carrie about her relationship with late husband Big, who had an untimely death in episode one of the first series: “Did I make a big mistake?”, she said, as she now reunited with ex-flame Aidan. With those five words, the scriptwriters appeared to undo one of the Sex and the City franchise’s great narrative drivers, suggesting that the apparent great love of Carrie’s life was maybe nothing of the sort. Then again, as a few people pointed out, this could also be read as classic impulsive narcissistic Carrie behaviour. Other recent questionable writing decisions included the way they have continued to deal with the off-screen adventures of Carrie’s gay best friend Stanford Blatch, who was played by Willie Garson, until he tragically died of cancer during the filming of the first series. In this series, we saw him pivot from managing a TikTok star in Japan, to becoming a Shinto monk, complete with a much-mocked shonky photoshop picture to prove it.
It was great to see sex back in the city. Everyone is bonking and dating and that was always the source of SATC’s magic – Juno Dawson
The comedy was always hit and miss in SATC – think of Carrie’s eternally corny puns – but in the latest series of the reboot, some lines have had the audience really recoiling, such as Che’s “currylingus” quip, or Charlotte encouraging Harry to “slurp that sperm from the pelvic floor”. Meanwhile the apparently celebrated comedian Che’s stand-up routines have been roundly derided. Jezebel’s Kady Ruth Ashcraft wondered whether “Che Diaz’s stand-up in And Just Like That is meant to be this shockingly bad” but either way, the audience has been left confused. Indeed, was the scene in episode five of season two of a focus group savaging their comedy also some sort of meta commentary?
However, for every cringe-inducing joke in And Just Like That, there have been glimpses of Sex and the City’s original greatness that have shone through from time to time, reeling fans back in again. One highlight was the conversation between Carrie and her new BFF, real-estate agent Seema (Sarita Choudhury) in episode seven, about how the delicate nature of friendship can be disrupted by one person getting a new partner. It was written and acted in a way that was both heartfelt and emotionally intelligent, from Seema gently explaining her feelings to the way Carrie listened and understood what she was saying, and accepted her need for space graciously.
Seema (Sarita Choudhury) provided a season highpoint with her candid expression of feelings about her friend getting a new partner (Credit: Max)
This week’s season two finale ended on something of a high, despite at some points feeling like a laboured group-therapy session centred around Carrie’s “last supper” in her flat before potentially moving in with Aidan. In the end that didn’t happen, because they agreed to put their relationship on hold for five years so Aidan could devote himself to raising his teenage sons: instead we saw Carrie and Seema on holiday in Greece, both in relationships “on pause”, reflecting that they “ran at love”, but life got in the way.
Another positive element of this latest series for Dawson was the way it harked back to the original series’ sexual boldness: “It was great to see sex back in the city. Everyone is bonking and dating and that was always the source of SATC’s magic.” Dawson believes that some of the plotlines are beginning to make more sense, two seasons in, and that the writing is beginning to bed down a little more: “I also like to think it was always the plan to have Miranda lose her goddamn mind and then recover herself in season two”. Indeed perhaps the characters’ erraticity is more authentic than it has been given credit for, reflective of how we all might become a little more unpredictable as we grow older.
Journalist Evan Ross Katz said on his podcast Drop Your Buffs recently that he had found a way to consume And Just Like That, which is fitting for its unique appeal – watching every episode twice: “I make peace with the choices that were made and I’m able to say, ‘OK, if this is the dish being served, and I’m eating it, what are the some other flavours that I can find within this…’ . The more I watch it, the more I enjoy it.”
Ultimately perhaps the reason why viewers will always return to And Just Like That despite their misgivings is akin to how Miranda described her mid-life crisis in this week’s finale:
“[It’s] like a good train wreck, in which nobody dies and you get off the train in a new place, a place where you needed to go to but only a place that a train could get you to.” All aboard for season three, then.
And Just Like That is available to watch on Max in the US and NOW in the UK
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