“Carrie Bradshaw. Where the fuck have you been hiding?” a voice booms over Vogue editor Enid Frick’s civilized cocktail party in the third to last episode of Sex and the City. Kristen Johnston stands holding an unlit cigarette as Lexi Featherston, “a legendary New York party girl” from Carrie’s Tunnel nightclub days and one of the most important fictional characters of our time. Throughout the night, Lexi grows increasingly frustrated with the “geriatrics” at the party. No one does coke, everybody’s stopped smoking and everyone’s paired off. She monologues belligerently to a stunned room, smoking near an open window in what used to be the greatest city in the world, declaring that New York is, in fact, over. “No one’s fun anymore! Whatever happened to fun?!” And with the finest last words ever written for a character — “I’m so bored I could die” — Lexi’s heel slips in her Manolo Blahnik. To no use, she grips for Enid’s likely expensive floor length curtain and precipitously falls to her tragic death — “the first time she ever left a party early,” Carrie’s voiceover tells us.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Carrie Bradshaw’s New York. One of my first jobs when I moved to the city was as a tour guide for the Sex and the City bus tour. I’d put on heels and a fur, often hungover, and hold the door at The Pleasure Chest for a parade of fifty women and gay men to go buy a dildo with their friend or sometimes family member. You may think you have an idea of how many bachelorette parties I’ve seen, but it is, in fact, far more. The tour taught me how to navigate the city and left me with an encyclopedic level of arguably useless knowledge. I also learned a lot about the show’s die-hard fanbase. As I’d lead them into Magnolia Bakery, women from the Midwest donning pink tutus would tell me how they married their Mr. Big. I’d meet fans from Australia who’d named their sons Aidan and women from Ireland whose primary reason for visiting the city was to pose on the steps of Carrie’s apartment at 66 Perry Street, arms wide, heels popped. All of them claimed to be the “Samantha” of their friend group. It was very obvious what drew them to dedicate their lives to this series — the fantasy. The characters in Sex and the City lived in a child-like state of dress-up adulthood, each of them delusional in their own way, running around the city like they just got let out for recess. Any heaviness was brief and either salacious or healed by friendship and humor, like when Miranda’s mom died and Samantha’s couldn’t cum.
In the New York where HBO Max’s And Just Like That takes place, however, Lexi Featherston’s prophecy has finally come true. Fun is, devastatingly, O-V-E-R. Michael Patrick King’s now menopausal creations live sobering, boring lives, shocked at every turn by changing cultural and social rules. Any chance they have at fun is plunged back into the depths of drama, repeatedly driving the message that getting older is so boring you might as well just get on a Peloton and die.
Where are the parties? Where are the cocktails? For Miranda, they are a source of shame and blackout Amazon shopping. Don’t get me wrong, a friend getting sober is admirable, important, wow. But for a group that once pioneered a drink so ubiquitous that it changed cocktail culture forever, it’s a recipe for dull disaster — and it feels like punishment.
Miranda starts the season trying desperately to have some fun. Sure, she hates her marriage and is for some reason subjecting herself to her son’s non-stop banging, but she’s exploring, adapting, and yes, drinking. Before any chance of enjoyment, she gets hit with a diagnostic plotline, complete with mini Tito’s bottles in her adult backpack, morning funeral whiskey, and Chablis. In the old New York, getting a bottle for the table at lunch was simply financially responsible. A Negroni at home, European! A one-off drunken tequila afternoon with your friend’s non-binary podcast co-host, a queer awakening! (“Yes, ladies — I’m a lesbian,” Samantha once randomly declared.) Now, every attempt at escapism is a red flag. The fantasy is dead when we need it more than ever.
The series begins with grief — a bold choice, and a timely one. But the moment, like Miranda, is wasted. The Sex and the City of yore used serious themes as launching pads for humor, sometimes to comically tonedeaf effects. It would be fitting to expect And Just Like That to use death as a preamble for rebirth, or at the very least some bad decisions. Carrie’s attempts at online dating do breathe some life into her storyline, but even the opportunity for a hilarious dating anecdote — a double projectile-barf unlike anything we’ve ever seen on television — is somehow positioned as a humiliating trauma that ends with Carrie solemnly wearing Big’s wedding ring. Not very fun at all. Many years have passed since her whimsical solo date at the Paris movie theater, but surely Carrie deserves some “‘Joy for Two’ for one” beyond smoking in a bohemian hazmat suit or wearing a weird hat on painkillers.
Perhaps our new characters can provide an antidote. Cue Miranda’s graduate school professor struggling with IVF! At first, Samantha-replacement Seema does seem like a good time. She’s single, she smokes and she’s arguably the only character to project an ounce of cool. Unfortunately, the chances for any kind of levity are pummeled by deep talks about her chronic singledom — once a revered trait in the New York we knew and loved. By the end of the episode, she all but has “Single and Fabulous?” tattooed on her forehead. On Seema’s birthday, we finally see an attempt at nightlife. Could this be a moment for Carrie to forget about Big temporarily? To reignite her old relationship with the city she loves? No, you idiot! We get a vaccine joke about waiting in line. The show can’t get them out of there fast enough to an age-appropriate quiet location for an age-appropriate dessert over which to once again discuss Seema’s failure to partner. Later when they do go to “Brooklyn’s hottest club,” we under no circumstances can see them dance, take shots, or have any kind of messy fun, because in this New York, that’s illegal.
Another way to kill a party is by demanding everyone be a good person. We’ve now lived long enough to see Carrie Bradshaw — once a paragon of complete delusion and exhilarating narcissism — give up her Saturday to paint a women’s shelter in heels. (Don’t worry, she still finds a way to make the day about her and her lost wedding ring, involving the most emotionally injured person on the show.) Yes these women are mothers, solid citizens, we get it, but our girls get no margin for ethical error. Enforcing such rigid moral imperatives on the characters kills the messy comedy the franchise was once known for.
In the standout fifth episode, we get a peek into what might have been. Miranda is taking care of Carrie, who is recovering from hip surgery (I know) when we hear those haunting four words coming from the intercom: “Hey! It’s Che Diaz.” At the start of the series-stealing kitchen finger-bang scene, we hear the music come in. Carrie’s awake and suddenly peeing into a product-placed Snapple bottle. Miranda is making barn noises. There are notes of Samantha running up the stairs in a pearl thong in Atlantic City; Miranda getting jizzed on at the hand job class; Charlotte shitting her pants in Mexico. Remember fun? But the long-awaited slapstick fizzles before being completely doused by the guilt-trip of the century. These characters have always been ready and willing to slip on the metaphorical banana peel, but in And Just Like That, shame and cringe always triumph over actual laughs. If there ever is a tour for AJLT, I doubt driving past Columbia University will have the same response as passing Madison Square Park (where Charlotte’s dog got gang banged).
What the series needs, after all these years, is Lexi Featherston herself. Had she not fallen through the window scaring Carrie into fully leaving the city, perhaps she would now reign supreme in one of the most important sects of New York culture — people who still party over 45. She’d own some Bungalow 8 equivalent and text the girls that she’d get them a table. They’d ignore her most weekends, but on the nights they didn’t, they would remember why they moved to the most exciting city in the world in the first place. In the meantime, let’s hope that somewhere in London Samantha is getting railed by a Queen’s Guard.
Melissa Rich is a writer and comedian based in New York City.