The Baffling Artistry of And Just Like That… Is Sorely Missed in Season 2

TV Reviews and just like that
The Baffling Artistry of And Just Like That… Is Sorely Missed in Season 2

One time at a house party in college I ate a brownie from the fridge that, unbeknownst to me, contained psychoactive mushrooms. I later wandered the streets of Los Angeles in the dead of night, convinced I had teleported to an alternate parallel dimension in which I was comprised of soil and the earth comprised of me. This life-altering experience was still less of a mindfuck than watching the first season of Max’s Sex and the City revival And Just Like That….

I don’t say this lightly when I say that And Just Like That’s first season was a work of art. By “art” I, of course, mean that at times it felt akin to slipping into an early-career Dalí painting or, at its worst, being dunked head-first into Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ. Throughout my viewing, I found myself submerged in a state of utter stupefaction, as though this new check-in with some of TV’s most beloved Manhattanites was something I’d dreamt up thanks to too much NyQuil, only to sporadically be yanked back into reality by a wild attempt at cringe comedy or a tone-deaf quip about COVID, prompting me to scream at my TV, “What is happening!?”

There were plenty of reasons to not like And Just Like That, but for fans of the original such as myself, these largely stemmed from the show’s inability to decide on an identity that separated it from its originator. Compared to Sex and the City, the six-season sitcom that wavered in quality over the years but was nonetheless entertaining throughout, the new ten-episode miniseries’ very existence became a genie’s wish gone wrong. I couldn’t help but wonder: Why spend so much time showing us the quartet trio awkwardly grappling with the modern cultural and political landscape but then double down on each of their most spoiled, narcissistic qualities? Why stretch the runtime to a sloppy 45 minutes if those extra 15 are mostly filled with tepid pacing and shots of the beyond-charming Sarah Jessica Parker donning an expressionless grief face? Most importantly, why take the sex—nay, the fun—out of Sex and the City?

It was difficult to push those nagging questions aside and enjoy the revival for what it was, as its creators no doubt wished we all would. The ambition was to present post-menopausal Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) reckoning with late middle age in a younger New York City, one far queerer and more diverse than Sex and the City would have ever had you believe. However, And Just Like That’s myopic preoccupations never strayed far from the city’s upper-upper-class echelon, thereby reinstating the original’s mythical attitudes toward New York City without genuinely engaging with its citizens’ widespread realities. Toss in the seemingly noble but too often squirm-inducing decision to assign each leading lady her very own Woman of Color Companion (WOCC)—Charlotte’s PTA friend Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker), Miranda’s law professor Nya (Karen Pittman), and Carrie’s much-needed Samantha replacement Seema (Sarita Choudhury)—and the whole shebang started to reek of an ill-conceived cash-grab.

It was all a glorious unbridled mess, deliriously daft yet also campy in the way things used to be camp before straight people discovered the aesthetic. It just didn’t work. But it was also so damn watchable. As the season rolled along, And Just Like That’s more perplexing character choices and plotlines began to solidify themselves as the series’s most fascinating draw. Half of the fun was also engaging with the social media discourse surrounding it, something that nary existed during Sex and the City’s original run, allowing the text to leap off the screen and intertwine itself with new and returning communities of viewers. This new iteration of the franchise was entrancing, allowing us to realize that these demented decisions in the writers’ room weren’t necessarily blunders: they were what gave the show an identity separate from Sex and the City but also from everything else on TV.

In an age in which the warm embers of nostalgia rule the multiplexes and increasingly find themselves dominating the small screen, And Just Like That’s refusal to either mimic the chutzpa of its original series or, as many of these contemporary “requels” would have done, cumbersomely pass the martini glass down to a new generation of thirty-something brunchaholics is rather commendable. The lack of Carrie’s trademark voiceover, the dissolution of anything remotely likable about Miranda’s character, Che Diaz’s audience consistently cracking up without a single funny punchline being told: The whole enterprise had a hypnotic, almost eerily uncanny feel to it, as though creator Michael Patrick King looked at the material and asked himself, “What if I made Sex and the City Lynchian?”

And just like that, I realized that And Just Like That… was a stroke of genius. Well, maybe not genius, but there was something so exquisite about “a new chapter” of a hallowed franchise that refused to either give its fans what they wanted in a revival or bring the out-of-touch characters into the 2020s in any meaningful way. It turns out that killing off Big and tanking a luxury workout equipment’s stock wasn’t even the ballsiest decision the showrunners made. It was taking the Park Avenue less traveled and producing a wry, quasi-Dadaist reimagination of the Sex and the City intellectual property and repurposing it as a post-postmodern commentary on the commodification of modern entertainment, the daunting prevalence of unrestricted capitalism masquerading as liberal feminism, and the ceaseless march of Time against the oppressive vacuousness of Death.

Well, maybe. More likely, I’m giving it way more credit than it deserves. Was it really so bad that it was good, or was it actually so good that we mistook it for bad?

So where does that leave us with Season 2? Well, viewers can rest assured: It’s better than the first. The actors are more committed, the storylines and relationships are more grounded without sacrificing their liveliness, and the show’s self-awareness is more apparent and enjoyable than before. A more tonally balanced and comprehensive glimpse into the fabulous lives of these fabulous women who have grown wearier with age but have not abandoned their hopes of a happily ever after, the season seems especially keen on rectifying the woes of the first. Notably, the premiere opens with each of our now six leading ladies getting busy with their current partners (aside from one character, who at least has a steamy scene from a Bridgerton knock-off to which to get her rocks off) to the tune of Elton John’s “Hold Me Closer,” an apt choice: The song is also a nostalgia-soaked reboot of something that didn’t necessarily need a 2020s update. No matter. The key here is that the sex is back, baby!

Things pick up just a few weeks after the closing events of last season. Carrie has entered a strictly “exit-out-of-grief-sex” situationship with her podcast producer Franklin (Ivan Hernandez), Miranda is confidently going up to strangers at AA meetings and going down on Che (Sara Ramirez) in their Los Angeles bungalow, and Charlotte continues to navigate being a helicopter mom who refuses to go on autopilot. Thankfully, after the clumsy integration of their characters into the first season’s narrative, the trio’s WOCCs graduate from their supporting roles and earn their own compelling narrative arcs as well. Nya battles loneliness for the first time in her decades-long marriage, Lisa balances her filmmaking career with her motherly duties while facing the pressures of remaining “dignified” in the face of both her mother-in-law and everyday racism, and Seema (thank God for Seema) bulldozes through some fabulous flings without ever losing sight of what she brings to either the sexual or real estate market.

Where the first season’s scatterbrained tendencies threatened to derail the entire production, things are back on track this time around, and the show’s low-fi wit mixes in more accordingly with its pathos. Do the characters fret about their looks for the Met Ball (apparently “Met Gala” is as legally unutterable as the “Super Bowl”) and casually ask each other such relatable questions as “Did you get the caviar I sent you?” Of course they do! Does that grate on a viewer’s nerves? Honestly, not really. The fiscally fantastical elements of the show are more in-your-face than ever, but being lulled into And Just Like That’s world necessitates an acceptance of and appreciation for such tongue-in-cheek extravagance. The series invites you to sit back and watch, not stand up and scream.

And that is precisely why (and hear me out on this) the fact that And Just Like That’s second season is a better show does not in reality make it better TV. When the sublime unruliness of the first season’s narrative arcs and inconsistencies of character has been removed from the equation, allowing a more tenable yet placating stylistic haze to take its place and gentrify the show’s remaining assets, we’re ultimately left with a season that proves diverting and affable without taking any bold chances. Viewers are given plenty to swallow but little to chew on. 

Compare this season’s handling of race to the first’s ungraceful yet sprightly management of it. Miranda and Charlotte’s social faux pas around their Black acquaintances were almost excruciatingly cringey, but they were startling enough to breathe some idiosyncratic personality into And Just Like That. Season 2 doesn’t really go there again or endeavor to wring any comedy from the ladies’ places in their sheltered New York social circles, which saves us from more secondhand embarrassment but robs us of having any sort of visceral or cathartic reaction to the material on screen. In effect, attention to the Sex and the City characters’ newly interracial worlds fall by the wayside: At one unsettling point, Lisa says that her son’s new white girlfriend treats him like “her property,” though the historical implications of this remark seem to go completely unnoticed.

Instead, the show often chooses the tried-and-true method of dipping too deep into the nostalgia pond, something that the first season arguably circumvented rather well. Aiden (John Corbett) returns, as does Carrie’s mildly cursed wedding dress from the Sex and the City movie, and even Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is set to make a cameo (the episodes screened for review did not include this highly anticipated scene). I’m not convinced it will be too worthwhile. The show wants to infuse a healthy bit of drama at times, but this is often undermined by overly tidy conflict resolutions and minimal inquiry into the characters’ psychologies, such as when one woman’s cherished missing accessory reappears by happenstance or another of the character’s old flames contemplates their mutual baggage but brushes it aside for the sake of a big-kiss finale. Even these moments that should sweep us off our feet don’t carry with them the momentum to shed a tear. 

Not all of the creators’ newfound self-awareness lands either. While this season starts to add some welcome dimension to the infinitely-memed Che Diaz as they work on their ABC sitcom pilot, its meta-commentary on the representation of nonbinary people on TV reeks of an over-the-top attempt at sidestepping the criticism the character received online (the problem with Che was never that they were a poor representation of the nonbinary community; it was that they were presented as hip and funny when they most assuredly were not). On behalf of a downtrodden Che, Charlotte in one instance blurts out, “TV is just a corporate conglomerate, and those corporate assholes can eat shit!” Is it a brilliant winking nod to the disastrous merger of And Just Like That’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, or is it a groan-generating line of dialogue that reminds us that even while the writers are in on the joke, they’re not truly getting the joke? I suppose it depends upon your tolerance for such negligible remarks, though I personally lean toward the latter. 

This is not to say the second season is a complete snoozefest, nor that the “remedied” edits spurred by the first season’s polarized reactions don’t all negate the show’s relative enjoyability. Carrie is significantly less dour this time around, allowing SJP to employ her indelible ability to light up a room while also providing her reasonable space to perform her character’s entry into the second, less acute and more chronic year of the grief cycle. The additional characters’ journeys fit in well with the world, and a strong Cynthia Nixon-directed episode allows the actress to do some of her finest work as Miranda, as the startling implications of how her divorce from Steve (David Eigenberg) affected her family start to shake her awake from her newfound c’est la vie attitude.

Nevertheless, what the new season loses is some of its previous season’s surprising, befuddling glory that made for both a compelling, yet frustrating, viewing experience as well as a compelling (yet frustrating) justification for its existence. Whereas And Just Like That Season 1 was deliciously imperfect, Season 2 is imperfect and underseasoned. At one post-coital point, Carrie sidles up to Franklin in bed, whose eyes are glued to a run-of-the-mill cooking show on his laptop. Franklin doesn’t even cook, Carrie learns. “You just watch,” she says, both skeptical and disappointed. And Just Like That doesn’t appear to want us to cook—or think—either. Just to watch.

And Just Like That… Season 2 premieres Thursday, June 22nd on Max.

Michael Savio is a freelance writer and former editorial intern at Pastebased in New York. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in cultural reporting and criticism at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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