Warning: the following article contains spoilers about the “Sex and The City” reboot
I started watching Sex and the City after the HBO series wrapped in 2004. The show’s zeitgeist rippled through conversations about sex, fashion and relationships, but I didn’t know what the buzz was all about.
As a PhD student in the mid 2000s with no cable subscription, my visual entertainment consisted of renting VHS tapes and snuggling my cats on a navy futon.
My friends couldn’t stop talking about the four main characters who wanted a lot from life, especially in terms of love and relationships. I often heard debates over whether someone was a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or Miranda.
From the first episode I was hooked by the edgy banter and sexual situations they got into. They were also hashing out big issues like work, friendship, LGBTQIA+ rights and most of all what sex means.
These issues have woven their way into my career as a sexuality scholar and as a women who identifies with the sexual verve of Samantha, Miranda’s biting humour and Carrie’s writerly profession.
But I’m aghast at Sex and the City‘s bougie, whitewashed and sexless reboot called And Just Like That which debuted on Dec. 9. New York Times television critic James Poniewozik describes it as being like two shows:
“One, which tries to grow with the women as they navigate their 50s and mortality, is a downer, but it takes risks and in moments is very good. The other, which tries to update its sassy turn-of-the-century sensibility for an era of diversity, is painful.”
What can we take away from this epic fail as a society that continues to undervalue women and shun open discussions of age, class, race and sex?
The Peloton Effect
In the first episode Big dies in Carrie’s arms after an intense Peloton (exercise bike) session in their massive Upper East Side apartment. This rather dark scene foreshadows the decline of the smart and saucy social commentary that once defined Sex and the City.
The characters seem stuck in the past and confused about who they are as older women. Instead of unpacking these tensions, they’re glossed over. Given that very few characters over 50 in mainstream film and TV are women — as few as one in four — we need shows that feature women’s complex lived experiences instead of those that bend to the whims of the male-driven entertainment industry
Fingers crossed that the show bounces back with some fun, anti-ageist narratives like Peloton did after its stocks descended following the opening episode.
Miranda still has the best lines, like when she describes accidentally touching her son’s used condom over brunch: “I stepped on my son’s semen before coffee.” But she’s also framed as chronically unwoke and offensive to everyone — how is that comedic?
In another scene Miranda contemplates dying her silvering hair. Going or staying grey is a hot topic among Hollywood actors, including Andie MacDowell, who calls staying grey a “power move.” Many if not all women grapple with this issue, which can make them feel like they must choose between feeling authentic and looking competent. Miranda decides not to dye, which may encourage other women to resist dominant beauty trends that are designed to mask the ageing process.
We’ve also seen Miranda partake in several morning drinks. When middle-age women drink excessively, we either laugh about it — mummy wine memes — or pathologize it. This is a topic of growing concern and bringing it out of the shadows on primetime could help women who have a problematic relationship with alcohol.
Charlotte resumes her role as the well-meaning, emotional and out-of-touch musketeer. Her character is shown parenting two very different daughters, one who may be non-binary. The challenges that this presents are worth examining given the increasing visibility of transgender and gender-diverse children in the public sphere.
Charlotte is also depicted pressuring Carrie to attend one of her daughter’s piano recitals at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. She repeats the name of the musical academy so many times it’s no longer a semi-funny classic Charlotte move but a bloated display of class privilege.
Her new friendship with Lisa Todd Wexley, played by accomplished Black actor Nicole Ari Parker, is also problematic. Instead of exploring the dynamics of racialized friendships, Wexley’s character is lauded for being on Vogue‘s best-dressed list. She’s even called “Black Charlotte,” which is racist and drains the character of any attributes of her own.
Seeing Carrie behind the computer screen reminds me that she has an occupation — other than being on a podcast beyond her generational reach. She’s the white cis woman on the podcast, amongst a team of racialized and non-binary hosts. Carrie appears to be there to “represent” white women, but the idea that such a representation is needed smacks of dated racialized privilege or what feminist scholars call “political whiteness”.
When Carrie is asked to join sexy, confessional dialogue in a meaningful way on the podcast she is shocked. But how could someone be shocked who, decades earlier, called out the orgasm gap way before anyone else?
It was pretty revolutionary, as Jordin Wiggins, founder of The Pleasure Collective discusses in her book The Pink Canary. Women in mid-life don’t need pearl-clutching when it comes to talking about sexuality, we need to see women owning their desire and using their erotic voice.
Closets to climb back into
As I watched Miranda, Charlotte and Carrie stroll around in expensive clothes with beautifully coiffed hair and Music School memberships I was struck by the stain of their white richness.
I used to relate to them when they were struggling in their careers and relationships, but now in their palatial New York City apartments with massive walk-in closets, it doesn’t feel right.
The uptake of shows like Maid, I May Destroy You and Sex Education demonstrate what viewing audiences want to see. They want to see themselves in their socio-economic, racialized and embodied diversity.
Just like the crumbling patriarchy, the reign of the white, cis, hetero woman is coming to an end as the predominant representation of “women.” It’s far from the only kind of show that sells.
The old version of SATC not only reflected our society at the time, but it also helped change it in a lot of ways. Will the ladies of the Upper East Side ever step up their Blahniks?