And Just Like That…I’m Conflicted

For a straight white male, I was an outlier in being a huge fan of the original SEX AND THE CITY.  Some of the few happy moments with both of my exes were spent watching the lives of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha play out in a New York City I only could dream of being able to afford, reveling in these hugely successful, entitled, gorgeous women still somehow managing to have crisis after crisis amidst the cabs, $20 mojitos and credit card-maxing binges to fill up their closets with designer dresses and shoes each costing more than my mortgage payment.  To the outside world, they could appear self-absorbed, indulgent and disconnected, especially at a time when the New York City I did know was gentrifying and diversifying at a dizzying rate.  But you wouldn’t know that if you looked at it all through the eyes of this quartet and, frankly, it was a highly enjoyable ride nonetheless.  Their love and their loyalty to each other was obvious, and when Miranda ultimately found true love with an earthy everyman with a dysfunctional family named Steve, it gave me some hope that no matter how hopeless I felt my life was at a particular time, there was still a world of possibilities, particularily if Michael Patrick King were scripting it.

So when I finally broke down last weekend and tried to catch up with what I had missed last summer and what is now unfolding with its sequel series, AND JUST LIKE THAT…, whose first two Season 2 episodes just dropped on MAX (don’t say HBO!), I was honestly taken aback by how much their world had changed and, moreover, how determined King and his cohorts seem to have been to respond to the decades of criticism that the show become more inclusive and representative of the kinds of people these sorts of women in today’s New York City would interact with.

Gone were the hunky and filthy rich Mr. Big, whose heart just couldn’t hold up on the pandemic fad Pelaton, Stanford, whose character ostensibly is off in Japan with a Tik Tok superstar client but whose portrayer, my Pyramid buddy Willie Garson, has sadly passed and Samantha, save for an overhyped cameo that needed to be fully remote and without any direct interaction with the stars and executives that her portrayer Kim Cattrall swore she would never work with again.  The MAX executives who were able to convince Cattrall to at least show up again considered this such a monumental event that the leak of it happening dominated the rest of the new season’s pre-drop hype, overwhelming the other plot lines and evolution of the new elements introduced in AJLT’s first season.  Enough so that clarifying statements were then issued that foretold exactly how fleeting that cameo is, and how little it will ultimately impact this show at this juncture.

Perhaps they know something I suspect, and apparently some other passionate fans are reluctant to express.  The new crop of regulars and storyliunes that effectively hit every checkmark on a D&I list seem to be more exemplary of overcompensation and answering to almost every complaint that would be revealed in non-viewer focus groups, especially among people younger than the 50-somethings that the original show’s leads have now evolved into, but who nonethless became fans of the original via its ubiquitous (and fiscally irresponsible) rerun marathons across the NBCU cable networks.

I caught up with Seema, the Samantha-wannabe real estate agent of South Asian descent, Lisa, who my personal favorite incument Anthony has dubbed “Black Charlotte”, Nya, the beleaguered law professor friend of the ever-evolving Miranda and Che, who liberates Miranda from her overly comfortable (and alcholism-inducing) life with Steve and allows her openly gay portrayer Cynthia Nixon to fully embrace her truth to the point where we now see exactly how pretty her breasts are and how she adores “curry-lingus”.  I even caught up with Rock, the non-binary-embracing younger daughter of Harry and Charlotte, and was honestly touched by how they educated and accommodated their audience, and I dare say many parents facing I know who have confronted their tween-age children’s gender identity crises, by staging a “they-mitzvah” for the miracle baby they adore.

But as for the rest…perhaps it’s just me, but none of these newer characters seem to live up to the standards of the Core Four.  And perhaps it’s not just me.  Witness these grievances filed by THE NEW YORK TIMES’ Ali Trachta:

  • Season 2 seems to be taking particular care to be inclusive on more than just a surface level. The first season introduced principal characters of color to the franchise for the first time but took heavy fire for what critics perceived as racial and queer tokenism. This season, it appears that at least some of the Black characters’ story lines are being written with a bit more awareness about the challenges specific to many Black Americans. In one example, Herbert and Lisa frantically fix their daughter’s hair in hopes of meeting the antiquated ideals of Herbert’s mother; in another, Herbert is ignored by successive taxis and is reprimanded by his mother for playing into an “angry Black man” stereotype. It remains to be seen how thoughtfully the show will navigate these issues in future episodes, but the shift so far signals at least an attempt to course-correct after the missteps of Season 1.

Sara Ramirez, whose strong work in GREY’S ANATOMY makes her immediately recognizable (but who in this character has embraced her true self even more dramatically than has Nixon’s Miranda), seems to have the greatest impact on the status quo, a fact that the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Robyn Bahr echoes my sentiments with:

I swear, this review is not a defense of Che Diaz.

I won’t apologize for their crimes against stand-up comedy, their pursuit of gold in the Identity Olympics, or the way they make their paramour Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) walk on egg shells whenever they’re breathing the same air. Sara Ramirez’s Che is smarmy and self-absorbed. They’re ostensibly a comic by profession, but have no clue how to produce or wield humor. (“The only thing I’m worried about is that spice all over your lips,” they clunkily purr to a fretting Miranda. “Because I’m not trying to have curry-lingus later.”) Che is what haters’ dreams are made of. And if Twitter memes are to be taken as fact, they are the complete opposite of a fan favorite: They’re a fan bête noire.

Which is precisely why I love the existence of Che Diaz. On the first season of Max’s And Just Like That, the sequel series to Sex and the City that follows Carrie Bradshaw, Miranda Hobbes, Charlotte York Goldenblatt and a handful of their new friends as they navigate sex and relationships in their 50s, Che stormed into Miranda’s life and upended her marriage to beloved turtle Steve Brady (David Eigenberg). For the first time, Miranda found herself attracted to someone other than a cis male and, after Che’s seduction, decided to leave Steve and their teenage son to follow Che to L.A. while they worked on a pilot based on their life as a uniquely Mexican-Irish non-binary bisexual comedian.

Miranda needed this. She needed a break from her domestic rut, a break from an alcoholic spiral preceded by romantic boredom and overwork as a corporate lawyer. Che provided an outlet for her. And in Season 2, as we watch this post-honeymoon-period couple actually get to know each other once the lust has lost its luster, it’s quite clear that Che is a classic SATC-style shithead boyfriend, replete with all the familiar prickliness and vulnerabilities but wrapped up in a fresh package. You call Che a monster; I call them the most three-dimensional new character in the Sex universe.

This is all to say that throughout the adrift but watchable first seven episodes of AJLT season two, I found myself most compelled by Miranda and Che’s rocky dynamic. (The premiere begins three weeks after the events of the first season finale.) Che becomes increasingly unreachable to Miranda as their TV pilot falters, their emotionally and sexually alienating behavior reaching its peak as they feel pressure from the studio to look a certain way or cave to audience demands. (It’s impossible to watch a scene in which Che observes a focus group tear into the pilot and not read into how AJLT‘s writers or Ramirez possibly felt about viewers’ antipathy toward Che.) 

But since HBO has historically scoffed at doing focus groups, and I strongly suspect with budget cuts MAX is continuing that lack of priority, I have my doubts that any such insight was gleaned going into the addition of her character, and the other new ones, that are occupying a greater deal of this season’s bandwidth.  So I won’t even try to urge those in charge to listen to what their audience may be thinking.

But I will challenge them to prove–with conclusive internal or proprietary Samba data–has this season attracted any more viewers, particularly those of color and who identify in similar ways as do Che and Rock, than last season?  Or has the profile of these viewers versus those who watched on E! or USA in recent years shifted significantly in these audience segments?

Because I must tell you that after giving these new episodes a chance and made it a priority to find time to watch this weekend, I can’t say with certainty that I’ll be racing back anytime soon to see how these storylines evolve.  There are always superfans like Trachta who will fill any lingering curiosities I may still have.

And I honestly wonder if more legacy fans like myself are feeling similarly.  And if enough of them are in my camp, especially in the climate of win-or-die that Yosemite Zas has fostered at WBD, don’t be surprised if at some point before this summer ends, any plans for a Season 3 are aborted.

And just like that…like Carrie’s podcast that was eponymous with the original series’ title…this all fades to black.  And wouldn’t that be ironic?

Until next time…

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