In honor of the 25th anniversary of the debut of “Sex and the City,” The Cut posted a set of memes from the show on Instagram, including some of the series’ most recognizable lines. When I saw the one about Miranda — “She was a lawyer. He was a sandwich.” — I finally realized what I missed most about the original series that is absent in its reboot, “And Just Like That …”
In the new show, now in its second season, the once-practical Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) doesn’t seem concerned about having a paying job and is consumed with an affair that broke up her marriage. It’s a prime example of how the franchise has become disconnected from even marginally relatable conflicts about work and money.
For those of you who didn’t rent VHS tapes of “Sex and the City” every week when you were in college, let me explain: In the original series, Miranda was a tenacious, career-focused lawyer, and many of her romantic relationships on the show explored how difficult it was for her to find a partner who accepted her ambition, independence and financial success. The lawyer/sandwich line is from an episode in which she gets lightly sexually harassed by a man in a sandwich costume who is advertising a restaurant and finds herself strangely attracted to him. When his face is revealed to her, she realizes their relationship would never work because she’s a high-powered attorney and he’s a guy dressed as a sandwich.
Obviously, this scenario is mildly absurd — and I’m not suggesting that I ever watched “Sex and the City” for verisimilitude. I also don’t believe that contemporary shows like “And Just Like That” should be in the business of fan service; if any show tried to cater to internet criticism it would be bad for TV and largely impossible to pull off, since viewers have conflicting ideas about what should happen, plotwise, anyway. My hat is off to the writers of “A.J.L.T.,” whose mission is refreshing a deeply loved TV show, “S.A.T.C.,” while trying to fix its lack of diversity and weave in the sexual politics of today.
That said, part of what drew me and my friends to “Sex and the City” when we were in our early 20s was an honest wrestling with what it meant to be an independent young woman at that time. I knew that I wanted to have a career and a family. I also had the words of my grandmother, who never worked for pay and resented being financially beholden to my grandfather, ringing in my ears: “A woman should have her own money.”
Miranda isn’t the only “Sex and the City” character who’s career-focused or dealing with the role of money and power in her relationships. Samantha (Kim Cattrall), who isn’t really part of the new series, is a successful publicist who owns her own firm and relishes her power; for most of the show, she is flatly disinterested in commitment to a man.
Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) was often cash poor because she spent her writer’s income on things like expensive shoes. At one point, she got into money trouble after a breakup and had to rely on her friend Charlotte (Kristin Davis) to bail her out. Charlotte has always been painted as the most retro of the four; she leaves a job she loves as a gallerist when she marries a wealthy man — a decision about which the other three friends have a lot to say. Down the road, she gets a large and beautiful apartment in a divorce settlement.
Let’s be clear: These women were always quite privileged — perpetually sipping pricey cosmopolitans in the greatest city in the world. But in the original series, they had to work for a living, and sometimes they had to worry about money. We see Miranda logging long hours in the office, Samantha courting prospective clients and Charlotte showing the latest art to potential buyers. (We’re not going to talk about the two movies here; they are not canon.) But Carrie’s financial worries disappeared the second she finally snagged the tycoon Mr. Big (Chris Noth) at the end of “S.A.T.C.” Because they got married, and Mr. Big croaked in the pilot episode of “A.J.L.T.,” Carrie now is independently wealthy.
She becomes a relationship advice podcaster to stay relevant, but when the podcast company goes kaput in the second season, Carrie appears totally unconcerned about all the staffers who just lost their jobs. A few episodes later, she writes a $100,000 check as part of a quid-pro-quo arrangement to get her book promoted in a popular newsletter. In the latest episode, she dumps a rich tech guy because he has, you know, work to do, and can’t devote himself full-time to their burgeoning affair. (How does she think all these loaded dudes made their money?) The show is teasing the possibility of Charlotte returning to her career as a gallerist now that her children are teenagers, but that choice isn’t financially motivated — her second husband is a successful divorce attorney.
Most of the new series’s new characters are so flush that their financial lives enter fantasy territory: Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker), Charlotte’s fellow private school mom with a ginormous apartment, is trying to get funding for her documentary. Her finance-bro husband is annoyed she’s spending so much time drumming up financial support, so he offers to write her a check for $25,000 — clearly chump change to him. Seema (Sarita Choudhury), a high-end real estate agent, has an entire plotline revolving around her Birkin bag getting stolen.
In June, The Times’s chief fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman, described the show’s conspicuous consumption this way: “Watching ‘And Just Like That …’ is like attending brandapalooza: the double Cs and Fs and Gs practically whacking you on the head with their presence.”
One of the few recurring characters who seems even remotely aware of money is Miranda’s new love interest, Che (Sara Ramirez), who worries about the pecuniary squeeze that might result if their TV deal falls through. Though a bit more tethered to workaday reality, the potential loss of a network show is still a champagne problem.
(There’s a stray scene that involves Miranda buying a temporary bed at a secondhand store, which makes little sense: Even though she’s going through a divorce and is currently studying for an additional degree, she owns what is a multimillion-dollar Brooklyn brownstone and was a partner at a law firm. She can afford Ikea, at minimum.)
As The Ringer’s Katie Baker puts it in a piece attempting to suss out Carrie’s present net worth, “‘Sex and the City’ thrived when it allowed the characters’ fantastical confections to clash with the constraints of their lives — when it tickled viewers with all the frothy cocktails and brunches and unclasped brassieres and then hit them with fears and fights and tightening belts.” As Baker notes, “And Just Like That” is missing that delicious tension.
We’re also in a different cultural and economic space than we were during the relatively placid 1990s, when the show premiered. We’ve lived through two recessions and a pandemic. The financial reality for millennials — my generation — isn’t exactly what we hoped it would be, now that we’re grown. The average new home buyer “will spend 34 percent of their income on housing,” writes The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan, “the highest amount since 2004, which is as far back as Zillow’s data goes.” Nearly 80 percent of women ages 25-54 are working or looking for work, according to the latest jobs report — a record.
The gap between these characters and the audience has widened considerably, but the show doesn’t seem aware of it. And just like that, everyone you know has a perfectly-appointed New York City residence (or several) and lobster is always on the menu while the rest of us meet deadlines and fret about student loan repayments.
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