‘And Just Like That’ Is TV’s Most Meta Sitcom

The ‘Sex and the City’ sequel is, largely, about itself. Which is great!
‘And Just Like That’ Is TV’s Most Meta Sitcom

Launching a TV series sequel — or “reboot,” or “revival”; there are almost as many names for the form as there are examples of it — is a double-edged sword. On one side: your built-in audience, who already love these characters and will be curious to see how their lives have changed since the first series finale. On the other: that audience’s expectations, which will have been ratcheted up with each rewatch of the original series, such that even if your new take is a solid A, many will race straight to social media to complain that it wasn’t an A+. One of the reasons the Sex and the City sequel And Just Like That’s just-ended sophomore season has been such a pleasure is that everyone involved seems to know how it’s going to be consumed, and makes sure you know they know.

Things were different in the first season. The only thing, it seems, that producers could be sure fans would be talking about was Samantha, since Kim Cattrall — who had played her in six seasons of SATC, and in the two feature film spino-ffs that followed — would not be returning. The season was already arranged around the death of a different pivotal character (Carrie’s husband Mr. Big/John, played by a swiftly disgraced Chris Noth) so Samantha was, we learned, alive, in London; having slightly fallen out with protagonist Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) due to Carrie’s decision to dismiss Samantha as her publicist, the two are barely on texting terms as the season begins, though Samantha’s gracious gestures toward Carrie during her bereavement bring them closer together off-screen. 

Otherwise, the episodes’ longer runtimes are taken up on-boarding the remaining three SATC ladies’ new friends: Che (Sara Ramírez), who co-hosts a relationship podcast with Carrie; Nya (Karen Pittman), a professor whose class Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is taking at Columbia; Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker), a filmmaker Charlotte (Kristin Davis) knows from the school their children all attend; and eventually Seema (Sarita Choudhury), Carrie’s realtor. The original show, which premiered in 1998, rarely acknowledged that anyone who wasn’t white could live in Manhattan; a show premiering in 2021 could not be so insular, but the original characters’ sudden acquaintanceship with the new ones led to critiques like B.A. Parker’s on Twitter: “I still can’t get over each main character getting their own emotional support woman of color.” (Ramírez is Mexican-Irish-American; Pittman and Parker are Black; and Choudhury is British-Indian.)

There are some meta moments in the first season, like when Charlotte, finally breaking into Lisa’s rarefied social circle, panics after noticing — for what may be the first time — that she and her husband Harry (Evan Handler) have no Black friends; or when Miranda, after meeting Che, connects the staleness of her marriage to Steve (David Eigenberg) to the possibility that she, like Che, may be queer (Nixon herself having been with her now-wife Christine Marinoni for close to 20 years). But in the second season, there’s so much material on-screen that references the media environment that surrounds the show — to the point where a viewer who’s not also reading recaps and listening to the official podcast, is not experiencing the same show as the rest of us.

Let’s start with Carrie. Whereas her stories in the first season of AJLT largely revolved around her recovery from Big’s aforementioned death, a finale kiss signals that she’s ready to start having sex in the city again. That doesn’t mean she’s ready to talk about sex, or any of the parts that may be employed in the process, as we learn when an executive at her podcast company asks her to read an ad for a vaginal dryness product. Carrie’s horror touched off opposing views in the take-osphere: “Why Has Carrie Become Such a Prude?” versus “Carrie Bradshaw Has Always Been a Terrible Prude” (and given that Parker famously ruled out nude scenes before accepting the role, and that ScreenRant was collecting instances of her prudishness before AJLT was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, the latter view is the victor as far as I’m concerned). 

But while the Carrie of Sex and the City could just (for instance) scoff at the idea of bisexuality for laughs, the Carrie of AJLT learns that there are consequences to her refusal to talk about genital wellness. Oh, not for her — Big’s death left her independently wealthy — but for everyone else she works with: She spends so long dragging her feet and rewriting the ad copy in terms she won’t be embarrassed to recite that the entire podcast company goes under in a matter of days. Dozens if not hundreds of New Yorkers would still be employed if Carrie wasn’t so afraid of the human crotch! And maybe this actually is a wake-up call for Carrie to be more frank: just two episodes later, she takes a break from her lunch for several utterances of the word “jizz.” 

Then there’s Steve. While Miranda spends the first several episodes of Season Two in L.A. with Che (and we’ll get to them), she keeps getting reminders that she has a teen son, Brady (Niall Cunningham), she’s co-parenting with Steve. Many fans I knew, who thought Steve was one of the hottest men ever to spend more than one episode on SATC, were offended by his portrayal in the first season as a doddering old man, not just unable to satisfy his wife’s sexual needs but losing his hearing, too. Cut to Season Two Steve, showing off his guns under the speed bag he’s installed in the house and casually letting Miranda see a condom wrapper on his nightstand because obviously a graying guy who runs a bar in Brooklyn has no problem attracting women who are actually into dudes. 

The list goes on: the Charlotte getting caught unawares by a perimenopausal flash period in Season One can’t wait for her kids to go to camp so she and Harry can have louder, kinkier sex in Season Two; the Nya of Season One, heartbroken by her inability to conceive, is replaced by Season Two’s single Nya, enjoying no-strings sex with guys she finds on the apps. And as good as things have gotten for these characters, they’re nothing compared to Lisa’s turnaround: Her father comes back from the dead!

The most meta stories are, of course, clustered around Che. Among AJLT’s new characters, Che is not only the most reviled, but started turning viewers off the moment we see them with Carrie and co-host Jackie (the disgraced Bobby Lee) recording an episode of their podcast, X, Y and Me; who on earth is going to keep listening to a show that keeps smugly interrupting itself to yell about its “Woke Moment”s? (Vulture’s podcast critic Nicholas Quah effectively runs down X, Y and Me’s many failings in this faux report on Che leaving the show.) Miranda is helpless in the face of Che’s sexual magnetism, but it has generally been harder for the rest of us to perceive, what with Che’s general air of try-hard corniness; the notable lack of jokes at the “comedy concert” we see doesn’t help. “And Just Like That’s Che Diaz Is the Worst Character On TV” was the headline of Kevin Fallon’s Daily Beast piece — and at that point the first-season finale was still a month away. 

In the second season, Che mounts an autobiographical sitcom pilot, which challenges them on several fronts: They’re humiliated by the wardrobe people monitoring their weight and clash with a non-binary showrunner (Abby McEnany) whose blue hair streak marks them as even more of a try-hard than Che is. By the time we arrive at a focus group in which participants like just about everything about the pilot except Che, you might think things are getting kind of pointed, and you’d be right. Creator Michael Patrick King confirmed that the scene was a direct reaction to the Che memes the first season inspired. 

King also says (in the piece linked above) that producers wanted Che to be “vulnerable, knocked for a loop, insecure.” And after Che’s pilot isn’t picked up, it would have been easy for the show to make us empathize with them in their disappointment and fear. That’s not where the writing takes us, however. Stung by their Hollywood experience, Che takes a while to return to stand-up comedy: understandable! Che’s material for their first outing on the stand-up stage is primarily about their experience as Miranda’s first non-cis-male sexual partner. It’s certainly their right to give their perspective, and they don’t know Miranda is actually there hearing it… but they do know Carrie is, and maybe should not have invited Carrie to attend if it was all going to be a Miranda roast. 

Having moved into a luxury apartment when their finances were flush, Che needs to make money by doing Cameos: sure! Che spends a whole day screwing around and then the second Miranda rolls over to go to sleep they start recording their messages — while they’re in bed with Miranda?! Bury Che under the jail. The reversal of Che’s fortunes is dramatically compelling; but the way Che’s vulnerability plays out just makes it seem like producers are not only nodding at viewers’ love-to-hate feelings for Che, but feeding them.

And Just Like That isn’t a show for everyone. It’s not even for all Sex and the City fans; as Kevin Fallon notes in his piece, SATC scholar Emily Nussbaum barely made it halfway through the first season. I was pretty sure it was going to end with the second season, and I wasn’t alone (calling your two-part finale “The Last Supper” is going to give people certain ideas), but two days ago, Max announced not only that it would be back for a third, but that it’s “the #1 Max Original overall.” 

From this position on the other side of the Season Two finale, I think it’s the show’s meta moments that keep us hooked. Samantha’s much-publicized return even functions as one. Layered onto it are its placement at the top of the episode (producers didn’t want to make the girlies wait for her), our knowledge of the bad blood between the performers in the scene (who, we were explicitly told, never actually interacted here) and the bottom line that while Che might be a hot ticket now, Samantha Jones is a queen forever. 

“I do think one of the least charitable takes is that we’re not in on some of the jokes the internet is making,” producer Samantha Irby said in Vulture last year

After this season, I’ll never doubt it.

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