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Please don’t bring Sex and the City back – it’s nothing without Samantha

News that the cult series will be returning, this time under the name And Just Like That, has made a lot of people happy. But reboots almost never work, and despite being a diehard fan, Olivia Petter is sceptical

Monday 11 January 2021 18:11 GMT
TV reboots almost never work and, without Kim Cattrall’s Samantha, the new ‘Sex and the City’ series will be without its sparkiest star
TV reboots almost never work and, without Kim Cattrall’s Samantha, the new ‘Sex and the City’ series will be without its sparkiest star (Rex Features)

It was only a matter of time. After The X-Files, Will & Grace, Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars had all been brought back, today yet another beloved turn-of-the-century show succumbed to the reboot. The news that Sex and the City will be returning – this time under the name And Just Like That – has made a lot of people happy. Twitter has been alight with excitement, with fans trading “couldn’t help but wonder” memes and high-heel emojis. As a diehard fan myself, one who has incidentally modelled her own life on that of Carrie Bradshaw, I ought to be over the moon. I’m not.

Beyond the fact that TV reboots very rarely achieve the alchemy that made the series so great in the first place, there’s the very pressing issue that this new version of Sex and the City will be missing its sparkiest character: Samantha Jones. While Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie was technically the show’s star, it was Kim Cattrall's hypersexual publicist who always shone the brightest. Acerbic, outrageous and sexually uninhibited, she was unlike any other woman on screen when the series started in 1998. She still is. It wasn’t just how frankly she spoke about (and had) sex – it was how she redefined female sexuality as something that could be free from shame and societal shackles. Her sexcapades might have often served as comic fodder for the other three, but it was Samantha who frequently made the most serious points in the series about female empowerment – through her behaviour if not her words.

She played an integral role in the dynamic between the four women, too. Carrie was the neurotic one, Charlotte the traditional one, and Miranda the no-nonsense career one. To some, Samantha completes the quartet as “the one who loved sex”. To me, she was the one who always put herself first. The one who chose to be alone because she wanted to, not because she had to. The yin to everyone else’s yang.

As any true SATC fan will know, it’s not surprising Cattrall isn’t taking part. Plans for a Sex and the City reboot have apparently long been hampered by the actor’s aversion to reprising her role. While the reasons for this are as contentious as the number of children fathered by our prime minister – rumours include salary disputes and scripting issues – one thing is clear: she is no fan of Sarah Jessica Parker. 

True, gossip of this ilk tends to tap into the sexist trope that successful women must be at odds with each other, but in this instance, there is some truth to it. In 2019, Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell told me she didn’t understand why people were so desperate for the four women to be friends, comparing them to regular colleagues who had different personalities. Her comments seemed to downplay the reality. In 2018, a year after describing the dynamic between her colleagues as a toxic relationship, Cattrall famously called out Parker for offering condolences in the wake of her brother’s death. “Your continuous reaching out is a painful reminder of how cruel you really were then and now,” she wrote in an Instagram post, before confirming that no, they are not friends.

“They’re all basically blaming you for ruining everybody’s fun,” Piers Morgan told Cattrall in 2017, as rumours once again swirled that Cattrall was the only thing standing in the way of a third film. “Well…” she shot back. “Make your own fun.” I wish they’d listened.

I'll say it again: TV reboots almost never work. All too often, the chemistry has fizzled out, the rapport rusted over. After being prematurely cancelled in 2006, Arrested Development came back to much rejoicing in 2013 – but its decision to focus on one character per episode was a strange and ultimately unsuccessful one. The long-awaited Will & Grace reboot, meanwhile, felt tired and uninspired. It felt outdated, too – and it’s hard to believe that Sex and the City won’t have the same problem.

Progressive though it was at the time, it hasn’t exactly aged well. “It was always a problem how little racial diversity there was,” Nixon said when I interviewed her last year. That was just one issue. With heteronormative storylines, financial incongruities (I’m still livid that being a writer won’t afford me a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan), and jokes that occasionally relied on racist and transphobic stereotypes, Sex and the City would need to be radically different in order to fly today.

There’s also substantial damage to undo. While the first film, released in 2008, was generally considered a success, the second, which came out in 2010, was another story altogether. Short of plot and littered with clumsy cultural cliches, Sex and the City 2 was universally panned: The Observer’s film critic Mark Kermode said it was full of “imperialist American pig dogs”, while writer Lindy West suggested that “if this is what modern womanhood means, then just f***ing veil me and sew up all my holes”. And yet, here we are.

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Kim Cattrall in ‘Sex and the City 2’ (Rex Features)

According to a press release, And Just Like That will follow Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte as they navigate the journey from the complicated reality of life and friendship in their thirties to the even more complicated reality of life and friendship in their fifties. It’s no secret that there is a dearth of on-screen stories about sexually empowered women above the age of 40, and this would be a brilliant opportunity to rectify that. But surely a better tactic would be to enlist a new group of characters, rather than relying on those who are best known and loved for who they were 20 years ago?

Consider how easy it is for stories about women navigating romance in their fifties to slip into stereotypes. Storylines often centre on the pursuit of youth (The Women), plastic surgery (First Wives Club), or younger men (Cougar Town). Even Bushnell, now 62, had a stab at it in 2019 with Is There Still Sex and the City?, a book that purported to be a shrewd meditation on midlife dating but felt superficial and out of touch. Will And Just Like That manage to avoid all of these pitfalls? I doubt it.

Forgive me for saying this, but I can’t help but wonder why HBO Max has decided to reboot Sex and the City, aside from the very obvious reason that it will probably make a lot of money. Capitalism aside, it’s a high-risk move to bring the series back, particularly with a gaping Samantha-shaped hole. Also, if the show is bad, the reviews will practically write themselves: “And just like that, a legacy was ruined.”

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