Michael Patrick King wants the record to show that Sex and the City had a “slow burn of a love affair” with viewers on its way to becoming, eventually, an adored success.
The executive producer’s motive: that his HBO Max sequel And Just Like That... get a chance to prove itself. After its two-episode debut last week, the remaining eight are arriving on consecutive Thursdays.
“You’ve seen a couple of episodes of our show; you’ve seen six seasons” of the original 1998-2004 comedy about 30-something friends in New York City, said King, who was a writer, director and executive producer on Sex and the City.
“I feel confident in coming back with these actors — Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon — because I knew they could play whatever it was we and the writers came up with,” he said.
A “bold storyline” intended to grab audience attention also gave King confidence that the sequel was a good idea. Spoiler alert: That daring encompasses a major plot twist in episode one and its fallout, addressed below.
King, interviewed the day after the show debuted, could be forgiven a certain defensiveness. Critics, and some viewers, took issue with its dark tone as it revisited its characters in their 50s, in contrast to its frisky predecessor.
Viewers got much to lament and chew on in the debut episodes. Samantha, played by Kim Cattrall in Sex and the City is in the sequel in name only. Willie Garson, part of both series (and the films) as Stanford, was lost to pancreatic cancer after taping part of the sequel. And in this version, diversity gets a place at the table.
Here’s what King and the cast had to say about their resurrected adventure. Yes, characters still revel in giddy fashionista indulgence, but there’s also a new, sometimes excruciatingly awkward, wokeness.
A Big Goodbye
The first episode ended with John aka Mr Big (Chris Noth) suffering a heart attack after an intense Peloton workout and dying in wife Carrie’s (Parker) arms. Her failure to call 911 galled many, while jokesters dubbed the scene the worst product placement ever.
Peloton, which avowed ignorance of how its machine was to be used and defended its health benefits, rushed out a clever commercial with Noth and Peloton instructor Jess King (also seen in the episode) sitting fireside post-workout and deciding on another spin.
Did Big — cigars and known heart condition aside — really have to meet a premature end?
“Yes, I had to kill Big,” King said, bluntly. “The reason I came back was to kill Big, because I wanted Carrie and the audience to feel, ‘Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?’”
He vowed that he’d never leave Carrie in “a dark forest without a flash light and a lantern on the way out. I would never do that to the audience.”
Darren Star, who created Sex and the City said the twist opened up “a new chapter” and also weighed in on the commercial spoof: “I loved it. I have a Peloton and I don’t believe the bike killed Mr. Big.”
Where in the World is Samantha?
In London, and giving her once-close pals the silent treatment after Carrie dropped Samantha as her publicist — a tiff that seems to echo Cattrall’s 2018 social media post in which she criticised Parker and said, “You are not my friend.”
When the series minus Cattrall was announced last January, Parker brushed aside a fan’s post suggesting a feud. “No. I don’t dislike her,” Parker replied. “I’ve never said that. Never would. Samantha isn’t part of this story. But she will always be part of us.”
Davis, an executive producer on the series along with Parker and Nixon, said they found the scripted explanation for Samantha’s absence “very realistic,” adding, “You don’t stay friends forever with everyone in your life. Things change.”
King said Cattrall decided that “she didn’t want to play Samantha any more. She was finished with it.” But the characters are real to him, he said, “so we created something in the writing room that happens to a lot of friendships, where you just fall apart.”
Welcome to the Club
New York is a melting pot of ethnic diversity, but Sex and the City was strictly white. That’s changed in And Just Like That... which adds characters of colour played by Sarita Choudhury, Nicole Ari Parker, Karen Pittman and Sara Ramírez.
Nicole Ari Parker (Empire, Boogie Nights) enjoyed watching the original series for the female bonding but thought it would benefit from being more inclusive.
“I’m glad that, as grown-ups in this iteration of the show, that they know it’s important,” she said. “But at the same time, they’re not trying to be like, ‘OK, we did it. It’s perfect.’ No, it’s a bumpy ride, and yet something beautiful can come out of it.”
Corporate lawyer Miranda (Nixon), who’s decided to switch course and earn a master’s degree in human rights, makes gaffe after gaffe with her Black professor played by Pittman (The Morning Show).
“It’s funny. It’s humorous, we kind of take the air out of the race and the race politic conversation in order to just send it up,” Pittman said. But what “ends up happening is that two people become friends and don’t see enough of that.”
There’s more gender inclusiveness as well: Ramírez’s character is a podcaster and comedian who’s non-binary and bisexual.
Ramírez (Grey’s Anatomy) said it’s exciting “to be invited in now and show that there has always been space for a character to challenge our own internalized impressions, to disrupt the constructs that so many of us have been living under. Constructs like sex and gender roles.”
Farewell, Stanford Blatch
Garson’s death in September hit his cast mates hard.
“That I almost can’t talk about, except to say you get through it because you must. But it’s enormously painful,” Sarah Jessica Parker said, calling him “my close friend for over three decades.”
Mario Cantone, who plays Stanford’s husband Anthony, thought about him every day on the set.
“We just kind of all huddled together and did this and moved forward with Willie in our hearts,” Cantone said. “This is very bittersweet. It really is because he should be here. But he was glorious and hilarious, and you would have never known he was ill.”
Nixon recalled Garson as a warm and funny person and a “bright light on the show,” while Davis said she hopes that fans “laugh and enjoy him in these first three episodes, that’s what he lived for.”