Near the end of last year, I binged all of Peacock’s wonderful Saved By The Bell revival in the span of a day or two. It was everything I never knew I wanted from a TV reboot—a show that expanded the myopic scope and cast of the original to be more inclusive. Its best feature is trans character Lexi and the way the writers and actress Josie Totah have smartly approached her identity without ever sacrificing the humor that comes with playing a character who is ultimately a descendant of Jenna Maroney (the show’s creator Tracey Wigfield is a 30 Rock alum and the genius who also provided the foundation for Nicole Richie’s exquisite work on Great News).
Once I ran out of episodes, some friends convinced me to pop on the new Sex And The City revival, And Just Like That… because they wanted to discuss it. From the moment I started watching, I was floored that this was a real TV series and not an off-beat parody. The characters behaved erratically, not because we were meeting them again over a decade later and were unaccustomed to their new lives, but because their interactions with other people seemed almost alien in nature. The more I’ve watched, the more confused I have become by what the series has done to its characters (Charlotte mostly being the exception).
At first, I thought the main issue was Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez). The deeply annoying non-binary character has inspired cis people to pen screeds against them, which in fairness, aren’t wrong. And yet, as I watched the penultimate episode, “No Strings Attached,” I couldn’t help but wonder: Is the atrocious writing for Che Diaz only distracting us from the real problem—Miranda Hobbes?
And Just Like That… is a show that’s hyper-conscious of its own legacy; after focusing on ending Carrie’s life with Big in the premiere, it’s practically been designed to acknowledge its own limitations from top to bottom, now priding itself on inclusivity regardless of how haphazardly it tries to expand its cast. In its best moments, the show either leans into the realm of an absurd sitcom or into sincere exploration of what it means to experience change when you’ve grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Kristin Davis excels at the former and Sarah Jessica Parker at the latter, but Cynthia Nixon feels painfully out of place throughout the series.
In the continuation of a show that was always rather smart about its characters and their relationships, how life’s ebb and flow could slowly change someone over time, everything about Miranda feels like a bomb went off and no one knew what to do with it. It’s all so very sudden, and though the character has had a lifetime to play it out offscreen, none of the choices she’s making feel organic. “We can’t just stay who we were,” she says to Charlotte, in an argument about her choices to go gray and go back to school, but the show seems intent on changing her too quickly while letting her friends deal with their growing pains.
AJLT constantly throws Miranda into the most absurd situations, with all of Nixon’s reactions being played as though she’s completely lost her mind and is starring in a different series, or inhabiting a different plane of existence, than those around her. It’s in the cringe-worthy scenes she has with her professor Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), particularly those in which she plays white savior (and, yes, that includes the scene where she saves her from being mugged at a subway stop by someone in a Chucky costume). It’s in the way she treats both her husband Steve (David Eigenberg) and her son Brady (Niall Cunningham) as though they’re a burden she can’t rid herself of quickly enough, especially painful to watch when the show has frequently made Steve’s hearing disability the butt of the joke, even though David Eigenberg, the actor who plays him, has a similar condition. And it’s most obvious in her every single interaction with Che Diaz.
Che is, in fact, the worst. Their introduction instantly rubbed me the wrong way, not just because I am also a non-binary person, but as someone who watches way too much television and knows a bad character when they see one. They are a podcaster and famous comedian, but not a single joke they’ve told on the show has actually been funny. Che’s entire gimmick, from the very moment they introduce themselves on their podcast X, Y, And Me (which is a terrible title and also, coincidentally, the title of IVF Books for Children, per a random Google search), is simply to discuss one of three limited traits: their gender, their sexuality, and weed.
Miranda’s deranged narrative arc doesn’t actually kick off in her first meeting with Che. Because of Che’s penchant for smoking weed every single minute of the day—including in elevators with other people, which, frankly, is the rudest thing in the world—Che is found sharing some with Brady at Big’s funeral. Miranda, rightfully, goes apeshit. No human being should be carrying around a packed pipe everywhere they go, and no human being should just be offering teenagers weed at a funeral of a person they did not know. But Che Diaz does not understand common courtesy, and as the episodes go on, neither does Miranda.
The fifth episode of And Just Like That… features maybe the most obscene of their interactions, not because of the sexuality present in it, but because of, well, everything. Che drops by to help Carrie “podcast better from home” as she’s recovering from a hip surgery. Miranda, who’s taking care of Carrie as she naps, invites Che in to do shots; they start making out and Che fingers Miranda in the kitchen. Carrie watches in drug-induced confusion, pisses in a Snapple bottle, then spills it on her bed. All the while Miranda is in the kitchen rather loudly moaning and groaning as she has sex with Carrie’s boss.
After this moment, AJLT leaps into how much Miranda hates her life and how willing she is to blow it all up. There’s a brief arc about Miranda’s struggle with alcohol, but it’s quickly dropped in favor of focusing on her sexuality and relationship with Che. She chases down Che at every turn, acts like she’s their girlfriend, complains that she didn’t get a text message back from them for three months (to which Che responds with “I do a lot of weed,” which is infuriatingly stupid and personally offensive as a non-binary person who actually can manage to respond to DMs despite frequently being high). Hell, she even decides to follow Che to Cleveland to be with them and yells that she’s in a romantic comedy in a scene that feels like a gag from 30 Rock’s first season stripped of all its humor and self-awareness. The show oscillates wildly between these overwhelming moments that make no sense to scenes with Miranda desperately trying to reason with her friends (and, by extension, the audience).
It’s possible that enough time is passing between episodes (the show’s fairly inconsistent with its time skips) where this shift in character could be more reasonable than it seems. There have already been several time jumps within the nine episodes that have aired so far, so it only feels fair to consider that these lives are moving faster than can be captured onscreen. Then again, there’s an entire episode dedicated to having Charlotte berate Miranda for how erratic she’s being, which presents her as casually homophobic and transphobic in a way that feels out of character, particularly after five episodes of her navigating her own child’s gender nonconformity. (I firmly believe Charlotte would have read at least three parenting books about having a trans child.) But even amidst the bad writing in their fight, some of Charlotte’s points are actually rather incisive. “You’re not progressive enough for this,” she tells Miranda, and she’s absolutely right.
None of this should invalidate Miranda’s exploration of her own sexuality, but it’s strange that the show has made it feel so rushed and awkward. That she herself cheats and now pushes for a divorce from Steve—after their relationship had finally reached some semblance of stability following the events of the first SATC movie, in which her entire arc was about Steve cheating—is out of place. Miranda, as a character, has spent her lifetime trying to manage her perfect work/life balance, so when Charlotte accuses her of having a midlife crisis, she’s just telling it like it is. The way Miranda leaps into her relationship with Che without any consideration for her partner or child, without even thinking about trying an open marriage with Steve, is messy. Far be it from me to complain about a woman up and leaving her life to find herself (I could talk about how much I love Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter all day), but Miranda has absolutely no chill and insists on involving everyone around her in this disaster.
Each scene is caught between the drama that should come with her soap opera-ish midlife crisis and the high energy of a sitcom. This week’s episode finds her actively screaming at Che when she turns up unannounced at their apartment. She screams, “I’m so stupid! Who am I? Meg Ryan?” one second and then acknowledges how irrationally she’s behaving the next: “I saw myself and heard myself.” Seconds later, when Che tells her that the two of them aren’t dating, she yells, “We’re not? What are we doing?!” That the scene can’t decide what tone it wants to strike is infuriating, especially in an otherwise good episode that played to many of its strengths (Charlotte’s goofy antics with her daughter’s period and Carrie’s sincere and touching conversation with Steve).
You have to wonder what exactly is going on in the writers’ room that would result in this inability to manage the tone of her character. Has the decision to lean into a certain absurdity and sensational sex with Miranda been an attempt to fill the Samantha Jones void? Has Cynthia Nixon decided to forego separation of character and actress and chosen to morph Miranda into herself? Has Michael Patrick King just committed himself to slowly performing character assassination since the horrendous second film? Whatever it is, the show is at its worst when it focuses on Miranda and Che.
The attempts to be progressive—be it by exploring Miranda’s sexuality or by handing Sara Ramirez, a talented actor who I have been fond of since I was a teenager obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy and Spamalot, the worst material they’ve ever performed—end up feeling regressive. It’s not because the characters are annoying or the narrative is particularly unbelievable. The show is taking itself too seriously when it comes to Miranda, rushing to make her something she never was. Its refusal to acknowledge and interrogate the past is just as key to why all of this feels so wrong, ignoring history for the sake of speeding forward to a new life.
SATC was never quite up to par with cultural norms, but watching the characters try to catch up with them was always part of the fun. AJLT makes it clear that true progress takes time and understanding through its scenes with Carrie and Charlotte, but skips the real work when it comes to Miranda. The haphazard introduction and almost immediate dismissal of her mistakes is a disservice to the character, especially when others continue to navigate their own whiteness and privileges on a regular basis. Charlotte is right when she says Miranda isn’t progressive enough for this, but it’s because the show isn’t progressive enough for this, never has been, and, realistically, never will be.