SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you haven’t watched the first two episodes of “And Just Like That,” which are now available to stream on HBO Max.
There was never going to be a perfect way to write Samantha Jones out of “Sex and the City,” even if the show’s now called “And Just Like That.” With Kim Cattrall firmly out of the franchise for good, with seemingly no possibility for even a cameo, the remaining characters would have to move on without her one way or another. Yes, they could kill her off, but such a choice would feel drastic given the supposed offscreen drama between Cattrall and the rest of the “SATC” actors — and as it turns out, this sequel series is set to deal with the death of another pivotal character, anyway. So what else to do but weave some of the truth into the fiction: that Samantha, like Cattrall, had a falling out with the others, and moved on with her life without looking back.
In theory, this approach could have worked. Plenty of friends, even great friends with long histories, evolve past each other all the time. Exploring this particular kind of heartbreak on a show in which the friendships always made for the most compelling love stories would be a genuinely fascinating place for “And Just Like That” to go. As characters, Samantha and Carrie always had a strong, specific bond. Samantha was always the one Carrie would go to when she needed support without any of the accompanying judgment that Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) would inevitably display, despite their best intentions. So no matter what might have happened between Samantha and the rest, hearing a hostess call out, “Carrie, party of three!” will always emphasize an absence that lingers like a bruise. Exploring the pain of losing such a friend in the show’s narrative might have been complicated — but it also would’ve been more believable and interesting than the road “And Just Like That” ends up taking.
In the first episode, the show makes a little bit of room for to allow Carrie to express an acute, familiar pain at losing Samantha for what seems like forever. As Carrie and Miranda discuss after their party-of-three lunch, Samantha apparently took offense at Carrie releasing her as a publicist and moved to London to put maximum distance between them. As per Samantha … well, we don’t know, and probably never will. Again, without Cattrall, there’s only so much the show can do, here. Without any perspective or explanation from the other side of the breakup, though, having Samantha’s refusal to speak to the others be due to a professional slight just feels extraordinarily petty — and more than a little pointed, given the potential offscreen circumstances.
In fairness, there’s a genuinely lovely moment in the second episode that suggests maybe Carrie and the show alike can find a way to live past Samantha without assassinating her character entirely. Unable to be at Big’s funeral on such short notice, Samantha sends a gorgeous flower arrangement for his casket with a simple note of support, a gesture that touches Carrie enough to reach back out via text. But the fact that we don’t see Samantha respond once again seems unnecessarily harsh. If Samantha can send a note, she can just as easily send a text. It doesn’t even have to imply that they’re friends again — just that, maybe, she can recognize that her grieving friend of many years could use a kind word, however brief.
This is why, as I pressed play on “And Just Like That,” I was most curious to see what the show might look and feel like without one of its most crucial characters. As I wrote when the revival was first announced, Samantha provided the show not just with a unique voice, but with the one that truly put the “Sex” in “Sex and the City.” As “And Just Like That” even acknowledges as Carrie struggles to embrace the “raunchy” aspects of the podcast she’s recently joined, not even Carrie’s sex column was particularly explicit or adventurous. Every time Samantha would express pleasure in sex that strays remotely outside anything vanilla, or else suggest that there are other ways to live one’s life than as half of a monogamous couple, her friends would laugh and shake their heads. Still, Samantha’s devotion to her friends (and especially Carrie) was absolute given her predilection for avoiding romantic relationships with men if she could help it. And while it was easy to mock Samantha’s many, many ridiculous double entendres, they also provided even the safest of conversations with some extremely necessary salt.
So, sure, “And Just Like That” is not “Sex and the City,” and as it’s now made crystal clear, Samantha Jones simply isn’t part of its future. What, then, does this franchise actually look like without her?
If the first two episodes are anything to go by, this version of “Sex and the City” is noticeably drier and more somber. Without Samantha there to prod conversations into more risqué territory, it’s still strange to see Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda almost completely avoid the subject of sex now, except when it comes to Miranda’s gawky teenage son (Niall Cunningham). The funniest moments, if you can call them that, focus on Miranda’s determined but ultimately oblivious attempts to be The One Good White Lady (which, to give credit where it’s due, does feel entirely accurate to Miranda as we once knew her). Now that Samantha’s removed herself from the equation, she apparently took much of the show’s wit with it, leaving “And Just Like That” without a natural source of effervescence to keep it afloat.
From at least these first two episodes, it’s obvious that “And Just Like That” aims to be a much different kind of show than “Sex and the City,” which is fine. It makes sense that the cast and crew might not be interested in telling stories like they were 15 years ago, and that the most intriguing aspect of revisiting these characters would be to try something new. But without Samantha’s lascivious influence, the series feels a more self-serious version of itself — that, to be fair, Samantha Jones might’ve wanted to leave behind, anyway.