SPOILER ALER: Do not read if you have not watched the first two episodes of “And Just Like That,” streaming now on HBO Max.
When Michael Patrick King committed to bringing “Sex And the City” back to series, he needed to figure out a way to push the original 1998 show’s edge into 2022. So he did what any streaming service would do in this era of storytelling and he changed the narrative by killing off a big character. Literally.
In the closing moments of “And Just Like That’s” premiere episode, King flipped the series on its head by killing off John “Big” James Preston (Chris Noth). The character suffered a heart attack after trekking out his 1,000th Peloton ride, dying in the arms of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), who had just returned home from a piano recital. What Carrie’s life will be, now that the love of her life is dead, plays out in the subsequent nine episodes — the first of which also dropped on Dec. 9.
“The reason I did it is because it’s shocking, but also because it’s great for Carrie’s character, because she’s always never been able to have him,” King explained during a virtual roundtable on Friday afternoon. “She only got him at the end of the series and she’s only had him really a little bit of time. Now he’s taken away, but not by another lady on the Upper East Side or by divorce — but by something she can never rationalize, which is a death.”
The executive producer said that the first two episodes were set up to be as realistic as possible, which inherently made them more dramatic.
“We believe Carrie Bradshaw is devastated. So, we will have her heal and mourn and go back and go on,” he said. “I have no interest in taking the audience into a dark woods and leaving them there without a flashlight. We’re not going to just leave Carrie by herself. But how we do it? Why we do it? How far it goes remains to be seen.”
In crafting those storylines, King had one rule of thumb: to not be like the original. And so, not only does “And Just Like That” introduce four new characters (played by Karen Pittman, Nicole Ari Parker, Sarita Choudhury and Sara Ramirez) in an attempt expand the world and discuss diversity and racism, the show also tackles hard issues like alcoholism, grief and gender identity.
And the structure of the show has changed as well: Gone are the signature Carrie voiceovers along with the light tone that pandemic-weary fans may have been anticipating. In fact, anything of anticipatory nature is exactly what King was swerving from with this continuation.
“Even in the editing room I was pulling out anything that felt like it was from another time. There were jokes that felt like the old show. That doesn’t mean there’s not jokes in the new show, it’s just breaking paradigm, breaking rhythms, breaking what’s expected,” he explained. “There’s no voiceover except for one line at the end. That’s because Carrie has no overview. I destroyed her world. She has one sentence at the end of every show, that’s it. And it’s right in the moment.”
“It was a very bold way to start,” added executive producer and star Cynthia Nixon, who returns both as Miranda and takes a turn in the director’s chair for one of the 10 new episodes. “This is about people being thrown out of their comfort zone. It’s called “And Just Like That” [because] it means that you think your life is one way and something will happen. And all of a sudden, you don’t even recognize your life.”
Nixon conceded that having a happily married and settled, Big and Carrie wouldn’t have been the dramatic push the show needed to relaunch in 2022, but it’s also not something that she would have necessarily dreamed up doing.
“Michael Patrick King comes up with these really bold strokes that take us into new territory and I think that’s why the show is so good,” she said. “The show is never a show that played it safe and it always let the characters evolve and change and grow and age. In life, stuff comes from the wings and you never know what’s coming.”
The creatives also conceded that the first two episodes may have been a little more dramatic than what people potentially expected, but they were also quick to remind viewers that the original series tackled tough subjects too, including cancer, infertility and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
“People don’t always remember all of that,” added executive producer and star Kristin Davis, who returns as Charlotte. “Of course this was a very, very, very major thing to do and I was very emotional about it. Worried is the right word. But we’re also doing a show about people in their 50s. All of us who have lived this long and are still alive have lost people. This is how it is. Life is this way. We’ve gone through a global pandemic — we’re still technically in it. It’s not all rosy.”
“This is reality, and we are definitely going to get some laughs and lighten up, but we’re also going to stay true to the reality of losing someone and to the fact that we’re grappling with some topics that just aren’t simple,” she continued.
“And Just Like That” airs new episodes each Thursday on HBO Max.