When Carrie Bradshaw first introduces us to Samantha Jones, it’s as “a New York inspiration.” Carrie describes her as confident to the point of “self-delusion,” and yet throughout “Sex and the City,” it’s very rare to see Samantha fail to get what she wants once she decides it’s worth spending her precious energy. While Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) overthinks her way in and out of relationships, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) negotiates with herself and her partners, and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) frets about marriage and propriety, Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is mostly just sleeping around and having a great time doing it. That explicit, shame-free sexuality is far more routine for women characters today than it was in 1998, when Samantha’s refusal to censor or restrain herself when it came to sex was a deliberate shock to TV’s system — and for “Sex and the City,” a crucial cornerstone to the series’ success.
It wasn’t a surprise when HBO Max announced that it will produce a “Sex and the City” revival (“And Just Like That”) given the show’s nostalgic currency and the streamer’s determination to grow its subscriber base. And for those of us who have paid more attention to celebrity gossip over the years than is probably advisable, neither was the fact that it’ll apparently be moving forward without Cattrall and Samantha both. Cattrall has been very open over the years about feeling both far removed from the show and frustrated with where it took her character. When a third “Sex and the City” movie looked like a possibility, for instance, she was clear that she wanted nothing to do with it even as her costars said the opposite. With that in mind, the most staggering development for this revival would be Cattrall agreeing to be in it at all.
So here we are, waiting for a new chapter in the lives of Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte some 23 years after Samantha first burst onto our screens to tell her friends to “just say ‘screw it’ and have sex like a man” with her exaggerated, silken drawl. This time, the remaining women of “Sex and the City” will be in their fifties, presumably still married (though who knows!) and with kids now grown enough to, inevitably, make their own TikToks. But all we know for sure about the revival is that a) it’s happening and b) it’s happening without Samantha. There are a million ways the new series could deal with her absence, and I genuinely look forward to seeing whatever they come up with. Still: I can’t help but wonder if the lack of Samantha, the only genuinely sex positive character “Sex and the City” ever included on a regular basis, will be an insurmountable obstacle to recapturing what made the original show work.
While “Sex and the City” was on the air, and ever since, Samantha’s particular brand of unabashed sexuality — and chronic habit of cracking sex jokes as cheesy as they were explicit — became something of a punchline in and of itself. Take Samantha’s embarrassing HIV test appointment, when Samantha answers each increasingly hyperbolic question about her sexual history with a nonchalant “yes” that eventually stuns the nurse into silence. Or, extra-textually, the 2004 “Saturday Night Live” sketch that aired shortly before the series finale, in which Christina Aguilera debuted a spot-on Samantha impression that devolved into terrible puns and the uninspired reveal that “I’m a dude.” (Get it? Because she dates like one and has a deep-ish voice? Haha.) But on the show itself, Samantha’s defiantly open, down for anything sex life provides a necessary counterbalance to the other three women who are way more uptight than they often care to admit.
Miranda, the group’s resident type-A buzzkill, works hard for her carefree moments and is prone to projecting her own insecurities onto her friends when they dare go where she won’t. Proudly prim Charlotte spends every brunch almost literally clutching her pearls, and Carrie, a woman whose entire career hinges on writing about sex, nevertheless approaches the subject with a metaphorical tissue, as if afraid to get her own hands too dirty. Any guy who expresses an interest in the most vanilla of kinks is quickly labeled an insatiable freak — even, or maybe especially, when Samantha speaks up in his defense, having enjoyed the same experience herself.
In fact, joining together in disdain for Samantha’s latest exploits is a time-honored tradition for the other three “Sex and the City” ladies, whether Samantha is casually sleeping with a dildo model she considers a celebrity or giving a monogamous relationship with a woman a real shot. (There’s a whole other essay in how disappointingly rigid “Sex and the City” was regarding sexuality, but suffice it to say: anyone who didn’t identify as strictly gay or straight was, apparently, kidding themselves.) Just as much as they were united in their singledom, Miranda, Charlotte and Carrie were united in their righteous judgment of other people’s sex lives. Having Samantha around might’ve been handy for comic relief, and there’s no doubt that she had her own fair share of cringey storylines along the way. But her steadfast support of her friends’ sexual escapades — the more exaggerated, the better — was also vital to the specifically, groundbreakingly horny heartbeat of the show. Without her, “Sex and the City” just won’t have the pulse of enthusiastic sexual energy that made for some of its best moments.
If Cattrall remains out of the picture, as seems likely, “And Just Like That” will have to do more than just catch up with Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte in order to recapture the series’ original spark. It will either have to undergo a shift in narrative focus, as is perhaps inevitable given the characters’ advancing age and more settled lives, or replace Samantha’s singular voice in a way that feels authentic. Maybe this comes in the form of a new character — preferably one in her sixties, as Cattrall is and Samantha would be — or else one of the remaining women evolving into more progressive views (which, frankly, would feel more unrealistic than Samantha’s sudden absence). No matter what, though, the worst thing the revival could do would be to dismiss Samantha like one of the show’s countless exes and move on without acknowledging why she was so important in the first place. Carrie Bradshaw may have made a name for herself by saying she “knows good sex,” but it was Samantha Jones whose raison d’être was having it.