SPOILER ALERT: This piece contains spoilers for the Season 1 finale of “And Just Like That,” which premiered Feb. 3 on HBO Max.
In a TV landscape defined of late by its predictability, the “Sex and the City” update “And Just Like That” is utterly strange: It’s a show that in many particulars does not work, and that got off to a terrible start, and yet this viewer awaited each week’s episode drop with increasing zeal and relish. In particular, one of the show’s new characters — probably the most widely pilloried among “Sex and the City” fans — gave the series a shot of verve and askew energy that helped carry it over the finish line.
Have you guessed who I’m talking about? Hey. It’s Che Diaz.
As played by the nonbinary actor Sara Ramirez, Che is a character who is, from the first, central to the lives of two of the “And Just Like That” trio. They are Carrie’s boss in her new role as a podcaster, as well as a sort of guide to the culture of the 2020s for a writer who — movingly and frustratingly — is stuck in the 1990s. And they are Miranda’s object of a sort of obsessive lust, an object against which “Sex and the City’s” high-strung lawyer can work out her pain at where her life has ended up. (Charlotte has no meaningful relationship with Che but seems generally to wish them well.)
There seem to be three major critiques of Che. The first, and the fairest, is that Che — along with characters played by Sarita Choudhury, Nicole Ari Parker, and Karen Pittman — has been ported into the “Sex and the City” universe clumsily, in order to lend diversity to what had been an all-white Manhattan. Che’s introduction, and their instant centrality to the lives of the women around them, was not elegantly done. But I’d push back against the other critiques of Che out there: That they are annoying, and that they wrecked the character of Miranda. Che’s ability to irritate is precisely the point of Che, and Miranda spent the season proving she is perfectly capable of wrecking herself.
Che is, to my eye, a very carefully and thoughtfully drawn and acted depiction of a (self-declared!) narcissist — a personality type thick on the ground in the worlds of comedy and podcasting. This places Che within the franchise’s long history of New York City archetypes, particularly those around whom set-pieces can be built. (Che’s grand-scale musical performance in the finale was the show’s scene-making at its very best: A picture of a milieu made up of delusional people that one completely believes could be real.) Che’s self-regard outstripping their abilities as a comedian is painful to watch; it’s also very real, as are the other characters’ reactions to their work. Their comedy is certainly not funny. But there’s humor, and pathos, in Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte forcing themselves into enthusiasm about it, even if they’re so out of the loop that they incessantly call Che’s show a “comedy concert.”
And Miranda’s obsession with Che seems entirely in character for a figure that many misremember. The general admiration for Cynthia Nixon as a performer, activist/politician, and well-spoken and thoughtful person seems somewhat conflated with the character she plays. Miranda, in the original run of “Sex and the City,” is smart and accomplished, but also somewhat blind to the ways her temper gets her into trouble with friends and romantic partners alike. She is impulsive; she loves Steve, her eventual husband, but has the capacity to treat him with deep unkindness and to make clear that she sees herself as settling for him; her cynical directness can easily be read as covering for a need for validation.
Is it any wonder that Miranda — who has spent her marriage straining against flashes of contempt for a mild-mannered and undemonstrative partner — would find intrigue and excitement in someone who brashly and directly wants her? That Miranda is possessed of a very healthy ego and a tendency to make split-second decisions is not a flaw in the show but a sign of high-quality writing. It’d be easier for all involved if she really had been as simple as the image we hold of her in mind. But then her dalliance with Che would make no sense, instead of all the sense in the world.
Miranda ends the season having torched her professional and personal life in order to keep things going with Che. You buy this or you don’t (I did) but it seems silly to be angry that a new character introduced drama and complication into a series that thrives on it. Che gave Miranda new notes to play, and drew out elements of her that were always there, hidden beneath our regard for Nixon’s performance and persona. They did so while also being an instantly recognizable New York type on a show that — ultimately effectively — continued the “Sex and the City” project of depicting the various types who swirl around one woman’s social scene. I would not want to be Che’s friend, or to watch their standup in person (as opposed to on a TV show, where monitoring characters’ reactions amplifies the fun). But their crossing Carrie and Miranda’s paths was good news for us watching at home.