Sunday, January 23, 2022

And Just Like That… Sex & the City and the Power of Messy Nostalgia

One year ago, when the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That was announced, some of us had a very strong reaction against it. Well, it’s been a long year and now we’re ready for some grown-up nostalgia.

Somewhere in the middle of Adele’s meandering Vogue 72 Questions, our faceless interviewer asks her this question: ‘What would you tell your 19-year-old self?’ The singer, famous for the break-up album named 21, pauses and then replies, ‘Your love life is going to get much worse.’

It is exactly this attitude I feel when I go back to a pop culture classic that defined my 20s and which – helpfully – has come back to meet me in my late 30s. I first discovered Sex and the City after somehow watching the pilot episode on TV when I was 14 and then furtively sought out every single episode I could, until I reached the old-enough age where I then bought the box set and companion TV book.

The show wrapped up just as I was in my first year of university, studying journalism, and it offered a window into what the world of adult women was all about. Like a kid staring into a candy store, I looked at all the forbidden things I had to look forward to. Well, there’s definitely a part of me that now lovingly looks back at that teenager and thinks… be careful what you wish for.

Sex and the City started off as a cult hit, became a cultural behemoth, turned into a punchline and then has ping-ponged between all of those worlds in the 18 years since the series finished

When I first moved into central Auckland city to live by myself in an apartment I shared with 300 cockroaches, I would toast myself that ‘here I was, living the single in the city life that pop culture had promised me’. The only comparison I can make between my own career and Carrie’s is that I too, made bad choices with men and then wrote about it, and also I was (am?) terrible with money.

I would re-watch Sex and the City on my second-hand laptop (couldn’t afford a TV) and really feel like I was part of something, even though I was just a girl who was terrified of dating, surrounded by cockroaches (not a metaphor, they literally lived in my walls). A gal about town, I was not.

Sex and the City was a mostly light-hearted, mostly glossy show that showed how fun it was to be a grown-up woman and that’s not something we get to see much anymore, at least in an irony-free way. It’s a show that really opened the door for female characters to be messy and unlikeable and boy, did people run with that. Upon re-watching the show for the millionth time last year, it made me think of what a good job it did of showing the fun, funny, hot and ridiculous aspects of sex and that – crucially – none of the women were ever punished for having so much of it.

Of course, the show did cover difficult realities: cancer, infertility, divorce, cheating. The pain of heartbreak, one after the other. The loneliness of adulthood when you don’t fit into the ‘marriage/house/baby’ expectations by 35. But it did it with a dark sense of humour, and it did it with a lot of love for its characters.

Sex and the City was a mostly light-hearted, mostly glossy show that showed how fun it was to be a grown-up woman

Sex and the City started off as a cult hit, became a cultural behemoth, turned into a punchline and then has ping-ponged between all of those worlds in the 18 years since the series finished (no, I don’t acknowledge the movies).

When the news of the reboot, And Just Like That… (starting this Friday on Neon and SkyGo) first came out, everybody groaned. When it was revealed that Samantha, ¼ of the show’s core cast, wouldn’t be returning, everybody was outraged. I even wrote about it on this very website, back in January this year (such an energetic piece?! That girl doesn’t go here anymore).

But then two things changed my mind: number one, there was going to be a Samantha involved; Samantha Irby, one of the funniest writers on the planet, was on the writing team. And then I saw the teaser trailer for the show and felt a gut recognition of seeing those characters back on screen again, a sort of warm glow of ‘there they are.’ In this difficult year, I’ll take all the warm glow and nostalgia I can get. And the fact that every single fan I know has flip-flopped with me as well means I’m not alone in this.

Why were we so afraid of the reboot? Were we worried it would somehow malign our love for the original show? Or – and I’m uncomfortable as I write this – is it because we didn’t want to see our beloved characters ageing?

As someone who has Googled ‘Tasteful Botox, how?’ more times than I’d like to admit after almost two years of watching my goddamn face on Zoom meetings, I will say that the late 30s come at you, FAST. (And nothing makes you more aware that everyone is almost 20 years older – both viewer and actor alike – than the fact that one of the beloved characters died of cancer in the production of the show. Stanford, we love you).

But while Sex and the City finished with everyone getting a happy ending, it’s far more realistic that actually, not all of those friendships and relationships would have survived the last two decades.

But while Sex and the City finished with everyone getting a happy ending (couldn’t resist!), it’s far more realistic that actually, not all of those friendships and relationships would have survived the last two decades. When the rumours came out (possible spoiler alert) that the reason Samantha isn’t in the show any more is because she and the others were no longer friends, it felt both relatable and accurate, and a sad fact of life that rarely gets the airtime it deserves.

When I watched those final Sex and the City episodes in 2004, I was a naïve little 19-year-old watching Carrie, who was around 39, finally get her shit together. It seemed totally appropriate that her entire life should be sorted, because 39 was an official Grown Up Age. Now??? 39 is NOTHING; 39 is 29 with (ideally) therapy, an eye cream and a slightly healthier savings account. It certainly isn’t the full circle moment you assume it’s going to be when you’re 19 and sitting on the precipice of adulthood.

I had no idea that my thirties would be much harder and much better than I could have imagined. I have no doubt my 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond will be the same. Maybe that’s going to be the power of And Just Like That, that we’re going to get to see that the messy, lonely, fun, awkward and ridiculous bits of life don’t have a time limit. That actually no-one ever really feels like a proper grown up, no matter how tall their heels are. 

And Just Like That will air from Friday 10 December on Neon and SkyGo, beginning with a double-episode premiere. It will also air on Mondays from December 20, at 9.30pm on SoHo.

Dating Without Borders: The Surprising Charm Of Long-Distance Romance

'If, like me, your children are grown and you simply want a special someone to have adventures with, the long-distance romance has a lot...

2022, The Year of YES! How and Where Kiwis Want To Travel This Year Revealed

Finally, the friendly skies look like they're opening again! Grab that passport (ok, first find that passport) and head off on an adventure -...

‘We Live In A Culture That Says What We Do Equates To Our Worth’: Busting The Productivity Myth With Extraordinary Routines’ Creator Madeleine Dore

When Madeleine Dore first started up her Extraordinary Routines website, it was to uncover the secrets of living an organised and creative life. Five...

So, You Want to Start Investing? Your Ultimate Beginner’s Guide by Girls That Invest

Investing - it's an intimidating-sounding term that, for some reason, women have historically been apprehensive about doing. But if you're like us at Capsule...