Spoilers for And Just Like That ahead.
When Sex and the City first premiered in 1998, it was truly revolutionary for its authentic depiction of the female experience on television (albeit a cis, white, thin, non-disabled experience). Despite its flaws, the show's portrayal of love, sex, relationships and friendship was like nothing else we'd ever seen before, and continues to hold relevance even 25 years after it first aired.
But as the years went on, the show, unlike its characters, began to show its age. The show's portrayal of women's lives became increasingly unrealistic, and its characters' out-of-touchness became more and more explicit. And as we delve into the world of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and their new counterparts in And Just Like That (now in its second season), it's becoming apparent that the joke may just be on us. Despite its heavy-handed attempts at political correctness, the show remains frustratingly unchanged, revealing our society's obsession with wealth, materialism and class.
And Just Like That Season 2 is a masterclass in late-stage capitalism, and a perfect example of how wealth, especially an excess of it, can warp our sense of reality. The characters are all ultra-rich, self-absorbed and image-conscious. The show not only fails to use its characters' wealth to uplift others but also perpetuates a degrading narrative that mocks anyone who doesn't share its characters' privilege.
Sex and the City's once groundbreaking portrayal of women's lives has become increasingly divorced from reality. Its characters, now firmly settled into their fifties, are no longer relatable working women. Although the Manolos and the cosmos were always unrelatable and the characters had fairly glamorous jobs, it felt authentic to see Carrie have to churn out column after column, mining her dating life for stories. Charlotte had to pander to all manners of rich art buyers, and we saw Samantha constantly schmoozing to get new clients for her PR firm, while Miranda worked absurdly long hours to make it as a partner at her law firm.
Now, the women clearly don't need to work anymore. Instead, they revel in their wealth and privilege, detached from the everyday struggles that most of us face. The pursuit of upward mobility that once defined their careers has been replaced with a leisurely existence, devoid of the need to work. Charlotte has embraced domesticity, and her biggest 'success' during the season is making it into the top three on a 'MILF list' circulating at her children's private school. Carrie flippantly indulges in retail therapy to deal with the grief of her husband's death, while Miranda has quit law and embarked on a self-indulgent journey of human rights education (which seems all but forgotten as we move through Season 2), all while her Black friend and professor, Nya, has to teach her the basics of race relations. The show's once-beloved characters have become embodiments of unattainable luxury — and though we were once able to suspend disbelief because the characters appeared to be working for their wealth, now, their elitism just feels like an insult to our intelligence.
The show's obsession with consumption and materiality reaches new heights in Season 2. The characters' conspicuous consumption and preoccupation with themselves eclipses genuine connections — and everyone else becomes an inconvenient backdrop to their insatiable appetite for self-gratification.
It's not just that the characters in AJLT are unwilling to use their wealth to help others. It's also that the show takes every opportunity to present those who do not embody its glossy perfection as objects of ridicule.
In a gross reminder of how capitalism can commodify and alienate people, the characters are so self-centred and intent on self-promotion, that anyone else is just in the way. For instance, Carrie's previous (fictional) editor at Vogue, Enid Frick, invites Carrie to the launch of Vivante! — her new magazine aimed at older women. As Carrie lives the horror of being equated with these much older women, she bumps into Gloria Steinem, a prominent activist, author and the mother of second-wave feminism. When meeting Steinem, Carrie is of course quick to turn the conversation back to herself, sharing her own views on ageism with the feminist icon. But apparently Steinem's presence legitimises Vivante! and Enid enough in Carrie's eyes for her to PayPal $100,000 to Enid in exchange for being a 'founding donor', but really for a plug about her new book in Enid's newsletter.
When Carrie (who can afford to effortlessly part with $100,000 for a book mention in a newsletter) is distracted later on her phone and the stunning George Campbell falls off his bicycle to avoid running into her, she's far less generous. She accompanies him to the clinic to get his hand X-rayed, but awkwardly stands there as his credit card is declined, never once offering to pay for the injury that she has caused. Her saviour complex then leads her to buy George some store-bought soups, saying to him, “I don’t know when your last meal was”. If she really thought he was so poor that she didn't know when he'd last eaten, surely a PayPal transfer should be more forthcoming? Maybe it's the cynic in me, but this is probably why rich people stay rich.
In a later episode that's yet to air, we see another demonstration of someone with extreme wealth exploiting the poor, this time with Charlotte. As she's walking through a bookstore, she sees a poet selling his poems for $1. (In NYC in 2023, I doubt a dollar would get you very far, so this also seems out of touch). Her friend Anthony is desperate for someone to rep his bakery Hot Fellas on TV after firing his entire staff, and Charlotte thinks the poet will be perfect. Anthony says he'll pay "anything" for the right (i.e. gorgeous) person, and Charlotte generously offers to pay the poet a grand total of... $300, graciously saying that he doesn't even have to write her 300 poems. Now, for someone who wears Carolina Herrera and Prada while walking her dog, you would think that she would offer more than a few hundred dollars for someone to appear on national television, and pretend to work somewhere they've never actually worked.
It's not just that the characters in AJLT are unwilling to use their wealth to help others (and we should definitely have seen that coming with Charlotte, who famously refused to loan Carrie money to help with her down payment, at first anyway.) It's also that the show takes every opportunity to present those who do not embody its glossy perfection as objects of ridicule. Toilet humour is a recurring theme, used not as a comedic tool for the protagonists (like when Charlotte gets diarrhoea in Mexico in SATC) but as a means to demean those who don't live similar lives of opulence. Jackie, Carrie's podcast co-host, joins her for breakfast and has to run off to the toilet, audibly flatulent and holding his stomach, because he "broke [his] no Hollandaise before noon rule". Gloria Steinem first meets Carrie when walking out of the toilet, where there is a line forming — but not before we hear a prominent flushing sound. Miranda steps in cat poop in a litter box next to her date's bed in her squalid studio apartment. The show's depiction of anyone who isn't uber-wealthy is laden with disdain, and they are often portrayed as laughable, revolting, and ultimately disposable. It becomes clear that this mockery extends beyond individual characters and is embedded in the show's core, cementing its complicity in perpetuating social hierarchies and dismissing those who don't fit its narrow definition of success.
Carrie has always been a bit out of touch, but at least in SATC, it was presented as a quirk. She stores clothes in her oven, has a closet full of absurdly gorgeous designer clothes, and when she pulls out her credit card, it's sometimes maxed out. Her decisions, if a little unhinged, feel at least a bit relatable. But Carrie in AJLT, who is well and truly middle-aged, hasn't grown up at all. She occasionally cosplays being an average middle-class person — learning to poach eggs, moving back into her tiny apartment after Big's death — but it feels artificial and forced, just like her girlish squeals.
When Miranda helps Che move into their apartment, there's a gag about the IKEA couch falling apart. The gag is clearly so good that they repeat it at least two more times. Yet when Che's work falls through, Miranda doesn't even offer to help them.
I get it, sort of. It’s hard to write new characters into a show that’s essentially about four women (three now, really, with Samantha’s conspicuous absence). They’ve introduced two new key characters in Lisa and Seema — African American and Indian-American respectively — but as extremely wealthy characters themselves, we don’t get to see the struggles of being a BIPOC person in America. After all, how much can we relate to Lisa, whose husband is a hedge fund banker, or Seema, with her ostrich Birkin bag that's valued at $28,000 USD?
As we navigate the gilded world of And Just Like That, it becomes painfully evident that the joke is on us. What was once hailed as a groundbreaking and authentic portrayal of women's lives has devolved into a masquerade of wealth, materialism, and a gross disconnection from reality. The characters, trapped in their privileged bubbles, unwittingly serve as a cautionary reminder of how wealth distorts our sense of self and blinds us to the struggles of others. Despite all its attempts at reinvention, AJLT inadvertently exposes the absurdities of our society and the dangerous allure of superficiality. The punchline lies not in the show's attempt to reflect our cultural landscape, but in our collective participation in the charade.