In the late '90s, when Sarah Jessica Parker walked through New York in a pink tulle skirt for the opening credits of Sex and The City – a scene that has been permanently seared into many a millennial brain – she could have never imagined that children who were in nappies at the time would be recreating that very scene on TikTok 22 years later.
The iconic HBO TV series is often considered to be a millennial phenomenon; there’s no denying the way it has impacted women over 30 significantly. The show has helped to define how millennial women dress, date and view themselves. But now, with the much-anticipated reboot And Just Like That out this week, Gen Z is also being given the chance to discover the well-loved characters in real time. But for a lot of them, this is no introduction. Despite being born in the late '90s and early '00s, so many have discovered the show and found a strong connection with it, finding out exactly why their millennial counterparts love it so much.
And Just Like That sees Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte now in their 50s and still living in New York City, navigating friendship and dating issues much like they did in the original series. Coming after two terrible film sequels, many would argue that the reboot doesn’t have much to live up to. But for the franchise’s Gen Z fans, this is the first time they’ve been old enough to experience the show as new episodes are released.
Most women who are now in their early 20s discovered Carrie Bradshaw and her friends when they were teenagers and, for the most part, it was via the 2008 and 2010 films. “I watched the films when I was 13 and I didn’t get the hype so I didn’t watch the series,” says Katie, a PhD student who is now 23 years old. “The second film was incredibly culturally insensitive. It’s not enjoyable and it’s in poor taste.”
Longtime Sex and The City fans are probably cringing at the thought of anyone discovering these characters and their stories via their cinematic portrayals. Watching the film without any prior understanding of the characters and their stories makes some of the decisions made by the protagonists seem unfathomable (Mr Big actually comes off even worse without the series providing him with some sort of emotional substance). But Katie was barely a toddler when Carrie first met Big in 1998 and she hadn’t even reached her terrible twos when the couple fell in a lake together in Season 3 (the moment when many Big haters began to see his appeal, if only for a moment).
However, around six years after watching the films for the first time, at the age of 19, Katie came across the series by chance and immediately became obsessed. “I’d never heard such interesting conversations on TV about the nuances of dating and ethics and sex which are all explored through this critical but interesting feminist lens,” she says.
Katie might have been watching Sex and The City in the age of Hinge, which looks nothing like the spontaneous dating lives Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte had, but she found it to be more relatable than any of the other TV shows she was watching in the late 2010s. Freelance journalist Bella, 22, had a similar experience when she first watched the series at the age of 16: “I found it so outrageous and hilarious; I’d never seen such frank and open discussions about sex and relationships.”
For Gen Z’s Sex and The City devotees, some of the parts of the show that appear dated are actually what make it so enjoyable. While most series today are designed to be watched in order, SATC episodes each tell their own story in that classic sitcom way. “I thought about episodes of Sex and The City like a box of chocolates that I could pick at and not follow in a particular order,” says Bella. Natalia, a 23-year-old cafe manager, agrees: “Each episode examines a different topic but they still feel easy to watch – I don’t think any other show has done that quite as well.”
Of course, the show was created during a completely different time, politically and culturally, and this is apparent when rewatching it in 2021. “I remember finding the episode about Samantha and the transgender people so uncomfortable,” Natalia says, referencing Episode 3, Season 9, when Samantha uses derogatory language towards a group of trans sex workers, annoyed that they still live in the neighbourhood she’s trying to gentrify. She's not alone; each of these Gen Z Sex and The City fans reference this moment as the one that made them most uncomfortable with the series, as well as the lack of diversity in the series and the tokenistic “gay best friends”.
The show also had a body image issue – although, in fairness, pretty much all media created in the '90s had a body image issue – which feels uncomfortable to watch for a generation that is so much more body positive. Bella references the discussion around Samantha’s ‘muffintop’ in the film as particularly concerning. “Her whole friendship group is shocked and disgusted by it as if she’s having a breakdown,” she says. And if Big and Carrie’s relationship seemed problematic in the early 2000s, it’s pretty repulsive now – “the dynamic between Carrie and Big was borderline emotionally abusive," Katie says.
Terrible writing when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community aside, one thing Gen Z do seem to like about Sex and The City is Samantha, the only character out of the four central women who won’t be returning for the reboot. The tag #samanthajones has over 154 million views on TikTok, with many people turning some of her iconic feminist quotes into sounds. “I think the way Samantha embraces her sexuality and pansexuality is incredibly done,” Katie says, adding that, “her no-nonsense approach in dealing with men who didn’t fit her values was really interesting.” Bella agrees saying, “I’d love to have a friend like Samantha.”
So how much will the franchise struggle as it returns without the character who was by far the most ahead of her time when it came to feminism, sex and relationships? Gen Z’s favourite TV shows like Euphoria and Sex Education offer such complex discussions on these topics – whether or not And Just Like That can engage with these while still maintaining it’s sitcom format is questionable.
“I think the show was quite predictable and it would be great if the reboot offered more surprising plotlines,” says Natalia. In order to please Gen Z, the franchise must prioritise diversity both in its casting and its storylines, which so far, it seems like it might, with Black actors Nicole Ari Parker and Karen Pittman part of the cast, along with Mexican and non-binary star Sara Ramírez.
A central character in the series is the city itself. “I think Sex and The City is really representative of the '90s and early 2000s and it captures a moment of New York that is really different now. I’m not sure how they’re going to capture the energy of the city given that the world has changed so much,” Bella says. However Katie feels slightly more optimistic: “I’m excited to see how they address the way in which dating has evolved since the show and even the movies with the introduction of dating apps,” she says, adding that she’s interested to see if they’re able to use relevant terminology and reflect the way dating is now. “I want to see Carrie experience the talking stage and how ambiguous that can be with the consumability of dating apps,” she says.
One thing these 20-somethings all agree on is that they’re excited to see older women talking about sex, which they rarely witness even in the most up-to-date TV they watch. Although don’t expect them to consume these discussions uncritically – Gen Z folks are not about to identify themselves with these women in the way millennials so often did. Bella says that she’s never related to any one of the characters specifically, nor would she want to: “I’d like to think that I’ve taken some characteristics from each of the characters and moulded them into a slightly more likeable person… who will hopefully have better luck with relationships.”
And Just Like That airs in the UK today on Sky Comedy and NOW