Sex & the City Allowed Its Women To Be Messy. I Wish And Just Like That Let Lisa Todd Wexley Do The Same
This story contains spoilers for the season finale of Max series And Just Like That... All through Season 2 of And Just Like That…, Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker) has rejoiced in her work while trying to balance the demands of being a mother and wife. For decades, her needs came second, but in her 50s, she can finally live her own dreams. Then she gets pregnant. She hates the idea of a new baby, and knows from experience her husband (Chris Jackson) will be little to no help. He doesn't counter this claim, and she rejects his vague suggestion that she have an abortion. Instead, L.T.W. eats her pain. "I just need to wrap my head around this new reality," she says before turning over in bed, heartbreak written all over her face. "I always do," she says. "You always do," her husband echoes.
The storyline, which took hold in the penultimate episode of And Just Like That…'s second season, was jarring to watch. This was almost an interesting conversation, but L.T.W.'s story zagged where it should've zigged. Instead of having the abortion she clearly wanted, L.T.W. had a convenient miscarriage and spent And Just Like That…'s season finale racked with guilt. It was an alarming backslide, especially considering Sex and the City's "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda" episode addressed abortion with much more frank, progressive honesty in 2001 than its modern-day equivalent did in 2023. The episode was a disappointing development in an otherwise promising season — a surprisingly retrograde move for a show that's clearly trying to be timely. I couldn't help but wonder what was holding And Just Like That…back from reaching its full potential.
Sex and the City was groundbreaking. For all its flaws — including the occasional, tragically of-its-time crimes against trans people, Black people, and bisexual people, to name a few — the original Sex and the City changed the game when it premiered in 1998. When its revival premiered on HBO Max (now just Max) in 2021, it tried very, very hard to do the same. Sometimes, this was through aggressively socially-aware dialogue, but its most meaningful transformation was the addition of four major cast members who were not white women.
Sex and the City is most memorable for its characters. It always had the broad humor, slapstick sexual scenarios, and out-of-control puns that we see echoes of in And Just Like That…. At its core, though, Sex and the City told the heartrending, emotionally grounded stories of four women navigating sexual liberation and desire in rapidly-changing times. It's what makes the show endlessly rewatchable. Together, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kirstin Davis), Samantha (Kim Catrall), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) learned about anal sex, sex toys, sexually fluid relationships, and so, so, so much more. They talked about men, but also about their breast cancer, their infertility, and their abortions. They didn't always have to agree. In fact, these four women were always deeply, rivetingly messy.
L.T.W., Nya (Karen Pittman), Seema (Sarita Choudhury), and Che (Sara Ramirez) literally and figuratively add more color to the Sex and the City universe. And there's mess, certainly — especially with Che. There's also culturally relevant conversations about lifelong singleness (Seema), life after divorce (Nya), and the pit in your stomach that forms when you're endlessly misgendered (Che). And Just Like That's… second season has been much more effective than its first, in part because more of these new characters have had room to breathe.
L.T.W., especially, has felt as if she's always been part of the "ladies who brunch." In the season two premiere, L.T.W. dons a wild headpiece and struts down New York streets in custom Valentino. The image felt just as iconic as any moment from the original show. In "Chapter Three," Parker gets to show off her comedic chops when L.T.W. and Charlotte land on a "MILF list" at their kids' school; in "Bomb Cyclone," she nailed Sex and the City's trademark combo platter of camp and pathos when she bonds with an elder Black woman while putting on her wig in a public bathroom.
In its second season, And Just Like That… felt like it was finding its footing, and that was in part because the writers gave the show's new additions more to do and more to feel. Through L.T.W. and a parallel back-to-work story following Charlotte, a major conversation of the season centered on women in their 50s reconnecting with themselves after decades in service to husbands and kids. Theirs are stories of shifting responsibilities: husbands asked to finally step up, and wives prioritizing their own joy and fulfillment. These are interesting and timely arcs, and both Parker and Davis have played them with humor and grace.
These are the storylines And Just Like That… is built for. Sex and the City focused on a friend group in their 30s striving to nail down stable futures — in romance, mostly, but also in work, housing, and family. They found their version of those futures, and built those lives. Now And Just Like That… gets to carry the baton, following a friend group mostly in their 50s as they strive to define what happiness looks like when you've achieved the goals of your younger self and start craving more.
L.T.W.'s pregnancy story fit into that perfectly — at least, it almost did. L.T.W. burned the candle at both ends all season, determined to crush her documentary work and tell the stories of unsung Black women. "Goddamnit!" she cries when she tells Charlotte she's pregnant. "I thought it was finally my time." Her biggest fear is sliding back into unsung herself, lost to the domestic life she's outgrown.
Twenty-two years ago, in "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda," there was no real debate about abortion. Though Charlotte pitches a fit when Miranda tells her friends she's planning to have one, it's very clearly caused by the pain of her own infertility issues, not her political views. Charlotte still shows up for Miranda at the end of the episode, assuming she's gone through with it. And through Miranda didn't, the episode makes clear that abortion is a practical, morally-neutral act —a choice that Carrie's made once, and Samantha twice.
And Just Like That… should take a few lessons from its predecessor, though: Always push the boundaries, and never leave a character behind.
It wouldn't even have been groundbreaking for And Just Like That… to portray L.T.W. having an abortion. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend depicted a married working mother getting one back in 2016. Grey's Anatomy showed Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) making the decision to never have kids despite her husband's wishes in 2011. In 2015, Scandal’s Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) approached her decision to have an abortion — and actually showed it — in a frank, clinical way that was revolutionary to see on network TV. This is 2023; abortion rights are no longer a hidden, whisper-network issue. In fact there's an active war raging against them. So why didn't they even let L.T.W. say the word?
L.T.W. woulda, coulda, and shoulda had an abortion. Not every person with a uterus needs to believe abortion is the right decision for them. But with L.T.W.'s arc, And Just Like That… set up the poignant story of a woman at a crossroads of choice in life. Then they trapped her back in that domestic sphere, acting helpless against it. She was freed not by her own choices, but by a random middle-of-the-night miscarriage.
In Charlotte's story, she gets to confront her own husband about the labor that's automatically fallen on her as a wife and mother. She demands he step it up and do the work so that she can flourish in her professional life. In the episode prior, L.T.W. accused her own husband of essentially the same thing — but with no such call to action. He doesn't pretend he'll step up, and she's left crying over the guilt she felt for not wanting a new baby. She wonders aloud if she "wished this baby away," without unpacking the deeply unfair pressures that led to her not wanting one in the first place.
Miscarriages have long been a convenient stand-in for abortions on TV. Though Cristina Yang eventually had an abortion on Grey's Anatomy in Season 8, the show's second season depicted her plan to get one — a plan that was interrupted when the pregnancy turned out to be ectopic. Aughts teen series South Of Nowhere shows not one but two separate stories where teens get accidentally pregnant and end up miscarrying instead of aborting. The Bold Type showed a character's disinterest in having kids by getting her pregnant and then miscarrying. There's even a TV Tropes page on “convenient miscarriages.” In real life, miscarriages are often heartbreaking instead of convenient, but they've long been used as a way to get TV characters out of making tough, potentially divisive decisions.
When do we get to grow out of that?
This turn for L.T.W.'s story felt like a betrayal of the original Sex and the City — and of a new Black woman character And Just Like That… has only just started to flesh out. Her character's race and spirituality were even used as subtle excuses for not taking the story where it was begging to go.
And Just Like That… improved exponentially between seasons 1 and 2, and it still has the chance to grow now that it has been renewed for season 3. Much as its characters have moved on from dreaming of the same things they did in their 30s, And Just Like That… doesn't even have to strive to be Sex and the City. This is a new show, with new characters, at new ages, in a new time. And Just Like That… should take a few lessons from its predecessor, though: Always push the boundaries, and never leave a character behind.