There’s a moment in the third episode of And Just Like That, the new Sex and the City revival, that offers a glimmer of what made the original franchise so iconic. Emboldened after watching the (frankly, terrible) Netflix stand-up special taping of Carrie’s podcast co-host Che (played by Sara Ramirez), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) follows Che to the afterparty, where she comes across them at the bar smoking weed. After Miranda spews some guilty white-lady nonsense all over Che (which has, sadly, become a hallmark of Miranda’s character in the reboot), Che asks Miranda if she would like a hit off her joint to relax. At first, Miranda demurs, but when Che asks if they can shotgun it, she relents.
The scene shifts into slo-mo as Che breathes the smoke into Miranda’s mouth, the sultry outro to Alabama Shakes’ “Hold On” mewling in the background. Miranda’s eyes light up, the camera capturing the frisson of early sexual tension; something within her has shifted slightly. No longer will she settle for going back to eating chia seed-topped fro-yo with her puppyish husband Steve (David Eigenberg), or sit idly by while her teenage son’s girlfriend pads around her kitchen in a T-shirt throwing ageist micro-aggressions in her direction. It’s clear that a twinge of something dormant in her has reawakened, and now that it has, she simply can’t ignore it.
The scene, which appears to be the culmination of decades of LGBTQ fan-fic about the clearly queer-coded Miranda, is a little cringe, in part because Che effectively peer-pressures Miranda into taking a hit off the joint; and in part because the character of Che has been read as a reflection of the writers’ inability to evolve along with the times, signaling wokeness by writing a nonbinary and queer character without actually making them a fully realized individual. (It does not help that Che, who is supposed to be a wildly successful comedian, is not actually very funny.) But it’s also significant in that, for the sequel to a show that broke boundaries surrounding sex, it’s the only actually sexy moment in the entirety of the first four episodes.
What these early installments of the series do offer is a lot of awkward dialogue on race and several mentions of a prominent at-home fitness brand — but, so far, no actual sex. This paucity of pelvis-bumping has been attributed largely to the absence of Samantha, the excessively randy cougar played with aplomb by Kim Cattrall, who bowed out of the reboot due to her chilly relationship with the rest of the cast. But the truth is that while Samantha certainly provided a healthy injection of sensuality into Sex and the City, there was no shortage of relatable, NC-17 storylines featuring the other women as well. It was Charlotte (Kristin Davis), for instance, who famously copped to performing tuchus lingus on Trey, while Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) grappled with the ethics of post-cunnilingus makeouts, and Carrie briefly debated whether to partake in urophilia.
While none of the above three storylines would be considered especially groundbreaking in today’s prestige-TV landscape (on The White Lotus, for instance, an ass-eating scene barely qualified as a footnote in most write-ups of the show), they were highly controversial at the time Sex and the City first aired. Which is why the absence of any sexual content in the show’s early going has been so glaring. While Sex and the City was never so much “about” sex as it was about the female friendships at its center, the show’s refusal to respect traditional sex-on-TV boundaries was so braided in its DNA that it seems odd that And Just Like That would be less horny than the average Folger’s ad.
To an extent, the lack of overt sex on the show makes some sense. And Just Like That is focused on three heterosexual women — two of them mothers of tweens and teens — navigating the vicissitudes of middle age, and as our lives expand to include myriad obligations stacking atop each other like Pringles in a can, it’s true that sex can become less of a priority. As a working mom in my thirties, I spend far less time caring about things like multiple orgasms and eating ass than I do worrying about, say, getting my son out of the house in time for school without either of us breaking down in tears.
Yet the producers of And Just Like That also have a unique opportunity to shatter an entirely new set of boundaries by depicting an experience that’s rarely shown in most media: what it’s actually like for couples in their fifties and sixties to fuck. Though the mechanics of the act are, presumably, the same for older people as for young hots, the sex lives of AARP-eligible people are practically ignored in popular culture, seemingly because such content is not considered marketable by the old men who typically run networks and film studios. But marketability is not a factor for And Just Like That, a sequel to a widely beloved franchise that has a built-in audience and a presumably extensive budget. The show has free rein to take risks — and if there was one thing the original Sex and the City was not, it was risk-averse.
There is some hint that the new series will head in the direction of embracing its NSFW roots a bit more. In the debut episode, there’s a brief scene where Carrie asks Big (Chris Noth) to let her watch him masturbate, though this moment is undercut by the absurdity that two married people who’ve been having intercourse together for twenty-odd years — one of whom, let’s not forget, is a working sex columnist — would never have had a conversation about jacking off before, let alone watched each other do so. (The scene also carries new and much darker weight now that three women have come forward with disturbing sexual assault allegations against Noth, which he has denied.) And with Big out of the picture and a new sassy real-estate broker friend (Sarita Choudhury) in her contacts, it’s likely that Carrie will soon start exploring the over-55 dating scene. (The show has also teased many close-ups of a hunky, grey-bearded podcast producer in Carrie’s orbit, though we know little about this dude thus far, other than that he shares Carrie’s inexplicable hatred of Citibike.)
Even though And Just Like That‘s project of centering the lives of three middle-aged women (albeit white, highly privileged ones) is somewhat subversive in itself, its reluctance to go much further than showing Carrie giggling primly at lame masturbation jokes during a podcast taping makes it not the Sex and the City that fans fell in love with. Let the women of Sex and the City have, well, sex. Ignoring that crucial aspect of its DNA doesn’t do anyone any favors — least of all older women who watch the show and have aged alongside the protagonists. Considering that women are essentially told they become sexually invisible the moment they hit their forties, imagine how powerful it would be for the show to prove otherwise by showing middle-aged women actually having — and even enjoying — sex. If that means including a scene where Miranda negotiates the logistics of strap-on sex with her new paramour, instead of yet another cringeworthy moment where she says something inadvertently racist, so much the better.