Sex and the City is an iconic series, one of the few shows that has endured in a culture that rewards little and discards most. Besides creating the sort of memorable catch phrases that devoted viewers voice time and time again, Sex and the City was a trailblazer in myriad other ways: For eight seasons, we watched four women, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) as they gallivanted across New York City, having as much sex as they’d like without apologies, setting fashion trends, and giving viewers, young and old, a renewed love for—or a dream of one day moving to—the city. When the series premiered in 1999, HBO treated it as an integral part of the network’s push to create and lead prestige television without being as intensely male-focused as the rest of its slate, which included Oz and The Sopranos. In the two decades since, few shows have lived up to the obsession and hype surrounding the show.
When Sex and the City ended in 2004 with a two-part finale, most viewers were sure that they’d see the ladies in action again. Their dreams were fulfilled when Sex and the City: The Movie hit theaters in 2008, giving devoted fans another chance to revisit the show and embroiling us in more Mr. Big (Bidge Mumin) and Carrie drama. It wasn’t enough. We were then treated to Sex and the City 2 in 2010, which was widely panned for being Islamophobic and generally out of touch. By that time, culture was moving forward: Kerry Washington had broken barriers as the first Black woman since 1974 to lead a prime-time television drama and sex onscreen became far less taboo than it had been. Though the second film still generated more than $290 million at the worldwide box office, it didn’t resonate as much as its predecessor or the show itself. Our standards were evolving, and Sex and the City no longer met them.
Now, in 2021, after culture has again shifted, HBO Max is reviving Sex and the City—without Cattrall reprising her role as Samantha. (Perhaps she recognizes that this will be a trainwreck.) Sex and the City had its time. We couldn’t help but wonder: Is it possible to ruin an iconic show by simply not letting it go? That’s the question this roundtable, which includes SATC enthusiasts Morgan Jerkins, senior editor at Zora; Nneka M. Okona, author of the forthcoming book Self-Care for Grief: 100 Practices for Healing During Times of Loss; and Bitch’s editor-in-chief Evette Dionne are coming together to answer.
What was your initial reaction to the announcement that HBO Max is rebooting Sex and the City?
Morgan Jerkins: One of my close friends sent me the teaser trailer and, I’ll be honest, I thought it was a joke at first. I [knew] the SATC cast were in talks but I didn’t think anything would come of it. So I’ll say that I was shocked, surprised, and confused.
Evette Dionne: I thought it was a joke at first. There are always rumors about Sex and the City being adapted into another film—which I always roll my eyes about—but I never would’ve expected that HBO Max would attempt to revive the actual show. I was stunned by the news. Then, I was saddened by it because there are so many projects created by people from marginalized communities who could use HBO Max’s resources to birth something new. I love seeing Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha onscreen, but eight seasons and two movies is more than enough.
Nneka M. Okona: I hate to sound like an echo chamber here, but when I first saw folks sharing the tweet about the reboot I thought maybe I had misread what I saw. I never considered that there was anything left to be said or done by the Sex and the City cast following all the seasons of the shows and the two movies. I’m honestly wondering what else needs to be revisited. Sometimes it’s better to let a good thing rest.
What first drew you to the show? What was it about the characters and the plotlines that hooked you?
MJ: I will give any show a chance where the main protagonist is a writer. I also started watching it at a time when I just moved to New York and I was secretly (but not so secretly) looking for love while trying to grow my career.
ED: I started watching Sex and the City when I was a child. I was way too young to be watching that show, so my mom would cover my eyes and I would plug my ears during sex scenes. I really didn’t understand the full grasp of the show or its cultural impact until I was much older. When I rewatched the show as an adult and an aspiring journalist, it hooked me because these were four women, one of whom is a writer, navigating New York City, my hometown, without shame or apology. I watched the first eight seasons and then rewatched the show over and over again. It’s still one of my absolute favorite shows.
NMO: I was super late to Sex and the City fandom it seems. I started watching it when I was 20, the summer before I started my senior year of college, which was three years after the show officially ended. Before then, I’d never watched an episode and honestly had never heard anyone really talk about it. Like every other writer, the allure of New York City and of having this fabulous writing career while navigating dating as a woman appealed to me. I saw much of myself in Carrie, from her writely moments to her stumbles through her dating life.
When Sex and the City first premiered in 1998, it was heralded as “revolutionary” because of the way it depicted single women navigating sex and relationships. Does it still hold up? What were some of the show’s moments that didn’t age well?
MJ: It has aged well with regards to the heart to heart conversations amongst the girls. It hasn’t aged with regards to the banter regarding LGBTQ people and Black people. The trans jokes in the “Cock-a-Doodle-Do” were especially offensive.
ED: Whew, Sex and the City has not aged well—at all. There are some elements that are timeless, like Carrie rocking Manolos and the girls drinking cosmopolitans, but there are many elements that serve as a time capsule for the ’90s. Samantha fetishized a Black man, leading to a fight with his sister in the club. That could never happen now. Carrie was biphobic and often slut-shamed Samantha. Charlotte was classist. None of that could fly now and for good reason: We have more options now, so we don’t have to overlook any single show’s flaws.
NMO: Evette has pretty much vocalized most of my sentiments in regards to the fetishization of Black women, biphobia, classism, etc. In rewatching Sex and the City recently, I was struck by how much really didn’t resonate anymore. I was much younger when I first watched it and my priorities were different back then. Now in my mid 30s and at the same age the women are in the show, it’s odd to look at how obsessive they are all about dating and men in a way that I am not. Maybe it’s a generational shift but it seems like women of my age still in general value partnerships—but not to the point where they sacrifice living a life and doing what makes them happy holistically. I can’t say that’s really reflected on the show, though I still enjoy watching because it makes me think so much about my values and what I believe.
Kim Cattrall will not be returning to the revival for a number of reasons. Do you have theories about how the show will handle Samantha’s absence? In your ideal world, how would the show explain the loss of Samantha?
MJ: I have no idea. I hope they don’t say that her cancer returned and she passed away because I think that’s just lazy. I think perhaps that Samantha, now being the only unmarried one, realizes that she can’t relate to her married New Yorker girlfriends anymore and she’s found a more suitable group for her in Los Angeles. No harm no foul—just a natural growing apart.
ED: Kim Cattrall deciding not to return for the revival broke my little heart. Samantha is the show. She brings so much to the show—humor, pizazz, a sheer unwillingness to apologize for being herself. There is no show without Samantha, or at least a show worth watching. I have no idea how the show will handle Samantha’s absence, but I agree: I really hope they don’t kill her off. That would leave no avenue for her to return in the future, which would be crushing to say the least.
NMO: I can’t imagine that whichever way in which they decide to deal with the Samantha plot line will be respectful or done with care, considering that the reason Cattrall isn’t returning is because she felt the other cast members neglected to give her either of those things. Whatever way they do choose to deal with it, I hope they don’t belabor her absence and just state it outright once.
When it comes to Sex and the City, sometimes you really need to let a good thing rest.
Is it even possible to have a Sex and the City revival without Samantha? What will the show lose by not having Cattrall involved?
MJ: It’s possible to keep the show rolling but I am worried that now the revival would be uneven or Samantha’s presence will hang as a specter over the entire story. The show loses her banter and honestly, her friendship. She was the best girlfriend out of them all.
ED: Yes, it’s possible to have a revival without Samantha. Though she’s essential to the show and is its most interesting character, the show is also bigger than her. Of course, they will lose a whole lot: Samantha is hilarious and brings a lot of character to the show, leveling out some of the shallowness, but it can exist without her.
NMO: Essentially, without Samantha it becomes an entire different show entirely. Which I guess is kind of the point? Honestly, I don’t see this reboot lasting beyond a couple of seasons if that. Like I already said, sometimes you really need to let a good thing rest.
If you could update this show for our current time, what would you like to see from Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda? These women are now in their 50s. How can the show address aging with tact and without being patronizing?
MJ: I’d like to see Charlotte have a life or interests outside of her life as a wife and mother, even though those two roles seemed to be her biggest dreams. I’d like to see Miranda become radicalized by the Trump administration and perhaps partner with the ACLU to help with civil rights cases. I’d like for Carrie broaden her view of sex and for her columns to spend less time questioning and more time answering.
But I’ll tell you this: seeing three extremely well-off white women have brunch every weekend is a bit too insular in 2021. The writers have to push the needle because their audience is going to demand more.
ED: There are so few shows that follow women in their 50s, so there’s a lot of interesting terrain that Sex and the City could cover, including navigating menopause, balancing the demands of childrearing and aging parents, and figuring out how Carrie’s writing evolves now that all of her closest friends are married. One of the qualms I had with Emily in Paris is that it sidelined Emily’s boss because she became unexpectedly pregnant. It would be so much more interesting to follow a single mother in her 40s in Paris—or women in their 50s in New York—than it is to follow women in their 20s and early 30s. Those experiences are important to capture onscreen, but we’ve had so many shows follow that already. Sex and the City can differentiate itself by being open and honest about what it’s like to be a woman in her 50s in a world that values and prioritizes youth.
NMO: Other than thoughtfully navigating aging for partnered women, I’d love to see more nuanced self-inquiry from each of the characters. One of my main issues with Sex and the City as I rewatched was that there really seemed to be a lack of depth and in many cases a lack of real growth. I think womanhood is as much about changing as it is about growing to become a truer version of oneself. I’d also love to see the women interact with more Black women and women of color outside of their very white circle in a way that is not patronizing but authentic and intimate. I’d like to see a show that is less divorced from the vapidity that is often intrinsic to white women and how they live their lives.
Is there any specific character—protagonists or on the periphery—who you are excited to revisit?
MJ: I’d love to see how Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone) are going with their marriage. Aidan (John Corbett) better not show up in this. Keep that door closed.
ED: If Aidan pops up in this revival, I will literally scream. He’s my favorite man on the show, by far, but I also am interested in following Stanford and Anthony. Plus, we need all the deets about Steve (David Eigenberg) and Miranda’s marriage.
NMO: I don’t want to see Aidan at all. I’ve always felt like he was a boring man and boring men don’t need to get screen time. I’m really interested to see how Miranda and Steve’s marriage is progressing, too, since they reconnected after their separation. Has Miranda become a more open and present partner? Has Steve been able to stand up more for himself? Also what is Carrie writing now?
Is there anything the show can do to satiate the needs of its aging audience and attract new audiences?
MJ: Speak to the political moment. Include a Blacker and Browner New York even if they aren’t in the main cast. That visual landscape matters. Don’t be out of touch.
ED: I agree, Morgan. New York City needs to look like New York City—Blacker, Browner, and not simply as the help. Can the show introduce new characters who can round out the core cast? That would be interesting.
NMO: I touched on there being Black and brown folk in the show already but I’d have to agree with that being vital. I also think the show needs to show real growth: Good television grows with its audience. The original lovers of the show are much older now and likely have different life priorities and things they’re juggling. It needs to be real in a way that it probably wasn’t ever before.
Say the show is released and it’s a disappointment. In your opinion, what will have sunk it?
MJ: Having the women do nothing but eat brunch and talk about their men problems. That ship has sailed.
ED: Doing too much. Instead, stick to the basics. Don’t lose sight of what makes Sex and the City special, but also expand the universe to be more inclusive. Don’t overly course correct.
NMO: Literally the same thing that made the second movie stink: a wandering plot, folk reappearing that should’ve stayed gone (bye, Aidan), anti-climatic episode endings. There’s so much that can be done to keep this show interesting and fresh. I hope the writers and producers are truly committed to doing so.