According to “And Just Like That…,” the tepidly received follow-up to HBO’s cultural touchstone “Sex and the City,” being in your 50s means death, hip surgery and a sexless marriage. And maybe it’s time to erase those last 15 years with a few plastic surgery procedures?
It seems 55 is suddenly the new 70, at least in the make believe world of the HBO Max series. Lovable Steve’s (David Eigenberg) only defining characteristic now is that he’s going deaf and can’t find his hearing aids, prompting comparisons to cranky Grandpa Simpson. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is still fashionable, but she’s also a widow with a bad hip, and the one telling her neighbors not to be so loud instead of being the party girl herself. She is still grieving, of course, but are she and the other characters just slogging through a checklist of middle-age crises?
Jennifer Armstrong, the author of the bestseller “Sex and the City and Us,” told TheWrap, “It feels like [the writers] Googled ‘life over 50’ and then put in all the things they found.” She’s not alone.
Articles in Cosmopolitan, The New York Times and other outlets lament how the characters are saddled with storylines that might have been lifted from, say, “Matlock” or “Murder, She Wrote,” while The Daily Beast noted, “The characters in ‘And Just Like That…’ are far more obsessive about aging than the ‘Golden Girls’ ever were.”
“It feels like they’re even older than 55,” says Armstrong of the “Sex and the City” squad. “Can we distinguish between 50s and 70s?” She points out that the women on beloved ’80s sitcom “The Golden Girls,” half of whom were supposed to be in their 50s when the show began, seemed to lead much happier lives, as do the 80-something leads of “Grace and Frankie,” Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.
Before the 10-episode “And Just Like That…” debuted in December, women of a certain age, including model Paulina Porizkova, were celebrating that a TV series would portray women over 50 in a positive light, allowing them to still be fabulous, fashionable and fun.
Porizkova hailed Parker on Instagram for letting her gray hair show. “I’ve been seeing photos of Sarah Jessica Parker in the media, and every time I think, ‘oh thank you thank you!’ Someone who is my age, who looks like me… Representation! She makes me feel like I’m not a freak for aging — because fashionable, beautiful, stylish her — is doing it too. And she looks amazing.”
Armstrong was also thrilled about the return, giving the first four episodes a positive review on TheWrap, but her enthusiasm has cooled as the finale looms. “I was actually really forgiving of it at first because I was so happy to see women in their 50s on television,” she says of painful gaffes like lawyer-turned-alcoholic-student Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) being so concerned with saying the right thing to her Black female professor Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman) in the first episode that she actually says all the wrong things.
The characters seem ill at ease in 2022: Saucy sex columnist Carrie is now too squeamish to talk about masturbation on her boss’s podcast, while Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is flummoxed when her youngest daughter Rose changes her name to Rock and browbeats her husband Harry (Evan Handler) into dropping the names of Black authors at a dinner party where they are the only white couple so as to appear a little less “vanilla.”
“There’s this overall feeling, as if they haven’t been here with the rest of us, like they were cryogenically frozen and they don’t know what’s going on,” Armstrong said of their reappearance more than 17 years after the “Sex and the City” finale.
Sociologist and pop culture expert Nancy Wang Yuen agreed, telling TheWrap, “They’ve time traveled from that era [of the original series] to the 2020s and now they’re atoning for past sins.”
OK, so Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte are going through some things, but where is the fun? Where are the laughs? Does middle age have to be this wretched?
When Carrie goes on her first date as a widow with a similarly nervous widower, the night ends with the two of them puking on the sidewalk after too many drinks. “That’s the only time I laughed out loud the whole series,” Yuen said. “It was ridiculous, but it definitely felt better than all the heavy themes.”
The now infamous scene where Carrie dressed in Indian garb to spend Diwali with her new realtor and BFF Seema (Sarita Choudhury), also got a chuckle. “I know it wasn’t meant to be a joke, but she looked like Mike Myers in ‘The Love Guru,”‘ Yuen laughed.
“Isn’t anyone having fun anymore in their 50s?” Yuen asked.
Also absent from the show, apart from a sense of humor, is the sense of contentment that often comes as women grow older and stop caring what other people think.
“I think that as someone who is closer to 50 than 20, I actually am happier than I was in my 20s and 30s. I feel like as I age, I’m happier,” said Yuen.
“It can be great to get older,” added Armstrong. “Where is that feeling of ‘I know myself better, I know what I want, I know what I don’t want?'”
“I keep watching because I just want something lighter about women over 45,” said Yuen. “Hopefully [the rest of the series] is not all sadness. I’m still watching, and hoping and waiting for the fun.”