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It's still a haute mess, but I can't resist 'And Just Like That...'

Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Carrie (Parker), and Anthony (Mario Cantone).
Craig Blankenhorn
/
Max
Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Carrie (Parker), and Anthony (Mario Cantone).

Editor's Note: Readers should know this particular essay uses slang offensive to some readers.

Person A: So, are you watching And Just Like That... ?

Person B: Oh my god, yes!

[A pause. A sheepish grin. And then, a lowering of their voice as if they're revealing a deep, dark secret]

But it's ... not great, right???

Person A: Dude, I know! I'm cringing through every episode, but I just can't stop watching it. It's pretty much the only thing that's appointment TV for me every week.

Person B: Same! It's kind of addicting. I need to know what's happening, even if I can't deal with how unserious it all is. Carrie and Aidan? Again???

Person A: Again! Ughhhh!!!

Denial

I've experienced a variation on this interaction no less than four different times this summer, as the Season 2 run of And Just Like That..., the Sex and the City spin-off, has unfolded. My sample size is admittedly tiny, but an accumulation of online chatter and other critics' reviews has convinced me, rightly or wrongly, that this sentiment is hardly unusual among SATC fans. We're all in this cringe-watch boat together, or at least it's nice to believe that we are.

This was inevitable. For all the wonkiness of the first season – the awkward addition of the Diversity Girlfriends, the Che and Big and Samantha of it all – viewers couldn't stop talking about AJLT. (Recall, if you will, when Peloton chimed in to do image control.) Plenty of us were wary of the ladies' return, especially after those dreadfully disappointing movies, but it didn't matter then and it doesn't matter now. Watching the series isn't a passive experience; it begs to be viewed with as little distraction from the phone screen or household chores as possible, so that one can gossip rabidly afterward about Aidan's ridiculous jacket or bemoan how Carrie's full conversion into the one percent makes her far less interesting.

And so mid-life Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte are here to stay, and Season 3 is officially a go.

Honestly? I say bring it on. I'm all-in now, against my better judgment. Or rather, I'm finally willing to admit to myself that I've always been all-in, as someone who's watched all 21 episodes of this show thus far, and on a weekly basis no less, even as I've hemmed and hawed and rolled my eyes harder than Miranda ever did at Steve. I've succumbed to this atonement-seeking nostalgia trip because the heart wants what it wants, I guess.

Acceptance

Lisa (Ari Nicole Parker) and Herbert (Christopher Jackson) get their daughter Gabrielle (Ellie Reine) ready.
Craig Blankenhorn / Max
/
Max
Lisa (Ari Nicole Parker) and Herbert (Christopher Jackson) get their daughter Gabrielle (Ellie Reine) ready.

Season 2 proved the show's commitment to cringe and nonsense. Carrie has the nerve, after all those years of stress she put Miranda through, to question whether she ever really loved Big. (Do we think J. Lo has wondered the same about Marc Anthony or A-Rod now that she's back with Ben?) Charlotte spends an episode trying to fit into a dress for her first day back in the workforce, and only finds self-acceptance with her own body when she meets a bigger and confident colleague. Samantha's much-hyped cameo ... is a much-hyped cameo.

There are also far too many characters and storylines among the newest additions to the franchise to invest in any of them too deeply. Seema (Sarita Choudhury), Carrie's friend/real estate agent, remains the most naturally embedded and well-written of the bunch. But then, of course, there's Che (Sara Ramirez), who's much-too-much but isn't going anywhere, because – in the oddest pairing this season – Che and Carrie inexplicably remain friends even after their breakup with Miranda.

Meanwhile, Nya Miranda's professor-turned-friend-turned-roommate, is largely sidelined this season (Karen Pittman, the actress who plays her, was also shooting The Morning Show), and when she is on screen, she's almost always spiraling over her ex, either directly or indirectly. And as the show's "Lean In" representative, Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker) is trying to juggle motherhood while editing a docuseries from her immaculate walk-in closet/film studio, though so many of her thematic beats overlap with Charlotte's as to feel redundant. (To call her character merely the "Black analog of Charlotte" would be reductive and not entirely accurate, though it does come across that way sometimes.)

In the Season 2 finale of <em>And Just Like That...</em>, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker, center) and friends gather for the "last supper" in her longtime apartment.
Craig Blankenhorn / Max
/
Max
In the Season 2 finale of And Just Like That..., Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker, center) and friends gather for the "last supper" in her longtime apartment.

And yet – something has kept me glued to this haute mess. It was "Alive!", the fourth episode of Season 2, where I learned to stop fretting and love cringe-watching AJLT. Not coincidentally, this is also the first episode of the series that plays as though it emerged directly from the heyday of its predecessor, with silly but relatable sex scenarios (Sexnarios? Maybe I should write for AJLT!), NSFW puns and barbs, and the return of familiar characters.

Carrie's former Vogue boss Enid Fricke (Candice Bergen) pops up again to ask if she'd be willing to contribute to a new startup newsletter for senior women, which sets Carrie off into an existential crisis about being perceived as a senior woman. Later, at a fundraising event for the startup, Carrie is relieved to learn Enid actually wants her to contribute as a donor, not a writer; the shopaholic who once turned to her friends for help paying rent seems to still be adjusting to her new role as an uber-wealthy widowed socialite. But the conundrum cleverly resurfaces a lot of the crackling tension that existed between the women in the original series, with mutual admiration butting up against their own insecurities and baggage.

When Enid happens to recognize a photo of her boyfriend's penis on Carrie's phone – Bitsy Von Muffling (Julie Halston), another old acquaintance, has been trying to set Carrie up with this man, unsolicited – Enid gets in a great, mortifying line: "Carrie, are you schtupping my boyfriend?!" It's as if all is right again in the SATC universe.

Another storyline in this episode involves Charlotte, who freaks out when she learns Harry has been faking orgasms for some time now. Naturally, she discusses the issue with her pals over brunch, with Anthony (Mario Cantone) standing in for the notably absent Samantha as the sassy, vulgar commentator. Miranda admits she'd love to not have to deal with "jizz." Carrie, ever the prude-iest of sex columnists, confesses she's "never given [jizz] any thought" until "this moment." (How???) Anthony proudly proclaims he's never dealt with this problem: "I'm like a milking machine, if you must know." Charlotte, for her part, says she's "always been a fan" of ejaculation and compares it to "confetti at a parade." (Oh, Charlotte.) The banter is classic SATC, right up there with Samantha's "funky spunk" dilemma – cheeky, groan-worthy, and pure fun.

This is when AJLT is at its best, and over all, Season 2 leaned a bit more into the ups and downs of dating and sex (and aging while doing both) than Season 1. Is it enough to counterbalance – *gestures around wildly* – everything else? My head and every critic's impulse within my body says no. But again, my heart, and that part of me that actually extracts some sort of sick pleasure from shaking my head in disbelief every few minutes, can't help it.

Embrace

Aidan (John Corbett) returned in Season 2, with a lot of baggage.
Craig Blankenhorn / Max
/
Max
Aidan (John Corbett) returned in Season 2, with a lot of baggage.

Cringe-watch feels like the best summation of what it's been like to view the misadventures of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Co. this season. To call it a hate-watch would feel too harsh; that's best reserved for self-serious dreck like The Idol, or really anything Sam Levinson touches. No – while being embarrassing, it still manages to be endearing, to provide comfort in the assuredness that these characters are often going to act out of character for reasons that don't make sense, and that Carrie is always gonna Carrie, hard, no matter how rich she is. I don't hate AJLT, I'm just perplexed by its audacity to exist.

In the Season 2 finale, at her dramatic Michelin chef-prepared "last supper" in that signature Upper East Side brownstone, Carrie proclaims she's letting go of "expectations" in this stage of life, "of assuming things will go the way we think they should." Of course, she's talking about Big's death, and Aidan, who, at the end of this episode, will ask Carrie to wait for him for five years while he tends to his sons' needs in Virginia. But this is also an easy metaphor for us cringe-watchers, who have managed to let go of any expectations that AJLT will show up the way we think it should, whatever that is. We're just here for the mess.

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Aisha Harris
Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.