The following contains mild spoilers about “And Just Like That…”
(CNN)After a successful series and two not-so-great movies (the last coming in 2010), “And Just Like That…” revives “Sex and the City” minus one of its fab four, with the remaining trio entering a new phase of life that brings fresh challenges. The name surely carries plenty of equity, but like the movies, this HBO Max show yields diminishing returns.
A few things shouldn’t be spoiled about the initial episodes, but since Kim Cattrall’s departure is well known, that’s a good place to start for multiple reasons. Setting aside the off-screen drama, the series explains Samantha’s absence by reporting that she’s moved to London, which is the TV equivalent of telling kids that the family pet has gone to live on a farm upstate.
That character’s absence also allows for shaking up the cast’s makeup, adding several women of color (Nicole Ari Parker, Sara Ramirez, Sarita Choudhury, Karen Pittman) as well as issues of race and gender identity, but not, it’s worth noting, class distinctions.
The introduction of greater diversity into their orbit is welcome, and as devised by producer-writer-director Michael Patrick King, those relationships are intended to be awkward.
Yet even allowing for that, there’s an art to writing cringe-inducing scenes, and the show’s approach to them generally feels clunky. Ditto for the complications related to parenting older kids in the case of Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), who basically approximate the cliché of well-intentioned liberals who constantly say the wrong things.
As for Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), her latest professional hurdle involves taking her sex-columnist cred to the world of podcasting, though she doesn’t know quite how to handle her outspoken co-host (“Grey’s Anatomy’s” Ramirez).
Perhaps inevitably, the new characters initially exist to elicit reactions and bring out different sides of the central trio, who — even with their extended circle of family and friends, among them Carrie’s pal Stanford, played by the late Willie Garson — are where the show’s focus lies.
Indeed, a big part of “And Just Like That…’s” appeal involves the audacity to focus on women in their 50s, a demographic notoriously underrepresented in TV’s crush to attract younger audiences. If only the characters didn’t keep announcing their ages, as if to remind viewers, who presumably have aged along with them, that the show has entered middle age.
The 23 years since the original premiered have brought expected life changes, with concerns about parenting supplanting dating, and a touch of self-medication. It also lands on a new venue in streaming service HBO Max, where such a high-profile title is an obvious asset, if less satisfying than its other recent series about a female quartet, “The Sex Lives of College Girls.”
The new series does take some significant creative risks, and the episodes run a bit longer (most north of 40 minutes), reflecting a more dramatic skew.
“We can’t just stay who we were,” Miranda says.
But they sort of can. Because when it comes to “Sex and the City,” the more things change, the more they tend to stay the same. In that sense, “And Just Like That…” is an understandable title but could just as easily be replaced by “And Life Goes On…”
“And Just Like That…” premieres Dec. 9 on HBO Max, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.