Notions of queerness have changed, but gay men still love Carrie and friends for some inexplicable reason
Max has rebooted the popular series Sex and the City, which aired on HBO in the 90s, as a new offering called And Just Like That. It just wrapped up its second season this past Thursday. It’s a hot mess for many reasons, but people are still watching it, meeting its attempts to update its now outdated cultural and political sensibilities with mixed reactions. Despite these missteps, the show still holds an inexplicable appeal.
White gay men were once the secret subversive sauce of Sex and the City. Gay men largely wrote the dialogue. It featured two gay characters–Anthony (Mario Cantone) and Stanford (Willie Garson)as regularly occurring sidekicks. And we often said that the sexually voracious Samantha was a gay man trapped inside a woman’s body. Although the world considered the show feminist–the friendships between the women were its main feature–gay men loved it and often it contained many coded pieces of dialogue that only gay men would get. For instance, the show named one of Carrie’s boyfriends Aiden Shaw, which also happened to the name of a very popular gay porn star at the time.
In the 90s–when Sex and the City aired–this made sense. There wasn’t a lot of queer representation on television so if a gay man wanted to express himself creatively, he often had to use a straight white woman as his mouthpiece. Conversely, gay men don’t always understand women, but they often have the uncanny ability to understand what women want to see, be and consume. And they’re often better at this than other women. That is why so many of us are hairdressers, fashion designers or interior decorators. Behind every fantastic woman is a gay man whispering in her ear, telling her what to do.
So, while there was a lot of sniggering back in the 90s that straight women didn’t actually write Sex and The City , there was something deeply appropriate about the fact that these four unapologetically sexually promiscuous women who drank cocktails at lunch while wearing insane outfits were in fact the brainchild of a bunch of middle aged white gay men. And women loved to see themselves like this. Thus, an aspirational creative brand was born.
Fast forward to the 2020s and this is no longer the case. Today, white gay men have gotten out from behind the white straight women we used to micromanage and are living their own lives. We now consider the white women we used to drag to gay bars with us to be our wingmen to be “in the way” when they enter “queer spaces”. Gay men are no longer oppressed minorities.
It’s not that homophobia has completely disappeared. But we’re now mainstream. We marry and adopt children; the once deadly HIV virus has become a completely manageable condition and a lot of us have plenty of money and we’re everywhere. Where society once considered us scrappy, brave and avant garde, it now sees us as basic. It’s trans people, people of color and non-binary folk who are on everyone’s minds as those we need to champion and protect. It’s also the trans people, people of color and non-binary folk who have replaced gay men as that magic ingredient you toss into a television show make it seem edgy and current.
Last year, the first season of And Just Like That aired to mixed reviews. This new incarnation of Sex and the City had a lot of tasks to accomplish. The first order of business was to make amends for the lack of non-white characters on the original show. Thus, the new cast included two African American women, an Indian-American woman and a Mexican American non binary person. They appeared magically.
Probably anticipating the criticism that would occur if the show portrayed any of these new characters as sidekicks or vital statistics, they immediately received their own story lines and lots of screen time. The effect was admirable but a little jarring. Someone on what we used to call Twitter remarked that it was like SATC had given each character her own support person of color. No one really cared much about these characters and, in the second season, their appearances muted a bit so we could focus on the original four ladies.
The second order of business was to do something about the absence of Samantha, the most sexually adventurous (and arguably the most entertaining) of the original four ladies. Kim Cattrall famously declined to rejoin the cast and the show explained the absence of her character by a move to London and a falling out with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker). For a show about the importance of female friendships, this left an awkward void. The writers patched this up with the addition of Seema Patel (Sarita Choudhury), a successful, hardened but glamorous and successful single Indian realtor of a certain age who becomes instant friends with Carrie.
The thihird order of business: update its approach to queerness. While Samantha (now missing) was a stand-in for gay men, the gay men on the show had to speak for themselves. Unfortunately, Willie Garson, the actor who played Stanford, died and they had to write his character off the show. This elevated Anthony (Mario Cantone) from sidekick into yet another one of these extra characters who had a lot of inorganic screen time. In one bizarre plot development, Anthony decides to bottom after a long dialogue about generational sexual preferences with this new boyfriend that sounds like a mashup of dialogue from a 70s porno and a Judith Butler essay about gender.
Basically, Anthony had a lot of hesitation playing “the female role” in the bedroom. I found this particularly hilarious because–knowing absolutely nothing about Mario Cantone’s sex life–he strikes me as someone who has spent a lot of time in bed ass up and biting a pillow. They also introduced a non-binary character named Che Diaz, a profoundly unfunny stand-up comedian whose lack of charisma and likability (even among non-binary viewers) made them an Internet meme drawing comparisons between them and “Poochie” from The Simpsons. Pairing them off with Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) also angered fans who were fans of Miranda’s husband Steve, who had always been a good match for her.
The final episode of the second season features a highly-anticipated Samantha guest appearance. Anyone with Internet access knew it was coming but no one knew how this cameo would play. It was a bittersweet but strange moment. Samantha calls Carrie from London. She’d been planning a surprise visit, but the airline canceled her flight because of weather. Her scene takes place alone in a limo. Because it was a phone call, neither of the two actresses (said to be feuding) were occupying the same space. Apparently, this is one of the conditions that Kim Cattrall demanded in return for her participation in the episode: that she not have to be in the same room with any of her former castmates. Carrie is moving out of her original apartment and Samantha, realizing the importance of this moment, calls to commemorate the occasion.
Despite the highly artificial nature of this scene, the appearance of Cattrall made a lot of viewers happy. And they renewed the series for a third season, although the final episode of the second season had a distinct “wrapping up” quality as though the producers of the show weren’t counting on this renewal. For some reason people are still enjoying and watching this show. I am still enjoying and watching this show. I wish I could explain what is keeping us all so enthralled after all these years, but I’ve given up.