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And Just Like That… Are the 50s the New 20s?

Warning: Major spoilers ahead

New York’s iconic gal group–Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, but minus Samantha–have returned in their 50s and some people are not happy about it.

Streaming on HBO Max, the Sex and the City sequel has been dismissed as a “cartoonish view of middle-age” by The New York Times, along with comparisons to more uplifting attitudes about aging in Grace and Frankie and The Golden Girls. But the fact that some fans feel distressed by the satirical dramedy may just be the point. If SATC is the new younger woman, then And Just Like That is the new First Wives Club. You know, that 90’s film about three women who dramatically vent about their midlife crises to each other and plot revenge on their ex-husbands–if you haven’t watched it, it’s worth it. But amid a world of Gen Z culture and upscale Manhattan living, the old gang faces their own version of a mid-life crisis, highlighting something toxic, yet very real.

From gray-hair debates over brunch to fears of being ma’am’d, AJLT captures the adolescent side of a woman’s 50s.

“There’s an awkwardness about our age that I’ve never really seen talked about before. It’s almost like a second adolescence… and you can fall over yourself doing that and so I think it’s fun to see our ladies kind of struggle a little bit now” (And Just Like That… The Writers Room, Episode 1, 24:12).

Given today’s woke generation coupled with the fact that we got to know these women at their prime (bold, successful, and sexual women in their 30s), viewers expected a more positive, progressive plot. But only true fans, and those who have grown up with our favorite girl group, know that AJLT and its prequel is more of a Get Out or American Psycho than it is an empowering Legally Blonde or a light-hearted Golden Girls. It’s a painfully incisive satire on wealthy New Yorkers and the archetypal mid-life crisis. And yes, so many people miss this point.

Let’s think back. Before the sassy anti-heroine storylines of SATC and AJLT could run, the innocent you-go-girl formula had to walk. Female-led television arrived by empowering single women, particularly through comedy classics: That Girl, Days and Nights of Molly Todd, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. As Emily Nussbaum notes in The New Yorker, these shows’ characters boosted the confidence of single female viewers, while also appearing innocent and entertaining enough for men. In other words, everyone felt seen.

Similarly, the more playful, optimistic characters in The Golden Girls and Grace and Frankie provide a sort of comedic relief to old age woes, a gentle reassurance of aging gracefully.

AJLT ignored all of that, and instead, depicted characters with an adolescent angst, giving viewers a mockery of anything old-age and body related. Steve was a prime target. Only 55, Miranda’s now ex-husband appears far more ancient and senile, dubbing himself an “old timer” and never missing an opportunity to adjust his new hearing aids. Carrie is no different, trying desperately not to be the “wet blanket old lady” as her hot young neighbors blast music and chat all night–not to mention her disgust at being ma’am’d by two young studs that her younger self would have probably dated.

Then there were times when the show got a little too woke in the cringiest ways, poking fun at the ignorant and privileged. Charlotte gets awkward as she develops a friendship with Lisa Todd Wexley, a stylish Black entrepreneur and mom at her daughter’s private school. While planning a lunch party, Charlotte acts as if there is a trophy prize for not being racist. She literally runs around the city searching for another Black couple to invite–even pretending to invite one of her daughter’s Black schoolmates–all to make Lisa feel more included.

Miranda, too, gets weird, as she loudly targets the security guard who denies her Black graduate professor (and future bestie), Nya Wallace, entry to campus until he sees her school ID. “One of the important takeaways I got on how to be an anti-racist is if you see something, you have to speak on it,” declares Miranda to which Nya irritatedly responds, “Well, that’s very noble of you even if it’s a tad bit white savior complex.”

That’s the blunt, cartoonish nature of AJLT, a cringey guilty pleasure providing food for thought. You relate to the show how you would relate to a joke: recognizing a truth that most are ashamed to admit. And to AJLT, aging stressfully is just as real as aging gracefully. Specializing in complexity, the show highlights an almost taboo middle-age puberty, where you fall apart and stumble one last time as a rite of passage to your ultimate wisdom years. And just like SATC–the mother of HBO entertainment–AJLT is the entertaining crutch we need to lean on and learn for the latter part of life, and it’s fashionably on point.

Images by Craig Blankenhorn/HBO Max

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