‘And Just Like That’ Season 2 Review: SATC Spinoff Is Moody and Moving

‘And Just Like That’ Season 2 Review: SATC Spinoff Is Moody and Moving

On a standout episode of the new season of “And Just Like That,” Max’s continuation of the “Sex and the City” franchise, Carrie faces a conundrum. She’s been roped into recording the audiobook of her memoir — a retelling of the past year or so of her life as a new widow. A character beloved for her say-everything ethos, from her frank talk with friends to her newspaper columns that we once heard in voiceover, finds herself unable to speak.

It’s a moving moment, one that leverages both the deep connection viewers feel with the character, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s somehow still-underrated winsomeness as a performer. And it represents the promise of the ungainly, odd show “And Just Like That” has shaped up to be. On this series, an often-frustrating clunkiness not only coexists with moments of real power, it burnishes them: The strangeness and sublimity of “And Just Like That” lies in how its flaws feel predictable and knowable, like the contours of a friendship.

Carrie, here, is in a funny sort of in-between state, trying to figure out what the rest of her life might look like. A flaw of the two “Sex and the City” films was the tendency to boldly signpost her Big Problem: Her wedding fell through, or her marriage was on autopilot. Now, what she’s even looking for in the first place isn’t clear, and the jittery unsettledness suits a nervy performer well. At least Carrie knows what she doesn’t know, too: Poor Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) thinks she’s cracked the code after chasing Che (Sara Ramírez) to California, and each new indignity comes as another creeping drumbeat that maybe she’s gotten it wrong. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) feels once again less central to the proceedings: All three women have made new friends who are now series regulars, but it’s Charlotte whose plotlines are most thoroughgoingly given over to her pal. (Blame or credit for this can go to Nicole Ari Parker, an electric performer who tends to be more interesting than the material written for her.)

The introduction of an entire second ensemble cast to buttress (and, as has been made clear, to diversify) the series’ core cast has been well-intentioned, but remains rocky: They’re too a one played well (yes, even Che), but even and especially scenes in which the newer characters are at the center of the frame spotlight how they’re often more idea than person. “Sex and the City” traffics in tropes, of course. Its central characters began as dueling perspectives on dating — Miranda the cynic, Charlotte the idealist, and so on — and had detail embroidered on over the course of years. But showrunner Michael Patrick King has vastly less time to break these new characters, and doesn’t seem that interested in trying. Parker’s Lisa is a socialite who wants to do more with her life, so that’s something; Karen Pittman’s Nya gets to be nervous and titillated about re-entering the dating scene, a note we’ve already seen, but OK; Sarita Choudhury’s Seema… really likes smoking cigarettes.

This is hardly to fault the performers, but just to note that the writing, still, feels most alive when engaging with Carrie. Her constancy as a figure whose fundamental and defining trait is “she’s the protagonist” jangles somewhat awkwardly against the expansion of the show, but it also means that we have a steady center amid much wobbliness. “And Just Like That” notably takes advantage of fan patience in the season opener, which involves Carrie and friends preparing to attend the Met Gala and combines several of King’s worst impulses. (These include treating our suspension of disbelief with a touch too much elasticity, and mistaking fans’ love for the fairy-tale aspects of Carrie’s aesthetic for a materialistic gluttony.)

And yet it does so much right that the show’s jagged edges come to feel more like facets. Bringing back poor maltreated Aidan — played by John Corbett as absolutely the wrong man for Carrie, but the wrong man she kept trying to make fit — yet again could very easily feel like recursiveness, like the lack of a good idea. (Not to return to an overused well, but it certainly did when Carrie ran into the guy in Abu Dhabi, back in the movie days.) But there’s a tenderness to Corbett and Parker’s scenes together, a sense of time’s passage that’s treated with delicacy and care. Indeed, throughout this season, a glimmer of willingness to engage real pain, to write through the ways in which Carrie and, especially, Miranda are forced to reckon with things they can’t take back keeps us on the hook. (Charlotte, less able to see herself, unfortunately falls out of this particular aspect of the series’ creative success.)

There’s something about “Sex and the City” that keeps us welcoming it back — something beyond the willingness of crew and cast (less Kim Cattrall) to keep showing up. Its characters combine a fundamental knowability, certain core characteristics that allow us to imagine them in any situation. But they are rounded enough that they still retain the potential to surprise us. The fungibility of the franchise, shifting from half-hour comedy (one that itself evolved a great deal) to bacchanialian epic-length films to an often downbeat dramedy about late middle age, has surprised, too.

In this, King’s impulses are dead-on. It wouldn’t feel right to revive “Sex and the City” in the form it had been: Too much time has passed, and you can’t improve upon those episodes. “And Just Like That” remains its own odd thing. Its structure follows its story appealingly: Its characters, forced by circumstance or tempted by boredom into reinventing their lives after 50, are doing so on a project that has blown up what a “Sex and the City” TV show looks like. Its narrative lines aren’t clean, and things often happen sort of randomly, as in life. I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend the show, exactly — in substantial part because if it’s for you, you already know, and are watching. But as part of a sustained storytelling project about how cities, relationships, people and stories themselves change over time, it finds its way toward an askew sort of excellence.

“And Just Like That” debuts its first two episodes on Max on Thursday, June 22, with new episodes to follow weekly on Thursdays.