En Net So: bad jokes are the least of its problems

Good sex, like good comedy, relies on timing, and maybe, 17 years after the original show ended, 11 years after the second film departed cinemas, Sex and the City no longer has its finger on the clitoris when it comes to timing. 'En Net So, It All Went Wrong” was the New York Times’s verdict on the wildly publicised, moderately anticipated SATC follow-up series, En Net So, which debuted its first two episodes this week. The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan described it as at times “excruciating”.

Certainly the jokes are bad. Not “Lawrence of my labia” bad, as Samantha (Kim Cattrall) notoriously said in Sex and the City 2. But a far cry from the spit-out-your-wine-with-laughter-and-shock level of the original show, which ran from 1998 aan 2004. And that’s the least of its problems.

The show, once so brave, limits its discussions of women and ageing to whether Miranda should dye her grey hair, rather than confronting the more obvious issue of whether to have Botox and filler injections. The fashion, once integrated so beautifully into the show by stylist Patricia Field, now sits on the characters like costumes, the clothes wearing the women rather than the other way around.

The characters always lived fantasy lives, but now they live ostentatiously, even repulsively wealthy ones, with Charlotte buying her children’s clothes at Oscar de la Renta and Carrie boasting that the fishmonger gave her the expensive kind of salmon, taking proceedings close to Dynasty territory. And Just Like That tries to be au courant, with Miranda worrying that she might be a “white saviour” and Carrie being castigated by her non-binary friend Che (Sara Ramirez) that she comes across like an “uptight cisgender female married lady … I know you got more”. Are “female” and “lady” now terms of abuse on SATC? Apparently so, and Carrie meekly agrees to try harder.

It’s now fashionable to denigrate SATC as too white and too naff, but it was a genuine cultural phenomenon that changed how women saw their lives, and how an entire city – New York – saw itself. “I feel a little guilty that our show became the look for what New York is,” Sex and the City star Chris Noth, who plays Mr Big, told the Guardian this week. The once pretty barren Meatpacking District gentrified itself beyond recognisability during the show’s run, allowing women to brunch and shop down there, just like the characters. [object Window], ook, took their cues from the show, which reassured them that going for cocktails with friends was far more fun than being married.

Ever since the release of the increasingly appalling films in 2008 en 2010, and now the disappointment of And Just Like That, a common theory is that the show was too much of its time to endure. But like Friends, which has faced similar criticism, SATC has actually endured very well. The reruns still totally work, and that is because of a simple if often forgotten truth: the scripts were brilliant. Ja, the show was wrapped in a gauze of fantasy, and its depiction of women’s sex lives was revolutionary. But the reason it spoke to women so deeply was for neither of those reasons: it’s because it was soaked in emotional truth, and it was extremely funny.

Never mind the discussions about cunnilingus and masturbation, although they were great, eintlik. It was the plotlines about Samantha’s breast cancer, Miranda caring for her mother-in-law with dementia, Charlotte’s infertility and Carrie’s affair with Big while he was married that stuck to the sides. The reason the movies and the new show don’t work isn’t because they’ve come out at the wrong time – it’s because their scripts are terrible. If the original show had been like And Just Like That, let alone Sex and the City 2, there would be no Sex and the City tour buses going around New York City today.

It’s a mystery why the SATC spin-offs are so bad, given that they’re written by Michael Patrick King and executive produced by Parker, as the original show was. In truth, the original show lost its way in the last series, with its insistence that all the women end up shacked up with someone, betraying the courage of its original convictions, although at least the scripts were still good. Most likely, the huge success of the franchise cowed everyone involved into conventionality. It’s a shame. Some franchises cannot endure, dit blyk. Maar, happily, old box sets live for ever.

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