The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Sex and the City’ helped fans navigate their 30s. Decades later, they still feel seen.

Placeholder while article actions load

This story contains spoilers for the first two episodes of “And Just Like That ...”

After she watched the first two episodes of “And Just Like That …,” Dawn Medellin Culver had to process it with someone. The 61-year-old “Sex and the City” superfan turned to the urn holding her late husband’s ashes and broke the news: Mr. Big was dead.

“He’s gone. He’s gone,” she said. “You know that, right? He’s never coming back. I can’t believe it.”

Watching Mr. Big (played by Chris Noth) have a heart attack and die after his 1,000th Peloton ride, felt “like reliving my own nightmare,” Culver says. Her late husband died three years ago, shortly after Culver’s daughter found him unconscious on the living-room floor.

HBO's "And Just Like That..." picks up a few decades after where "Sex and the City" leaves off in a mostly post-pandemic New York City. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Culver could always relate to “Sex and the City”: first as a single mother who saw a bit of herself in Miranda as she watched the first time around. Now she felt deeply connected to Carrie.

Critics have panned the HBO Max reboot as tired and trying too hard. But die-hard fans like Culver don’t care; they’re hooked. Many of the women who fell for “Sex and the City” when they were in their 30s and 40s in the late 1990s and early 2000s — just as the characters Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha were back then — are still obsessed with the show in their 50s and 60s. They’ve worn out the box DVD sets; pined for a pair of Manolos; envied the characters’ enduring closeness; and spent years entangled with their own Mr. Bigs. (On Thursday morning, the Hollywood Reporter published a story in which two women alleged Chris Noth sexually assaulted them. In a statement, Noth told THR the encounters were consensual.)

As “Sex and the City” superfans moved through life, the show would hit differently. Prim Charlottes matured into empowered Samanthas. Self-involved Carries found their inner-Mirandas. To Culver and other fans in their 50s and 60s, the update is just as relatable as the original series was 20 years ago.

'And Just Like That ...' review: A bloated, laugh-free comedy about grief

While they were married, Culver loved watching her husband watch “Sex and the City.” “He was shocked by it all,” she recalls. “His eyes would be huge, saying: ‘I can’t believe they just said that on TV.’ ”

The original show did more than shock us. It changed what it meant to be a single woman. “It made being single cool and glamorous instead of sad and pitiable — and that was a big step forward,” says Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of “Sex and the City and Us.” “Now we have so many more shows that center women and were created by women: ‘Fleabag,’ ‘I May Destroy You,’ ‘Insecure.’ ” But those shows, Armstrong points out, all feature women in their 30s. “A bunch of things do still happen to you after 40,” Armstrong says, adding that she hopes “And Just Like That ...” teaches viewers to talk about menopause the way the original helped audiences be more candid about sex.

Wendy Jones, now 55, had the “Sex and the City” life, working as an entertainer on a cruise ship in the late 1990s and enjoying flings with passengers from all over the world. One of her castmates got ahold of a “Sex and the City” DVD, and instantly Jones was hooked. The show opened her eyes to women “pursuing careers without apology,” she says. Single and child-free in her 30s, Jones started to feel a little out of place. “But then I saw the show and I thought: ‘There’s got to be more of us out there — this show is so popular.’ ”

Last week, as Jones watched the first two episodes of “And Just Like That …,” she thought about how much has changed — in her life and in the world — in the past 20 years. “When I was in my 30s, I went to baby showers and weddings,” Jones recalls, “and now I go to funerals. It’s sad, but it’s life.” Her partner had a heart attack eight years ago, and now she thinks about the nearness of death on a daily basis. Unlike many fans, Jones does not fault Carrie for choosing one final embrace over calling 911. “I think she wanted to have her last moments with him in her arms. It was sad, but it was beautifully sad,” Jones says. “To have your partner die in your arms is maybe better than dying alone.”

A 'Sex and the City' reboot without Samantha? Fans aren't pleased.

The only part of the reboot that didn’t sit right with Jones was Miranda’s portrayal as cluelessly bumbling through any conversations about race or gender. On the first day of class, Miranda incorrectly assumes her Black professor is a fellow student and then follows up with several microaggressions. “I didn’t think that was Miranda at all,” Jones says. “It came across to me as if they were trying to make apologies for what they did 20 years ago.”

“The rest of us have grown,” Jones adds. “That drove me up the frickin’ wall.”

Christina Prapas, a 55-year-old paralegal in Baltimore, used to host Sunday night watch parties with her husband in the early 2000s: “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” all with a steady stream of cosmopolitans. Prapas and her husband are no longer together, but her relationship with Carrie and crew remains. To her, Carrie and Big were “the greatest love story in television history.” And she’s not ready to give them up. After watching the first two episodes, Prapas woke up several times, thinking: “He cannot be dead. This cannot be real.” She’s hoping Big’s death is a bad dream that will turn out not to be real.

For one thing, Prapas, who’s single, doesn’t want to see Carrie dating her way through New York all over again. “Trust me,” Prapas says, like an older sister confiding in you over brunch, “all the good ones are gone. They’re either dead, gay or married.”

If this season does leave enough room for Carrie to grieve and get back out there, Culver has a little advice for her, widow to widow. First off, dating after a death is very different from dating after a split. “When you get divorced, you’re done, [your relationship is] finished, you’re finalized,” Culver says. “When you lose your partner, it’s like … the eternal cliffhanger. You’re standing on the edge, and you don’t know what to do.”

Second, don’t worry about friends’ and strangers’ judgments. “Many people think that once you become a widow, you should be alone forever,” Culver says. But she disagrees. Culver was 58 when she lost her husband, and that was far too young to give up on finding love again. “I still have life to live, and I still have love to give to another partner.”

She hopes Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte will, once again, be her guides.


This couple fell in love, moved in, had a kid and got engaged — all during the pandemic

Let’s talk about ‘Sex Education’ — and all the bad information we got as teens

Kyle is transgender. It took 30 years and a pandemic for them to realize it.