According to the internet, a whole shelf of creative writing books quote Toni Morrison as having said or written, “All art is knowing when to stop”. I couldn’t verify whether the late author was the source, but suffice to say: someone wisely said this, and it is wise as well to heed the advice.
The news that Sex and the City – the groundbreaking television series that had a vast, and arguably international, influence on sociocultural developments – will be returning for an encore was what brought this to mind. The original series ended sixteen years ago, a long time given the pace of the world in the interim. It was followed up by two films, and the second one, at least, was an extreme disappointment (some feel this way about the first, too). So this new revival series, slated for ten episodes and entitled And Just Like That…, takes several risks just by being attempted. The most kamikaze of them all is that it will not feature the show’s strongest character, the vivacious and lovable Samantha.
The reason why is that, unlike everyone else involved in this production, the actor who played her – Kim Cattrall – knew when to quit. In fact, Cattrall has given various exasperated interviews in the past about how she felt bullied into doing more work within the Sex and the City franchise, becoming increasingly firm and vocal about her stance in recent years. She has also made no secret of her poor relationship with the show’s lead star and executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker, which contributed to her not wanting to reprise her role, going as far as calling her colleague out on social media. But most importantly, she has been quoted saying, “I don’t want to be in a situation for even an hour where I’m not enjoying myself.” In this regard, Cattrall shares some core similarities to the iconic character she essayed. Joy and pleasure are pivotal; self-assertion is a must.
Those are among the fine takeaways that anyone who watched the original series already has, so what will this revival accomplish? There are a hundred shows out there now that play with the same themes, and suit current tastes. Sex onscreen barely elicits a blink anymore. Neither does talking about it. Those hundred shows owe something to the original Sex and the City, and are arguably a part of its legacy. But as for And Just Like That…, just how edgy or interesting can a programme about three privileged white women in New York City be in 2021, really?
There is one twist, though: it will be a show about women in their 50s, aging women, and perhaps we still don’t have enough of those. On the one hand, there’s no better case against the axiom that one should quit while ahead than a project that challenges how women are forced into retirement (whether from employment, or from exploration or enjoyment of any kind) by societal expectations. But the chasm between a high note and a has-been is perilous in the world of entertainment and art. Can they brave it without Samantha: the oldest, wisest, warmest of them all?
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on January 19th 2021. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.