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HBO Max's Sex and the City revival And Just Like That is yet another bloated zombie revival of a beloved TV series

  • "This year has been a bummer, and so is the sequel series," says Inkoo Kang. "The zippy, intimate, charmingly featherlight landmark HBO series of yore has been replaced by yet another bloated streaming-service grief-com, the latest piece of intellectual property back in zombie form to generate headlines, pique nostalgia and ultimately disappoint us. Despite the winking callbacks to the original show, death and absence overhang the production, with the abrupt demise of a major character serving as the season’s starting point and the notable disappearances of others — including Kim Cattrall’s saucy Samantha — lending a lopsidedness to the character dynamics. Sex and the City began as a series about the romance of urban possibility: The characters could be having an atrocious day, but on the next block might be their next boyfriend, favorite restaurant or treasured pair of designer slingbacks. The final couple of seasons, but especially the post-series movies, felt so off in part because, by giving the characters all they’d ever wanted, the franchise became a cozy but wan domestic soap. With its floozy-flaneuse presumably living large in London, And Just Like That … leans into Sex and the City’s least interesting mode." One of the major problems with And Just Like That, says Kang, is its clumsy attempt to make up for Sex and the City's focus on white people on New York City. "It’s admirable, I suppose, to reposition Carrie and company as White women who’ve recently realized they’ve still gotta do the work to earn the progressive bona fides they’d taken for granted as sexually liberated career women of the late 1990s and early 2000s," says Kang. "But boy, is watching their White feminist fumbles dull. Sex and the City has aged poorly, but it’s earned the right. Like all TV shows, but especially ones that capture the zeitgeist, it’s a product of its time, reflecting the myopias of the era and of its creative team. But it became a cultural phenomenon because it was a series that was confident and graceful in its glossy, aspirational, savvy yet heartbreak-ready vision."


    • And Just Like That is impeccably made -- it's fun, lavish and comforting: "There are people who will be enraged by bits and pieces of the first two episodes, because nothing can exist without attention-seeking cries of blasphemy," says Kevin Fallon. "Online cynics will bully anyone who likes it over certain cringey jokes, to which we say: 'Have you ever seen a f*cking episode of Sex and the City?'' But mostly, the remarkable thing is that there turns out to be one more story to tell, and it can be told without Samantha. And Just Like That feels palpably distinct from the original Sex and the City. There are puns and great fashion, silly plot swings and fierce friendship—all a warm hug and a pleasant revisit. But there was a free spirit to the original show that was perfect for what it was, when it was: these women in their thirties figuring out what they want from life and love in a city full of possibility, and a show that was provocative and pearl-clutching for the simple fact of acknowledging that sex exists and that women talk about it. Replicating that formula all these years later, with the characters in their fifties, would be ludicrous. Instead, it’s a different story we’re telling: what it means to age, both with your friends and apart from them, and with your love and away from them. We’re meeting these women at a different stage of their lives, when things are no longer a lark and the stakes, though they certainly seemed high then, are not as frivolous. In turn, And Just Like That eschews some of the camp of the original and replaces it with the gravitas that comes with time. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people argue that the new series is more drama than comedy—and are possibly furious about that. But mimicking the original would have been a disaster."
    • And Just Like That wants to make up for Sex and the City's lack of diversity and have its cancel-culture jokes, too: "Much of the rest of the series relies on a kind of cultural time-travel comedy: What do you get if you reboot Sex and the City into the social and TV culture of 2021? Here, things get cringey, fast," says James Poniewozik. "The original series was groundbreaking for its sexual frankness and complex female friendships. It was also, like much TV of its time, very straight and very white. The series finale of Pose, set in the late 1990s, points it out when Elektra (Dominique Jackson), the Black transgender matriarch of the ballroom scene, surveys a room of wannabe Carries downing cosmopolitans: 'I refuse to let some TV show about white girls define how we eat, drink and gather as girlfriends. And Just Like That wants to address this history and have its cancel-culture jokes, too. Miranda, returning to school for a master’s degree, spends her first day of class nervously dropping microaggressions while her younger classmates glower at her. Later, she says that class is going fine 'now that I know everyone’s pronouns.' There’s a bit of an Unfrozen 1990s Caveperson vibe to it all. Each central character gets a friend or colleague of color as a sounding board...All of these new characters could, in theory, be well-developed people with their own problems and inner lives....But they don’t yet pass the racial Bechdel test; they exist only in relation to the central trio, serving to challenge or affirm them while reassuring them and us that they’re trying hard and mean well. The whole production feels as if it speed-read How to Be an Antiracist in June 2020."
    • And Just Like That suffers from the same problem of most revivals -- Sex and the City was a product of its time: "Every successful television show is the product of a specific time in the lives of its characters, the people telling their stories, and the audience watching," says Alan Sepinwall. "Pulling any or all of them out of that time is delicate, which is why the recent boom of TV revivals is almost entirely filled with pale recreations of the originals, and sometimes worse. If you make, for instance, Rory Gilmore act the same way at 32 that she did at 16, she’s no longer a likable kid with some growing up to do, but an exasperating woman who never grew up at all. Few shows were more of a particular moment than Sex and the City. It wasn’t just that three of its four heroines were at that precarious point between young adulthood and middle age, when possibility and pragmatism came into frequent conflict. (Kim Cattrall’s Samantha was a decade older, and had already figured out what she wanted the rest of her life to be like.) It was that the series debuted at the tail end of the go-go Nineties, when there had never been a television show as frank and explicit about sex before. When it was still considered charming to compare Carrie’s on-again, off-again lover Mr. Big (Chris Noth) to Donald Trump. When it seemed perfectly normal that a show about single life in New York focused on four straight white women. Whatever else And Just Like That does wrong (and it does a number of things wrong) you cannot accuse its creator Michael Patrick King of pretending that it’s still 1998 — or even 2004, when the show ended, or 2010, when the second of two terrible SATC movies was released — or that Carrie, the world, and television haven’t changed in that time. Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte can’t stay who they were, and neither can the kinds of stories that King tells."
    • And Just Like That feels like a drama with a few jokes: "The new show’s very premise forces it first to reduce a foursome to three with the departure of Kim Cattrall as Samantha Jones, to isolate those three from one another, and to divide its central romantic twosome in half," says Daniel D'Addario. "This math doesn’t suit a franchise whose stock-in-trade had historically been abundance. The reasons for the platonic and romantic crack-ups of the first episode aren’t worth divulging here with the show available to watch on HBO Max now; one is revealed at the very beginning of the pilot, one at the end. Suffice it to say that a door is left open for one key relationship of Carrie Bradshaw’s life to resume, but the other has definitively shut. Which also ends our sense of this project as fundamentally comedic. There’s always been more to Sex and the City than escapism, but the 45-minute episodes of And Just Like That gradually come to feel like installments of a drama with some jokes. Part of this shift feels like a consequence of the franchise growing increasingly comfortable centering life’s bitterer side; part feels responsive to an era of glumness. (To wit: This universe, one in which Sept. 11 was mentioned only allusively, does feature direct references to COVID-19.) And part is unavoidable, with the most consistently ebullient performer on the show unwilling to return for this go-round. It’s worth noting that without the typically game and shrewd Cattrall to introduce conversations, issues of the flesh remain largely theoretical for the show’s three leads — which makes And Just Like That a missed opportunity to address issues of physical satisfaction for characters in a new season of life."
    • And Just Like That feels stilted and directionless: "The dialogue is really heavy-handed: a lot of telling, not showing," says Marina Fang. "I get part of it is exposition and needing to catch us up on where each character is now. But it also feels like the writers came up with a list of topics they wanted to cover and then couldn’t figure out how to seamlessly integrate them into the show." Candice Frederick adds: "OMG, the constant need to tell us how old and out of touch they are seems honestly quite dehumanizing to me. Even The Golden Girls, though they certainly had their out-of-touch moments, never treated any of the characters like they were on death’s door. They had very full sexual lives even when they were talking about things like menopause. Steve losing his hearing cannot be his entire personality!"
    • Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon leave fans with a warm nostalgia by slipping seamlessly back into their roles and camaraderie: "Showrunner Michael Patrick King delivers an appropriately more subdued tone in the writing compared with the series’ original run, with a startling lack of puns," says Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. "(Because of my PTSD from Sex and the City 2, I feared And Just Like That… might consist of nothing but menopause puns.) Carrie gives us voiceover only at the end of each episode, with nary a 'couldn’t help but wonder.' Many of the original show’s greatest moments came from the lives of its all-female writing staff, something no other show could boast at the time. This time, And Just Like That has improved on that model, adding women of color to its team, who must get some serious credit: Rachna Fruchbom, Keli Goff and Samantha Irby, alongside original series writers Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky."
    • The mere fact that this series isn’t Sex and the City 2-level awful, even with its core foursome fractured, is a victory to celebrate: "It’s just nice to spend time with Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda again," says Dave Nemetz. "The actresses step right back into their roles, and their banter is just as quippy and zippy as ever. Though the new characters’ introductions border on awkward, (Sara) Ramirez and fellow new addition Sarita Choudhury, who plays Carrie’s realtor Seema, bring a refreshing energy to the show. Plus, Miranda’s story takes an intriguing turn in Episode 3 that offers real promise as a storyline and makes us rethink everything we thought we knew about her. No, this is not the classic Sex and the City we first fell in love with… but what it is now isn’t bad, either."
    • One thing is crystal clear: And Just Like That is desperate to make Sex and the City relevant again: "Carrie is part of a podcast titled 'X, Y, and Me' that has its own 'woke moment' button," says Ben Travers. "Miranda remembers going to the airport in 2017 to help immigrants affected by the Muslim ban. Charlotte spends an entire episode trying to find Black guests for her dinner party so her one Black friend won’t feel isolated. How to Be an Antiracist is name-checked, white savior complexes are flagged, and a non-binary stand-up comedian gets five full minutes on-stage to explain why TV shows should make space for more than just one character who identifies outside the gender binary. (Presumably, And Just Like That… is complying with her advice because the crowd she’s performing for consists of non-binary characters, even if the only other speakers are Carrie and Charlotte.) All this virtue signaling can be exhausting (just like real life!), but it’s no secret where writer, director, and creator Michael Patrick King is coming from. When Sex and the City first debuted, it was (rightly) hailed for its groundbreaking depiction of sex positivity (mostly through Samantha), flawed female protagonists, and so much more. But in the years since it ended (if not sooner), the series has been reassessed, with critics noting its incredibly vanilla depiction of New York City, exclusively privileged perspectives, and outdated views on gender and sexuality. Popular culture helped along the reevaluation with telling memes and new shows building off SATC’s success, but following the disastrous second film —  with popular opinion enshrined within Lindy West’s pithy evisceration — all bets were off. The series’ legacy would always include a few considerable caveats. And Just Like That appears to be on a mission to quiet any alarm bells associated with the show’s past."
    • And Just Like That is a smart, layered, insightful gem with true dramatic gravitas: "Here’s the great news," says Richard Roeper. "The Max Original series And Just Like That feels like a 10-year reunion you weren’t sure about attending — but from the moment you arrived, you were SO glad you did, because it reminds you of why you loved these people in the first place. Thanks to executive producer Michael Patrick King, a team of talented writers and excellent performances from Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, a host of returning supporting players and some intriguing new characters, And Just Like That is a smart, layered, insightful gem with true dramatic gravitas but also the same sense of style and upper middle-class, Manhattan-centric escapism as the original. Debuting with two episodes on Dec. 9, with the remaining eight chapters premiering on subsequent Thursdays, And Just Like That doesn’t ignore the events of the two movies but feels more like a spiritual sequel to the original series. We pick up the story with Parker’s Carrie, Nixon’s Miranda and Davis’ Charlotte as close as ever but now navigating life in their mid-50s. They’ve been through a lot and they’re at different stations in life than they were back in the 2000s, but Carrie is still rocking a different hat and purse in nearly every scene, Miranda is still the most serious of the bunch and Charlotte still has that endearing sweetness about her."
    • It's okay that And Just Like That is a completely different show from Sex and the City: "I want to be clear that HBO Max’s 10-episode And Just Like That is not a Sex and the City reboot," says Robyn Bahr. "It’s also neither a revival nor a reimagining. Sure, the new show shares DNA with the polemic and revolutionary HBO comedy that aired from 1998 to 2004 and spurred an entire generation’s obsession with Cosmos, designer shoes and Manhattan brunches, but And Just Like That doesn’t even attempt to resurrect Millennium nostalgia. Its developers, including original showrunner Michael Patrick King and its three main stars, know the world is not the same. They don’t want it to be the same. The two shows are built around (most) of the same characters, but the flounce and fizziness of the original series are largely absent from this moodier and more self-serious one. When the sequel series was originally announced, I found the title change a little more than eye-rollingly bumptious, but now I understand it. These are two completely separate shows that just happen to share a continued narrative. One was a sexy romantic comedy. This new one is a meditative grief drama. Sex and the City was funny, fluttery and occasionally — OK, often — pretty stupid. I adored it. The series debuted when I was in fourth grade and I have fond memories of staying up past my bedtime to surreptitiously watch it on Sunday nights, my fingers trained to recognize the feel of the TV remote’s mute button in case my mother’s footsteps tread near my bedroom door...Even as I’ve grown older and rewatched this series with a more mature and critical eye, acknowledging its cringe-worthy mishandling of everything from exoticized queerness to abusive relationships to interracial dating, I can also reason that, like all things, it was — forgive me — a product of its time. The And Just Like That producers see these issues, too, and in an effort to rectify the wrongdoings of the past, appear to overcorrect to the point of preachy schoolmarm-ification. But just because SATC was fun and AJLT is somber doesn’t mean the tempo shift is a mistake."
    • Devoting an entire season to grief is a bad idea in the midst of a pandemic: "'My Motherboard, My Self' from Season 4 of SATC was a memorable portrait of Miranda struggling in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s death," says Nina Metz. "It felt real and messy. That was one episode. Devoting an entire season to this same theme is maybe more than this particular show is equipped to handle. The writing’s just not there. And too often, And Just Like That lands on the phoniest conceits." As for the minority cast members -- such as Nicole Ari Parker and Karen Pittman -- who were added for And Just Like That, Metz says the way they are "incorporated into the story.... feels like a self-conscious attempt to remedy SATC’s almost exclusively straight white framing, but this strategy only goes so far; they are side characters who exist only to flesh out — or call out — the main three (so far, at least). Entire scenes might as well be cribbed from Twitter’s most heated moments instead of just capturing the cringe and comedy of how people actually speak and flounder and screw up as they move through the world. You want Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte to be flawed because you want them to resemble human beings. Instead, And Just Like That is an uncanny valley of life as it is lived for now."
    • And Just Like That reduces the original characters to a baffled trio trying to negotiate a strange new world: The revival is "as if the only thing aging has to offer us (or women at least) is confusion and failure," says Lucy Mangan, adding: "The first 20 minutes of the long-anticipated, much-hyped reboot of Sex and the City, And Just Like That (Sky Comedy/HBO Max), are terrible. The Manhattan streets are alive with the sound of crowbars jimmying more exposition into the dialogue than Carrie’s closet has shoes. Samantha’s absence (Kim Cattrall declined to take part in the new show, apparently as a result of longstanding animus between her and Sarah Jessica Parker) is briskly dealt with. She moved to London ('Sexy sirens in their 60s are still viable there!' says someone with their tongue not firmly enough in their cheek) in a fit of pique after Carrie told her she didn’t need her as a publicist any more. That this does not square with anything we have ever known about Samantha apparently matters not a jot."
    • And Just Like That is a sweaty enterprise, stretching to include vast political sensitivities in a way that feels more self-serving than self-aware: "Look. If you're asking 'Is this show just about giving white ladies nonwhite friends?' the answer isn't 'No,'" says Darren Franich. "In the vintage Sex and the City episode formula, the women got together to talk about their lives, split into (usually) romantic subplots, then reunited to laugh over their troubles. And Just Like That isn't as obviously structured — the 40-plus-minute episodes could all use an edit — but you can spot the same dynamic, with these new acquaintances filling the plotspace boyfriends used to occupy. In the original series, the foursome offered each other a respite from dating confusion, and a space where female energy could recharge from masculine blunder. Here, the remaining trio are a safe harbor of middle-aged familiarity in a diverse world of youth and accusation."
    • We didn't need a racially diverse Sex and the City: "They announce ‘we’re going to tackle race now,’ and it’s like…I actually don’t necessarily care what Sex and the City has to say about race," says Danielle Hewitt. "I think the problem is, you don’t get to call a mulligan on the first round of your show and be like, yeah we didn’t do this the first time so we’re going to do it again. I’m not itching for them to get this 'right' because it was just a show about four white women. I fully believe that these four women don’t know any Black people. It is a show about these four women, it doesn’t have to be the representation of everyone’s experience of living in the city and dating. I would much rather see a show that was, from the jump, intentionally about four women of color or intentionally about white women and women of color. It’s frustrating to see this is the only way we can make representation happen is insert it into this existing property. It is disappointing to see so many television shows only center on white women. But I don’t think the answer is to make Sex and the City a different television show."
    • There’s a giant gaping hole in the Sex And The City sequel series, and her name is Samantha Jones: "Since And Just Like That… starts out with the familiar scene of the ladies lunching, it’s immediately obvious that this trio lacks the welcome bite that Samantha always provided," says Gwen Ihnat. "There’s a lot of discussion about her absence (now she’s having sex in another city, London, after she and Carrie had a falling out when Carrie fired her as her publicist), as Carrie and Miranda go on ad nauseum about how they’ve all tried to reach out to Samantha. It’s not their fault, the show appears to be stressing, okay? This is not the time and place to go into the cast feud that supposedly led to Kim Cattrall’s departure, but suffice it to say, her absence is deeply felt."
    • And Just Like That feels like a desperate attempt to be cool and relevant in a new TV landscape: And Just Like That "involves a lot of confusion about the modern world and only a little talk about s-e-x," says Jen Chaney. "Is And Just Like That … watchable? Very much so. Is it also laughable, often unintentionally? Yes. Yes, it is...The only sex we actually witness in the first four episodes provided to critics involves Brady doing it with his girlfriend, which is something I don’t think anyone needed or wanted to see. Middle age, in the And Just Like That … universe, is apparently not a time for sex. It is a time, if you’re Miranda, for going back to school for a second degree and saying literally all the wrong things to your younger Black professor (played by Karen Pittman). It is also a time, if you’re Miranda, for constantly ordering Chablis, something I have never seen a human being under the age of 75 do." Chaney adds: "There are occasional flashes of the insight and humor that helped make Sex and the City such a phenomenon in its day — a wry comment from Miranda here, Carrie embarrassing herself in amusing fashion there. But And Just Like That … comes across as desperate to seem cool and relevant in a very different TV landscape. Watching it made me feel old, and not because I, like these ladies, have aged since the original series. Nothing about the show feels organic; so much about it is painfully forced. Which is unfortunate for a series whose title implies that, sometimes, life is full of surprises."
    • And Just Like That presents women who have aged but haven't matured: "Younger Sex and the City fans, the ones raised on the foursome's aspirational exploits of what liberated, fashionable success should look like, may find the terse explanation of (Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall's) falling out implausible," says Melanie McFarland. "People in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond may know better. Nary a friendship is immune to dissolution, and often that tiny slight becomes a breaking point, a full arrest following years of plaque silently building up in the arteries. But that also creates a problem for And Just Like That. Despite or because of her flaws and screw-ups, people loved that character – even more than Carrie, in some ways. Samantha's the friend who's the most adventurous, open-minded, and exploratory, and the most likely to call the others on their bull. She created her share of problems in Carrie's life, but solved a lot of others. Without her we have a threesome whose younger selves embodied late '90s archetypes of freewheeling, wealthy, sophisticated New York City women. Nearly a quarter of a century later, And Just Like That affirms that Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda failed to mature into women any sane person would want to spend time with, let alone to grow up to be."
    • And Just Like That is a giant bummer: "There aren’t a lot of laughs to be had in general throughout these first four episodes," says Shannon Keating. "At around 45 minutes long, they seem to fall more firmly on the drama side of the comedy-drama spectrum, whereas the original series kept installments short ’n sweet, and overall exuded more gaiety, more fun. At the beginning of the pandemic, I binged all of Sex and the City, for probably the fourth or fifth time in my life, and I felt immediately at home among a group of women who were always trying to make each other laugh, even and especially when times got hard. Of course, I didn’t feel too at home; escaping into a far more elegant and exciting universe than my own was also one of the series’ great draws. But as has been the case with other reboots from the past couple of years — Gossip Girl and The L Word come to mind — modernizing the original’s much-beloved and extremely glamorous world has for some reason meant making it drearier, more awkward, and overall less joyful to inhabit."
    • How Carrie Bradshaw became an avatar for main character syndrome: "Carrie Bradshaw is obviously the main character of Sex and the City and its ... reboot, And Just Like That, but what’s really annoying — and relevant — is the way that character acts like she knows she’s starring in her own show," says Alex Abad-Santos. "Main character syndrome as a term is thrown around, often sardonically or ironically, to define behavior where someone acts like (and maybe even believes that) the real world essentially serves as a TV series about their own life. This is characterized by behavior that indicates that everything that happens exists only to further their story or contribute to their own enlightenment, and that they feel and understand things with greater clarity than the people around them. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook have been goading us to curate and romanticize our lives for years now. It’s gotten to the point that what’s put on social media has become a performance that we’re all in on, that we all know is just another fantasy. And since we are all the main characters of our own social feeds, it’s not a big surprise that this behavior has tipped over into something of an extreme...Carrie Bradshaw is a useful avatar for main character syndrome because yes, obviously, she is the literal main character of her show. Beyond that, though, her, at times, absurd lack of self-reflection becomes a mirror for the viewer. She’s a conduit through which you can feel free to laugh at your own overwrought behavior: Maybe you’re experiencing sadness so powerful or such intense emotional clarity that it feels like nobody but you could ever possibly understand. Of course, that’s not the case, but it can feel good to wallow, and that’s why the pull of MCS — of 'being a Carrie' — is so strong."
    • Sara Ramirez on playing non-binary character Che: 'I think when the role was written, there was a need for different kinds of storylines, but there was also Michael Patrick King, who told me that he wrote the role for me," says Ramirez. "Che is there to push forward different kinds of storylines, and they’re also there to inspire certain characters to question their own internalized oppression. I think they also inspire people around the fact that life is not over after 40. There’s some space to rediscover who we are, and that’s a big part of the show. I think the fact that there are women in their 50s and a non-binary character in their 40s makes (checking in with these lives) worthwhile … typically in the industry, we are conditioned to believe that after a certain age, certain genders and certain types of people are not worth checking into or seeing on screen. This show is hoping to inspire people to think beyond that."
    • Showrunner Michael Patrick King calls reviving Sex and the City dangerous, exciting and a challenge: “It’s not a cash cow. It’s not a cash in," he says. “I don’t think that anybody would take on new women characters at 55 without proof that people will watch." King adds that being a streaming show has allowed for changes the original HBO series couldn't make. King recalls that during the first series, he felt as though he had to tie up each episode with a little bow, a concession to an audience that might not view them sequentially. “Streaming is like, untie the bow,” he says. “Untie it.”
    • King says Samantha Jones is still in the show, even if Kim Cattrall isn't: “The reality is that Samantha is still in the show,” he says. “These women didn’t have amnesia. They have Samantha in their lives, and we all have friends who meant something to us and who we lose touch with. She belongs in the show and in this storyline.”
    • When did the idea for reviving Sex and the City come to King?: "I’ve always had an idea for a story, and it’s best served in a series because of the amount of story that you can tell in 10 episodes," says King. "You can really bring in new characters and have their lives actually be in the show rather than just be a side dish. So, the softest pitch of this is somebody saying, 'Hey, I saw Carrie Bradshaw on the street the other day.' And someone else saying, 'How’d she look?' I mean, that’s the simplest (way to explain it), seeing somebody you haven’t seen on the street, and they’re still them. Because to me, these characters have always been alive, and the city is incredibly alive. But the world has changed so much that I thought, 'How interesting if we could see how their lives have evolved, the world has evolved, society has evolved, what we talk about has evolved, what we don’t talk about has evolved. Plus, relationships have evolved and marriages come and go. So much happens from 35 to 55.'"

    TOPICS: And Just Like That, HBO Max, Sex and the City, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Michael Patrick King, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sara Ramirez