SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from the first two episodes of Season 2 of “And Just Like That,” now streaming on Max.
When it came to making the second season of “And Just Like That” — Max’s popular revival of HBO’s iconic “Sex and the City” — showrunner Michael Patrick King found that he simply couldn’t fit what he and the writers had planned into the standard 10-episode season Max was expecting.
After all, “Sex and the City” stars Sarah Jessica Parker (Carrie), Cynthia Nixon (Miranda) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) had been joined by four new main characters, played by Nicole Ari Parker (Lisa Todd Wexley), Karen Pittman (Nya), Sara Ramírez (Che Diaz) and Sarita Choudhury (Seema). King knew he wanted to build on those characters, and integrate them more deeply into the story in order to smooth some of the bumpiness of Season 1.
He initially pitched Season 2 to Sarah Aubrey, the head of Max originals, who responded, “This is a feast.” But trying to cram that feast in 10 episodes would prove to be impossible. “I’ve got seven primary characters,” King said. “And my impulse is always to finish an arc for each of them. So, I didn’t want anyone to not have an arc — and neither did Max.”
Continuing with the metaphor, King said: “When we got to Episode 10, we were still only at half of the main course. So, I got to do dessert. And that’s what 11 is.”
So Max agreed to expand the second season — which premiered on Max with two episodes on June 22 — to 11 episodes, which King said is “the great gift of working with a studio for many years, and working with executives who are actually willing to swoon.”
The Season 2 finale, of course, is when fans will finally catch a glimpse of Kim Cattrall reprising her role as Samantha in a cameo, as first reported by Variety. Her appearance is surprising, given that she’s said she was done playing the character — and both King and Parker told Variety as the show’s first season drew to a close that they didn’t expect Cattrall ever to return. “I have no realistic expectation of Kim Cattrall ever appearing again,” King told me last year.
Now that the news is out, though, King is sanguine about it, as you’ll see below — though he does wish it hadn’t been spoiled. “I guess you only get to keep one real spoiler in your career, and I got Mr. Big didn’t die before everybody knew it,” King said.
Ah yes, the death of Mr. Big. In the second season premiere of “And Just Like That,” three weeks have passed since the events of the Season 1 finale, which ended with Carrie kissing her podcast producer Franklyn (Ivan Hernandez) in an elevator. In the premiere’s first moments, we see what happened with that, along with all of the couples within the show having sex in a montage — an efficient way of bringing the audience up to speed on what’s going on with them. (Yes, Miranda and Che are in a blissful sex haze in Los Angeles.)
What’s most significant about these first two episodes, King said, is that Carrie is getting back to her old self.
“A lot of people have said to me, “Oh, it feels like the old show,’” he said. “And I go, “Well, it feels like Carrie. We’re returning Carrie to ‘And Just Like That.’ Not Carrie who was hit by a huge cataclysmic event — a meteor — and held herself together.” I wanted her to be present, fun, light, and open to life.”
When I talked to you for Variety’s Sara Ramírez Pride cover story last year, you said you wanted to show the “dimension of Che,” and you wanted “more of Che rather than less of Che.” We do certainly see a lot of Che this season.
I kept feeling the judgment of Che in a profound way, because I really like the character. So, the comedy memes and everything — that’s just almost complimentary, I mean, the fact that if you’re making a dent at all! But the reality is, I felt that a lot of the judgment — maybe even about the show last season — was judging a book by the cover, and maybe the cover looked different than you were expecting a “Sex and the City” new chapter to look. Especially with Che. So, I thought we would start by opening the book and showing what’s underneath the cover. because I had Sara Ramírez, who is this phenomenal actor, I knew we could show what’s behind the scaffold.
Let’s start with the fact that Che is a standup comic — that’s already fucked up! If you get on stage going, “Fucking look at me!” that’s already off-putting to most human beings, including other standups. Every performer has a scaffold. Every writer has a scaffold. I talked to Sara immediately when we knew we were coming back — like, “Sara, I think we have to see who’s underneath there.” And it’s interesting to show Che going against their own instincts in order to be successful, which is what’s happening with that sitcom, “Che Pasa.”
Through the new characters, we’re seeing race being addressed on the show in a way that it’s never been before. How do those story ideas come up in the writers’ room?
The writing room process is always — in my writing rooms, anyway — people revealing personal stories from their lives that we can then fictionalize a little bit. Maybe not true to your life, and certainly not true to my particular life, but definitely true to some people.
Season 2 starts with the sex montage of the couples on the show — and Nya, who is recently single. How did you decide to open with that?
Well, I think the second season is always a response to the first. The very last thing that happened in the first season was Carrie spontaneously kissing Franklin. So, once I decided I was going to start the show with Carrie Bradshaw in bed with Franklin, someone you don’t know, I just thought, “Well, look at all these people that are in couples, so let’s thematically from the writing point of view start the show with the idea of something new opening.”
If last season was winter — Carrie’s winter, the darkness — I thought that this season was spring. So, I started this season with sex.
What kinds of conversations with Max — I’m still getting used to saying that instead of HBO Max — did you have about Season 2?
The interesting or exciting or comforting thing about Max is they still have a very HBO profile artistically. So, their goal is to always listen and see what you bring first. And the first thing I said to them is one word: Aidan. That made them excited about the idea, knowing that the fans would be excited.
We don’t see him until later in the season. What happened next?
I went to Sarah Jessica first and said, “Aidan.” And then I went to John and said, “Aidan?” And the last conversation you and I had, you said, “Is Aidan in this show?”And I said, “No,” and it was not anyone’s intention of putting him in the show — and I wasn’t playing any long game. I would never have brought Aidan in last season, because come on — it’s enough already. It would be too TV. Then I thought, Carrie’s had two great loves. One has been cruelly taken from her. How can his name not pop her mind?
I know, technically as a showrunner, their chemistry is fantastic. And also as a showrunner, I know that the audience had a split, Big or Aidan, and when Aidan was on “Sex and the City,” when we got rid of him, people sent little wood chairs, little popsicle sticks. Back in the day before Twitter or Instagram, people would send popsicle stick chairs to the offices that said, “Bring Aidan back!”
Is he on for the rest of the season?
[Smiles, then shrugs.] There’ll be enough for people. I’m not going to tell you, but yeah, he’s around.
Given that there’s never — or at least rarely? — been a show about the lives of 50something women, it seems notable that Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis are still willing to show a breast after all these years. You’ve been working with them now for a generation — how do those conversations and negotiations happen with those actors?
I have basically 25 years of trust with them. There’s two types of nudity on our show, which is romantic and comic. So, let’s start with Cynthia first. Because the very first thing, and the most important nudity to the writing, was calling her up and saying, “Sensory deprivation tank will only be funny if you’re completely naked. So, before we write this, do you think you could be completely naked?” Because the point is Miranda’s in her in her L.A. head, and it’s all very new Miranda. And then gets some salt in her eye and she’s like, “Fuck the new me.” So, the first thing I did was go to Cynthia and say, “What do you think? I think you’ll take care of me, yeah.”
When it comes to the idea of a couple that’s been together for many, many years, Charlotte and Harry, and we talked about the beauty of the montage, and how we wanted to show different ways of people being free. Charlotte’s the most comfortable sexually — it turns out after all these years she trusts who she’s with. I was like, “Maybe you’ll be on top since everybody isn’t.” And she was like, “Yeah, OK. What are we going to do? And OK, I don’t need to cover it up. Well, let’s just see how it looks.” And then she was going, “I’m comfortable with that.”
But I would point out that back in the day, 24 years ago, Cynthia, when we were just the second season, the third episode, did dirty talking-sex with a character — and she’s completely, from the waist up, naked. And just being hilarious. So, comedy sex is really important, and then romance sex — but nothing pornographic ever.
Switching topics! What beats did you want to hit in the season premiere, and why did you center it around the Met Ball?
When it comes to May in New York, the first thing that popped into my mind was, “Well, the Met Ball…” We could use the Met Ball as a sort of exploration of these different family units, personalities, why they’re there — even down to Jackie’s [Bobby Lee] wife’s Smoke [Bethlehem Million] to create a character that is the farce trap that gets Carrie to wear the wedding gown.
I knew that that would be something for the audience. It would be something for me. It would be something for Sarah Jessica.
So, I was like, “Oh, how do I contrive this to be a story where we eventually force Carrie back into the wedding gown to show the bigger theme of the season?” Which is: Carrie’s let go of her pain, and she says she’s repurposed it. So, writing is a combination of what will amuse the audience, what’s the architecture of how to plot it out, and then how do you grow characters so that the audience has more of an understanding of them.
Let’s not forget the bird headpiece, Michael.
Of course! I knew from the start we were going to get her back in the wedding gown as a symbol of moving on, but also technically as a showrunner from a press point of view, that shot of her in that dress went everywhere. And the question marks, about why is she in that dress? What are they doing over there? What’s wrong with them? Did they run out of clothes? It starts a dialogue back and forth with the audience.
Speaking broadly, what did you want to see Carrie go through this season?
I wanted to reengage with the in-the-moment Carrie — who’s with her friends saying funny things, open for discussion, going out and being in the city. I wanted her to be present and accounted for. I mean, we’re talking fiction, but let’s pretend that Carrie is real, and the death was real. When you go through something like that, it really takes you out of the present. You’re in the future. You’re in the past. And it’s really hard to sort of return to your lightness.
I want Carrie to return to herself. The theme of the season is life’s too short to not try something new. Whether that be jumping into bed with Franklin, whether that be poaching an egg, whether that be openness to who’s coming next. Even if it’s somebody that she knows from before — that’s still a forward motion, because you’re open to it. I thought that was kind of brave, to hit a big life change and then go, “Watch: I’m lifting up again. I’m opening myself up.”
Why kill Carrie’s “Sex and the City” podcast so quickly?
Because I see that’s what’s happening. We always felt that Franklin was a bit site-specific, and so we wanted to change the site and take it away.
What made Franklin not a match for Carrie?
She wasn’t there. Look, every guy that comes into Carrie’s life is going to be love? No! It’s storytelling, too. That last moment of her walking through that lobby, if you notice, it’s filled with men deliberately.
I did not notice!
Yeah, it’s all men coming at her.
What did you want for Charlotte this season?
I love Kristin, and I always like to show new sides of people. We wanted her to go so far away from herself, and still show she needs to do something for work. She’s trying to work that momager angle. She’s trying to get Lily taken care of. We wanted to give her a chance to return to whoever Charlotte was before she was mom.
Through Episode 7, there’s been no texting between Carrie and Samantha. Why not?
When I imagine these characters, they’re talking and texting all the time. So the funeral was an actual important reach-out, as was “I kissed a man” last year. This year, Charlotte mentioned Samantha in the very first scene when they’re walking: “I’m Samantha!” And then later on, we mentioned Stanford. They’re gone, but not forgotten. It happened off camera somewhere.
Can you tell me the story of how it came to pass that Kim Cattrall will appear in the finale?
I will tell you that when I started Season 2, that never was a possibility. And I have to tell you, without being incredibly cloying, I don’t know how! Something magical happened, and plates shifted. I don’t know whether it was the 25th anniversary, but all of a sudden there was a story point that could have been a reach out to Samantha that became more than a text. I think the fans might have manifested it. And then Hollywood magic, show business magic happened, and that’s how it happened.
But I don’t like that anybody knows it, because my goal was to have people sitting there and going, “Oh, here comes Carrie with a text,” and have the word on the phone be Samantha — and people’s heads blow off. So, unfortunately, I guess you only get to keep one real spoiler in your career, and I got Mr. Big didn’t die before everybody knew it. So I can’t really complain, because I got that one, which was impossible too.
But it just happened. Something shifted. Kim had started saying, “I don’t want to play Samantha again.” And suddenly, she was playing Samantha.
Does that mean that there’s a door open for her to come back for more, for Season 3?
I don’t really even think about it. I don’t think about it because it’s a really, as I said, magical treat that happened. It could be an oasis. I don’t know how it came. I know that it happened, and the audience is going to get to see Samantha in the series, which was impossible. So, I guess never say never.
Have you spoken with her about any of this?
No. I spoke with her about this, but I didn’t want to speak past this. I’m just like, “This is a thing. It’s very doable. Let’s see what happens.”
Do you have in mind the number of seasons you’d like “And Just Like That” to run?
Nope. I kind of write in the moment. I did that, even, on “Sex and the City” every season. I was like, “Here’s this season. This is the journey that they all went on.” And every finale feels like it has a finale aspect to it. I mean, I’m very happy with this season, but I don’t project ahead.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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