For 25 years, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and others in their orbit (especially their unforgettable fourth bestie, Samantha), have pushed boundaries. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the friends — then in their 30s — normalized the idea of women as sexual beings and depicted women’s full lives as inclusive of both work and play. As far-fetched as the show could be (how did a freelance advice columnist afford racks of Jimmy Choo shoes? Where were all the New Yorkers who were not rich and white?), Sex and the City entertained while it educated.

Fast forward to And Just Like That, developed by Michael Patrick King and written by a diverse writers room. The series focuses on the group of women, now in their 50s — a demographic too rarely featured as speaking characters on television. And it does so in affirming ways that could be transformational for cultural perceptions of women, work, family and care

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In the show’s first season, And Just Like That overtly and sometimes uncomfortably grappled with race, ethnicity and gender identity as the friend group finally expanded to reflect some of New York’s diversity. The integration of new characters of color, like Seema Patel, Lisa Todd Wexley, Nya Wallace and Che Diaz, wasn’t always smooth. But its clunkiness also reflected people’s real discomfort and sometimes ineptness in setting aside outdated norms and practices, where white folks of a certain class were taught it was polite to pretend they didn’t see differences rather than acknowledging and addressing inequity, racism and biases.

The second season, whose finale airs Aug. 24, has settled into itself, not spotlighting characters’ race, ethnicity and gender identity as a main focus but rather using the full cast of characters with all of their multiple identities to explore the full complexity of lived circumstances — about age, parenting, work and relationships with spouses, friends and themselves. 

Take Charlotte (Kristin Davis), who once had a promising career at an art gallery but — as about 10 percent of wealthier women do — left her job entirely when she became a mother. Like most moms, Charlotte shoulders a disproportionate share of caregiving for her kids and holds the “mental load” of managing her family and household. Harry (Evan Handler), her husband, is a background player, following Charlotte’s directives but never taking (or being allowed to take) charge. This season, Charlotte realizes that she has lost herself by focusing so much energy on caring for her children, and she announces that she is going back to work full-time. Her children and Harry say they’ll support her, but in episode nine (“There Goes the Neighborhood”), Harry struggles with their new normal, commenting rudely on Charlotte’s “late night” return when she walks into their apartment — at 7:30 p.m. — carrying pizzas for dinner. 

Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker) and her husband, Herbert (Christopher Jackson), provide a counterweight to Harry and Charlotte. And Just Like That’s writers show us how a dual-earner couple can manage work and family in more equitable ways. They model not just one but multiple conversations about how to make sure they are each involved in managing the load of parenting while supporting each other’s full-time careers. They are not always pleased with each other, but theirs is a more equal partnership.

In episode four (“Alive”), Herbert explains to Lisa that he has decided not to run for City Comptroller because he does not want her to bear more household and family burdens, and that there will be time to serve the city when their kids are older. Herbert’s self-awareness shows viewers that parents of all genders, and not just mothers, can make decisions that take family caregiving into account. Herbert ultimately becomes a candidate in the race only because Lisa pushes him. 

Two episodes later (“Bomb Cyclone”), Herbert and Lisa’s important work engagements conflict — a campaign fundraiser for Herbert, and a Museum of Modern Art event honoring Lisa’s documentary about Black women in business, education and law. When an epic blizzard makes Lisa’s event difficult to get to, Herbert suggests she cancel her appearance, but Lisa confidently rejects his suggestion. Herbert walks into his wife’s presentation after concluding his own, just in time to hear her explain three truths to the MoMA audience, and all of us: The film took her eight years to research and make because she is married with three children; it could have taken even longer without support at home; and it was important for her to make this film to give Black women who are “still told no every day the encouragement to keep going.” 

The show also takes on women’s self-determination in other relationships, modeling freedom of all kinds. There’s physical freedom and authenticity: Charlotte jettisons shapewear and lets her belly hang out in an adorable new dress. Lisa lets viewers — and a fellow Black woman on screen — see that she uses a wig

And just as important, the writers model women’s right to emotional freedom: In episode seven (“February 14”), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is on an uncomfortable date in an unsexy apartment, and realizes she can leave. She tells Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) that “35-year-old straight Miranda would stay, but 56-year-old lesbian Miranda wouldn’t.” Miranda’s act of agency is a growth moment — an evolution from the rest of the season where she has subsumed her own needs, first to Che (Sara Ramirez) in Los Angeles and then to her estranged husband and emotionally distant son. The same episode shows a mid-divorce Nya (Karen Pittman) happily spending Valentine’s Day in her Brooklyn apartment alone eating chocolate, content with her solitude rather than succumbing to social pressure to be out. 

Seema (Sarita Choudhury) similarly lives her truth when she unilaterally cancels the opulent summer beach house she had rented with Carrie in episode eight (“A Hundred Years Ago”). She tells Carrie that she does not begrudge her for Aidan’s (John Corbett) return, but — as someone who has never had a great love — Seema “won’t love how she feels about herself” when Aidan is with Carrie at the Hamptons beach house and doesn’t want to subject herself to that. For viewers who feel constrained by society’s expectations, these characters’ revelations might provide encouragement. And for all of us, these stories and examples can help shift norms and expectations about women’s independence and self-determination — and the freedom we have to step out of uncomfortable situations. 

But there’s more this show can do for full authenticity and inclusion. The SATC franchise’s focus on wealthy New York women has always been myopic, making invisible the New Yorkers who do not live in multimillion-dollar apartments, attend the Met Gala or shop in the city’s finest boutiques. 

That’s started to change — and there’s room to grow. 

In “A Hundred Years Ago,” Che takes a job sitting at the front desk of a veterinarian’s office and rents out their apartment as an Airbnb in order to make ends meet after their TV show pilot falls flat. When Carrie visits Che to take them to lunch, Che says they work through lunch because “it pays time and a half… and I really need the money.” Through Che, the show has finally acknowledged that many real people live paycheck to paycheck. 

If the show is renewed for a third season, there’s more fodder for good storytelling. Do Che or their co-worker Judy (Patricia Black) experience harassment on the job from their boss or customers due to their ethnicity or gender identity? Does Che run into challenges managing inflexible work schedules at the vet’s office with comedy or television auditions that force tough choices between being paid and pursuing a dream? 

And other opportunities abound. For example, the show could explore the domestic work that television almost never depicts authentically, if at all, according to Norman Lear Center research commissioned by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. SATC included the character of Magda (Lynn Cohen), Miranda’s housekeeper and nanny, but she was a supporting, sometimes-caricatured foil for Miranda whose personal life was invisible.

And Just Like That could break new ground. Presumably, Charlotte and Harry and Lisa and Herbert hire a house cleaner to keep their homes pristine. In real life, this person would almost certainly be female and a person of color or an immigrant, perhaps struggling with erratic New York subway and bus schedules, and likely caring for a child or loved one at home. Might she ask for a pay raise to earn a living wage or days off that she is entitled to under New York law? Do her employers see her as a person, whose life challenges open their eyes? Perhaps there’s an intersection with Miranda’s new work as a human rights lawyer that relates to domestic workers’ family or friends.

On the And Just Like That…The Writers Room podcast episode focused on “A Hundred Years Ago,” showrunner King, commenting alongside producers and writers Elisa Zuritsky, Julie Rottenberg and Susan Fales-Hill, mentioned that they “all used to have hellish jobs,” including King’s experience as a restaurant worker. Their experiences are likely similar to tens of millions of other service workers who are often called “essential” but are too often invisible. 

By including more characters and plotlines in And Just Like That that feature the dramedy of workers’ everyday lives — integrated into the rarified worlds of Carrie, Charlotte, Lisa, Seema and their friends in ways that honor all characters’ humanity — the show could help foster new understandings of interdependence. And it would give more audience members a chance to see their lives reflected on screen in empowering ways. Showing economic diversity would enrich the show’s authentic storytelling about life, work and loves, continuing the SATC franchise’s legacy of opening viewers’ eyes and shifting our culture while keeping us entertained.

Vicki Shabo is a policy advocate currently serving as senior fellow for gender equity, paid leave and care policy & strategy for New America’s Better Life Lab. She also is founder and director of the think tank’s Entertainment-Focused Narrative and Culture Change Practice.