It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as fans tuned in week after week to reunite with beloved TV characters from the past.
Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), the title character of Showtime’s serial killer with a code series that ran from 2006 to 2013, returned in the form of Dexter: New Blood while HBO once again embraced Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Sex and the City – original run 1998 to 2004 – with the limited series And Just Like That… (AJLT). The 2021/2022 versions of both shows shared a similar goal of making up for the sins of past seasons. In the case of AJLT the sins of the present were also top of mind as, soon after the series premiere, it was revealed that Chris Noth, AKA Carrie’s husband Mr. Big, was accused of sexually assaulting multiple women.
Dexter: New Blood attempted to make amends for the universally despised finale of the original series with a new ending, and AJLT tried to erase the original series’ lack of diversity by introducing new characters and awkwardly forcing a slew of “woke” storylines into the conversation without the help of one of its greatest assets, Kim Cattrall, who did not return to play Samantha in the revival. There was a lot to overcome, and both reboots attempted to rewrite history to varying degrees of success.
Warning: Spoilers will be discussed from this point forward.
Much like when Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band lost their beloved sax player Clarence Clemons and replaced him with an entire horn section, AJLT sought to fill its giant Samantha-sized hole with the addition of not one, not two, but three new best friends to gab and grub with Carrie, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis). Carrie’s new BFF Seema Patel (Sarita Choudhury), a real estate mogul who helps Carrie sell her apartment after Mr. Big’s sudden death in episode one, is the most Samantha-like with her cool confidence and sex-positive attitude, while Charlotte buddies up with fellow mom and art lover, Lisa Todd Wexley or LTW (Nicole Ari Parker). Miranda develops a bond with Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), who starts off as her professor before becoming a friend and confidant.
Seema, Nya and LTW are interesting characters that add depth to the show, but, with the exception of LTW, who is actually a good match for a friendship with Charlotte, it’s unclear why any of these women would want to hang out with the original gang. Miranda embarrasses herself on multiple occasions when she first meets Nya, acting like a gross nag with a white savior complex who has never interacted with a Black woman before. Why on earth would Nya want to spend any time with her outside of the classroom? Carrie treats Seema like an employee whose life didn’t exist before their paths crossed but gleefully vampires her real estate knowledge and relationship advice for her own gain.
Dexter: New Blood handled the absence of classic characters and the introduction of new ones with a lot more success. When the original series ended, many of Dexter’s friends, allies, and adversaries were dead, so New Blood‘s big challenge was capturing the familiar vibe of the original series despite a new cast and location. Even Dexter’s conscience – the ghost of his adoptive father Harry (James Remar) – said goodbye in the final season, but New Blood found a perfect solution to revisit the familiar dynamic.
In the new limited series, Dexter’s sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) – who died in the original finale – took on the duties of Dexter’s angel on his shoulder. While Harry typically kept his cool when advising Dexter of the code – only kill killers and don’t get caught – Deb is much more manic, creating conflict and suspense as Dexter reverts into the killer that he once was. Angel Batista (David Zayas) is also worked into the new series as a fun nod to the past that creates an additional threat to Dexter’s new life as innocent shopkeeper, Jim Lindsay.
New Blood’s new characters are engaging and fully developed. Dexter’s new girlfriend Chief Angela Bishop (Julia Jones) is smart, kind, funny, and has a strong moral code. She begins the reboot with a blind spot for Dexter’s true nature – much like Dexter’s late wife Rita (Julie Benz) – and later becomes suspicious – much like Dexter’s old rival Sergeant James Doakes (Erik King) – thanks to clues from a savvy true crime podcast host, Molly Park (Jamie Chung), who is looking for her next scoop. Harrison (Jack Alcott), Dexter’s now-teenage son, spent the past decade searching for his long lost father, and when he returns he finds the paternal love and protection he’s looking for from his wrestling coach, Sergeant Logan (Alano Miller), and a way to cope with his murderous rage from Dexter, who teaches him “the code.”
Dexter’s prey in New Blood is found in the form of Kurt Caldwell (Clancy Brown), a wealthy killer of women who has a vendetta for Dexter after he learns that Dexter murdered his horrible son. Brown plays the blood-thirsty menace to perfection, balancing between his mask as a charming, valued member of the community and his true killer nature. He’s fun to watch as you root for Dexter to give him the fate that he deserves.
AJLT also had its own character that fans loved to hate; Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez), a non-binary stand-up comic and podcast host who is a self-described “narcissist.” Che is loud, brash, selfish, and a bit of a bully who loves to smoke weed and perform at “comedy concerts.” They are Carrie’s boss on the X, Y, and Me podcast – presented more like a morning radio show – and they soon capture Miranda’s heart, provoking her to ask her longtime husband Steve (David Eigenberg) for a divorce. Why Che is drawn to Miranda is a question that is never answered.
Che could have been an absolute train wreck in the hands of a lesser actor, but Ramirez plays them with love. Ramirez is so talented that you can’t look away when Che appears on screen, making them the most interesting character on AJLT – full of surprises, but true to themselves. Yes, Che is a jerk, but the chaos they cause makes for good television.
Much of the Che hate may be misdirected from Miranda, whose character was all over the place throughout the reboot. Miranda is the one who cheats and feels no guilt or even empathy as she asks Steve for a divorce. Miranda is the one who is a bad friend, inviting Che up to Carrie’s apartment while Carrie was passed out. Miranda is the one who places judgement on everyone as she seems incapable of compromise. While a story line following Miranda’s personal evolution and sexual exploration sounds interesting and exciting on paper, the execution of her new love (obsession?) for Che felt forced and aggravating at every turn. And why didn’t the writers show us what happened when Miranda decided to surprise Che with a declaration of love in Cleveland?! To have that kind of set-up be left hanging is mind-boggling.
Speaking of annoying characters, without the fun and puns of Samantha to lighten the mood, viewers get a really clear look at Carrie and Charlotte. Carrie spent the season judgmental and entitled, while Charlotte was clueless and seemed like she was in a completely different show from everyone else. You could almost hear the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme music playing while Charlotte blundered her way through parenting as her child questioned their gender and ultimately disavowed labels of any kind at their “they mitzvah.”
In the end, AJLT broadened its diversity, but it neglected to give any of the new characters or plots the room to develop in any interesting way. Instead, the show felt like it was constantly patting itself on the back.
Fans’ primary gripe with Dexter was always that the original series’ ending was a cop-out. Dexter wasn’t discovered as a serial killer. He didn’t go to jail. He didn’t get killed. He got to start a new life with a new identity. In New Blood‘s finale, Dexter finally gets what he deserves. After Dexter kills Sergeant Logan to save himself, Harrison wises up to Dexter’s true nature and takes matters into his own hands, killing his father so that he can’t hurt anyone else. It’s a more satisfying conclusion, although it could have been even better if Battista – who was on route to the scene – got there in time to pull the trigger, save Harrison from having to shoot his father, and avenge the death of his love Maria LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez), whose untimely demise was due to the actions of Deb and Dexter in the original series.
While Angel killing Dexter may have been a more satisfying and final conclusion, Harrison doing the deed leaves things open for another spinoff. One with Harrison obeying the code as Dexter serves as his conscience from the great beyond.
AJLT also left things open for more seasons, as Carrie explores new love, Charlotte embraces her child for who they are and who they may become, and Miranda follows Che to Los Angeles – much like Carrie followed Aleksandr Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov) to Paris in the original series, though neither character acknowledged this similarity (so frustrating!). While there is room for more AJLT, it would be much more interesting to create a new show following Che, Seema, LTW, and Nya as they navigate New York City without the neediness of Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte.
Who knows, Kim Cattrall could even reconsider returning as Samantha to do a little trash talking with the new crew. Throw in some fashion, fun, and cosmopolitans and that’s a show worth watching.
Dexter: New Blood is currently streaming on Showtime and And Just Like That… can be found on HBO Max.
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