AISHA HARRIS, HOST:
A warning - this episode mentions sexual assault.
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A HARRIS: And just like that, the ladies of "Sex And The City" - well, most of them anyway - have returned to our screens after more than a decade. The HBO Max series finds Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda entering new phases of life as they mourn a lot of things - their youth, the loss of their friendship with Samantha and Mr. Big. And since you can't do a revival these days without at least trying to atone for past sins, the "Sex And The City" realm has grown not only a little older but a little woker, too. The new cast includes several performers of color and characters who are nonbinary or questioning their gender identity. Do these updates make the nostalgia trip worth it? I'm Aisha Harris, and today, we're talking about "And Just Like That..." on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
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A HARRIS: Joining us today is E. Alex Jung, a features writer for New York Magazine and Vulture. Welcome back, Alex.
E ALEX JUNG: Hi. Thanks for having me.
A HARRIS: Also joining us is Kristen Meinzer. She's the co-host of the podcast "Movie Therapy With Rafer & Kristen." Hello, Kristen.
KRISTEN MEINZER: Hi, Aisha. Great to be back.
A HARRIS: Yes, it's great to have you back. And finally, also with us is NPR Music editorial assistant LaTesha Harris. Hello, LaTesha, and welcome back to you as well.
LATESHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Hi, Aisha. Great to be back here as well.
A HARRIS: So quick warning for listeners that we will be discussing spoilers that have happened within the first seven episodes of "And Just Like That..." Now, on "And Just Like That..." Sarah Jessica Parker returns as Carrie. She's now a co-host on a sex and dating podcast. She's also reeling from the sudden death of Big, played by Chris Noth. Charlotte, played by Kristin Davis, is in full on mommy mode and awkwardly adjusting to the fact that one of her kids is questioning their gender identity. Cynthia Nixon's Miranda, meanwhile, has pivoted out of law and is getting a master's in human rights at Columbia. She's also fallen out of love with Steve and is confronting an alcohol addiction now. Now, notably missing from this is Samantha. Because the actress Kim Cattrall is over the whole thing and did not reunite with her co-stars, the show explains that the character had a falling out with Carrie and absconded to the U.K. The writers also had to contend with the unexpected death of Willie Garson, who played Carrie's best gay friend, Stanford Blatch. Garson passed away during filming and only appears in the first three episodes.
And there's a whole lot of diversity going on here. Each remaining lady gets a new nonwhite side friend to dance around the city with. You've got Seema Patel, Carrie's real estate agent turned confidante, who is played by Sarita Choudhury. There's also Lisa Todd Wexley, Charlotte's fellow mommy organizer, played by Nicole Ari Parker. And Karen Pittman plays Dr. Nya Wallace, Miranda's professor. And then there's Sara Ramirez as Che Diaz, who becomes somewhat of a lust interest for Miranda. She's Carrie's boss and co-host on the podcast.
Also, we should probably note you might have noticed some NPR merch in the series. NPR was asked for some podcast-related items, which we provided.
So we've all seen the first seven episodes. Kristen, what are your thoughts on "And Just Like That..."?
MEINZER: You just did such a good job of summing up everything there.
A HARRIS: There's a lot to sum up (laughter).
MEINZER: Yeah, there's a lot to sum up, and a lot of it is awkward and it is trying so hard to be inclusive. You can almost see the writers checking off diversity boxes in each episode as they go along. But let's be real. The "Sex And The City" characters were never about diversity. They were about sex and shoes and friendship and chasing rich white men who worked on Wall Street. So it almost feels, you know, out of character for these people to suddenly care about diversity, to each want to have a minority sidekick. It feels very token-y (ph) to me.
And also, I just have to say, I am missing Samantha so much. Samantha added so much comedy to the show, and she was also incredibly loyal. She was the best friend on the show. Of all the friends, she was the least judgmental. She was the most loyal, she was the most supportive.
And I do not buy for a second the storyline of, oh, well, Carrie no longer needed her as a publicist, and Samantha took that so personally, she ditched all of the friends. That is malarkey. She was doing her work pro bono for Carrie, and she had enough clients in Hollywood. This is nonsense. I like to think that Samantha just said, I can't deal with you selfish, self-involved, judgmental people anymore. I'm out. And she's probably not even in London. She's probably just, like, living, like, in Brooklyn or something. She just doesn't want to hang out with these people anymore.
JUNG: She wouldn't be in Brooklyn.
A HARRIS: Well, might be in Dumbo. You never know.
MEINZER: Oh, yeah, she could totally be in Dumbo.
L HARRIS: Samantha would not be caught dead in Brooklyn.
JUNG: No, no. I don't think so.
MEINZER: OK. You're right. You're right. Maybe she's not in Brooklyn. But maybe she's in LA right now.
A HARRIS: Yes, yes, somewhere warm, somewhere warm, for sure, for sure. Alex, what are your thoughts?
JUNG: Yeah, I think it just feels like there's a bit of a disconnect from the characters, and it's almost like they didn't watch the original show. You just watch these characters again, and it feels like they don't have a strong connection to who they were. And suddenly, there are all of these other storylines that feel like they're kind of retrofitted for the Twitter conversation. The characters are - have been changed to describe what is happening in the current zeitgeist in ways that feel atypical from who they actually are. You know, like, even, like, Carrie doing the podcast, it's a sex podcast. Suddenly, she is a prude.
A HARRIS: She's kind of always been a prude.
L HARRIS: She's been a prude.
JUNG: That's true. I guess. It's sort of felt like the anthropological curiosity that she had about sex was suddenly gone.
A HARRIS: Right.
JUNG: That she had somehow aged out of being curious. And I just - I guess I find those little things to be odd because it just feels like it's trying to address the world in a way that I don't know if they would be trying to address it themselves.
A HARRIS: Yeah, no. I think the archeological aspect of it makes sense to me. I think there's a reason they decided to call it not "Sex And The City" but "And Just Like That..." because sex is no longer the focus. It's happening, but it's not happening to Carrie, and it's barely happening to the other characters. And so that disconnect I totally get. LaTesha, how are you feeling?
L HARRIS: Well, firstly, let me just say seeing Cynthia Nixon's nipple was not on my 2022 bingo card...
L HARRIS: ...But I was thrilled. That was a thrill for me. The problem of "And Just Like That..." is that it takes the world's current political climate and turns it into a joke. You know, the writers are trying to convince us that they understand that the girls would be considered bad people today. But instead of acknowledging that they've always been racist and problematic, the issue...
L HARRIS: ...Is now, like, woke culture...
L HARRIS: ...And comedy comes from, you know, the girls struggling to adapt to it. But I will say what's smart about it is that the writers have identified each character's fatal flaw and is trying to teach them a new peace-y (ph) way of living. You know, you have Carrie's codependency on men, resulting in Big's death and trying to live for herself - maybe, I don't know. Now she's dating again. And then Miranda's compulsory heterosexuality results in, you know, her getting fingerblasted by Che Diaz in her best friend's kitchen.
JUNG: That was my favorite scene, though.
A HARRIS: That was a scene. That was a scene.
L HARRIS: That was certainly a choice (laughter).
A HARRIS: I'll never think of Snapple the same way again in my life.
L HARRIS: And then, you know, you have Charlotte's, like, conservative squareness resulting in her having a trans, nonbinary child. Like, they're all trying to learn some lessons about the world. But it just seems like they've been on the shelf for about 20 years and have just woken up and, like, Twitter has taken over the world when, in reality, New York has always been this.
A HARRIS: Yeah.
MEINZER: LaTesha, are you sure it's only 20 years have passed because it feels like 50?
L HARRIS: I mean, I feel like they think they're living in, like, the world - year 3000 - and they're just...
L HARRIS: ...So flabbergasted.
A HARRIS: Well, the pandemic's completely over, too.
L HARRIS: (Laughter). Yeah.
A HARRIS: So, like, it could be the year 3000. We don't know.
L HARRIS: It's an exhausting show to watch, but I have to keep coming back for Dr. Nya Wallace.
A HARRIS: First, I'll say I concur with all of your points. I feel the same way. And to talk about Nya, I find it very fascinating because I'm pretty sure she's the only new character who, like, gets her own scenes without the other characters there, which I think is, like, a weird kind of thing to see because that rarely ever happened in the original show. And so it feels like they're bringing all of this diversity in ways that feel very forced and awkward. And the Nya character - you know, all of her interactions with Miranda, especially at the beginning, just feel, ugh, cringe.
And I also think, like, the weird thing is that they put so many of the ills and the -isms onto Miranda in a way that just feels, like, weighted down. Between not being in love with Steve and cheating on him and then also having issues with her son, who is just having sex in their apartment all the time - and she can hear it, which, I'm sorry, but, like, my parents would never allow that and I don't know what parents would - but this is a weird thing. And then on top of that, there's the alcoholism.
It feels like such a different show from "Sex And The City." And I don't necessarily think it needed to be the exact same show, but it's like, who is this for? And, like, I don't think people of color who were fans of the original show are necessarily benefiting from this. It sounds like we all feel as though this is just not done in the way we wanted it to be. And I wonder if women who are actually the same demographic as the "Sex And The City" ladies, like, do they enjoy this? I do think the show does some interesting things with aging and what it means to deal with your body in different ways and that sort of thing, but I'm not entirely sure it's worth it for that alone. It feels a little unnecessary.
MEINZER: It almost feels like a totally different show. Like, I think about the high jinks of the original show and the energy and the humor. And, oh, can you believe they're really going to push things this far? And this show almost seems like it's informed by the sensibilities of shows that are about cringing. You know, I think all of us have essentially said we are cringing through this show. But it's not the same energy, and the writing seems so inconsistent.
But to go back to those new characters that have been brought on - Seema, Nya, Lisa - I just feel kind of bad for them. And I'm like, why are you friends with Miranda...
MEINZER: ...And Carrie and Charlotte?
JUNG: They would not be.
A HARRIS: Well, I think - I feel like Lisa...
L HARRIS: Lisa would be.
A HARRIS: ...Would be.
L HARRIS: She's a Black conservative (laughter).
JUNG: I don't understand why Nya would be friends with Miranda. I was like, why would that happen?
A HARRIS: Well, right.
A HARRIS: It also seems unethical.
L HARRIS: (Laughter).
A HARRIS: Like, you're her professor.
A HARRIS: Like, I'm sorry (laughter).
MEINZER: And then after their first terrible, terrible, terrible, awkward encounter and their second terrible, terrible, awkward encounter tinged with racism and all sorts of terrible stuff, suddenly, like, by Episode 3, they're, like, BFFs, like, grabbing dinner together, drinking margs (ph) and stuff. Are - like - I'm like, how did this happen?
JUNG: And talking about fertility problems.
MEINZER: (Laughter) Yes.
JUNG: Like, what?
L HARRIS: Don't you know that all women are obsessed with talking about their wombs?
L HARRIS: That's why they're friends.
MEINZER: It's so weird and awkward to watch.
JUNG: Well, there's, like, a strange, arhythmic pace to every episode where it sort of feels like it's trying to retain something of the energy of the original - that kind of, like, frothiness. And I don't need the same show either, right? I thought the last episode that aired, Episode 7, was kind of instructive because in that one you have Carrie writing her memoir about what happened and the grief that she sustained. And, you know, her editor is like, oh, this is completely unlike anything you've ever written before. It sort of felt like, you know, there's a kind of meta parallel from maybe talking about the show, too - right? - where she's like, oh, but doesn't it still need something, like, optimistic or hopeful in it and then suggests this, like, epilogue where she goes on a date, which is a conceit of the episode, which I thought was terrible and an editor probably would not have done that.
A HARRIS: (Laughter).
JUNG: But whatever. We're going to move on past that (laughter).
L HARRIS: I mean, I think that conceit of the book editor wanting Carrie to go on a date is the entire problem with the show.
L HARRIS: Like, it thinks it's going somewhere for a second, and then you completely swerve off right. And it's like, no, you had a point.
L HARRIS: Stick with that. Like, that scene where Miranda is trying to explain to Carrie how she feels empty inside, how she doesn't feel like she's the person that she wants to be - that's good. I feel like, Aisha, to your point, like, hammering down what it means to be a 50-year-old woman and kind of adjusting to life no longer as you thought it would be - that's something you can work with. All these other things are like, you keep trying to make these girls 30. They're 50. Let them break their hip. Let them be depressed. Let them cheat on their husbands and try to figure out a new way of life, you know?
JUNG: Totally. Like, I would have watched a depressed, angry Carrie Bradshaw show, you know?
L HARRIS: Me too.
JUNG: And then in this past episode, it felt like they were really trying to do old "Sex And The City." So then you have, like, Harry and Charlotte fighting over the word mansplaining, and then you have Carrie literally going on a date and projectile vomiting.
L HARRIS: I like that, though.
A HARRIS: I actually did kind of. I was like, oh, that's cool.
JUNG: I guess it felt like not the show we had been watching.
L HARRIS: Yeah.
JUNG: I think that's sort of what I felt is that these weird fits and starts where I was like, I don't know what this is anymore, and I don't think they do either.
A HARRIS: Yeah. I want to point to one scene that really did work for me and I think to your point about how it keeps going back-and-forth. And this was the scene that for me felt the most like a moment from the original show, which was when Carrie and Charlotte and Miranda were at the park at the picnic...
L HARRIS: Yeah.
A HARRIS: ...And Miranda reveals that she had sex with Jay (ph). And that, for me, is where they all felt like themselves but just 20 years older.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Listen, you brought it up. And we talk about everything, so you can't just suddenly change the rules.
SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) That's true. We should probably take a vote, but it will never pass the Senate.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) And, Carrie, why do you keep trying to make this nothing? It's something.
PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) No, you know what? Big dying is something.
A HARRIS: What I just love about that scene - and it keeps going and builds to a pitch. But, like, you have Carrie interjecting and making it all about her, like she always does.
L HARRIS: Yep.
A HARRIS: And then you have Charlotte trying not to be judgmental, but clearly she's doing her thing, and then Miranda being very defensive. And I felt like all of - that whole scene felt like a natural outgrowth of everything we'd seen up to that point. And I want more moments like that, and it's not there. But I feel like in that scene, it really worked for me.
MEINZER: I totally agree with you. And I think part of that is Cynthia Nixon. She directed that episode, and she didn't over-explain anything. She let the characters just be who they were, kind of what we all have been wanting all along. I just wish the rest of the show was as brave as that. You know, they've been trying to insert a bunch of current issues, current events, what they think that the world needs now. And in inserting all of those things, they're abandoning a lot of what made the characters who they were.
And frankly, I got to say, Big's death also seemed like a copout to me. If they were going to be brave, they would have continued this toxic relationship between Carrie and Big, where she always wants him more, where he is essentially a cheater who's always got one foot out the door. That would have been the braver thing to do. What is it like in your 50s to deal with that kind of relationship, and how is that different than when you're 41? I think that would have been much braver. There are other instances in the show where I think they could have gone there and done things that would have been in keeping with who the characters were, rather than just trying to insert, like, here's a nonbinary character.
A HARRIS: Well, yeah, it's an interesting point you make about the Mr. Big character because as we know now - and we should definitely point out that Chris Noth, who plays Mr. Big, has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women. And NPR reached out to Noth's representatives, who declined to respond on the record. So just need to throw that out there.
I think what this show really is - you look at the fact that at its time, it was considered this progressive, very unusual show. And a lot of us who are millennials or a little bit older grew up watching this and seeing it as that. And then, you know, times have changed, we've grown up, the culture has changed, and now there's no shortage of articles, quizzes, whatever talking about how all these characters were screwed up in some way, mostly being racist or Carrie not being as, you know, sexually progressive as she should have been for a sex columnist. I think of the episode where she tries dating a guy who's bi, bisexual, and just decides, like, she can't do it for very not great reasons. This show feels like it's listened to all those, it's read and consumed all those things, and it's just applying them to this.
I'm curious what you think, though. Like, the writers in this writer's room are people of color. They are more diverse. Samantha Irby, who is someone who I think is really, really talented and great, is one of the writers on this show. When we were critiquing the original show, the writers room was pretty much very, very white, and now it's not. And I wonder, you know, what do we make of that, if anything?
L HARRIS: I mean, firstly, all skinfolk ain't kinfolk. And it makes me wonder, like, if they want us to really laugh at them and really be like, oh, these silly little white women doing their silly little racist things, like, look at how silly they are. But it's like, at the end of the day, it does want us to root for Carrie and have her be seen throughout this grief process in a sympathetic way. So it's kind of confusing what they actually want from the audience.
JUNG: I think they want both is what I sense, you know? Like, they want us to cringe at, like, their out-of-touch-ness, right? They also give them redemptive moments, you know, where Charlotte is at the dinner with Lisa at her house, and then she just rattles off, like, a litany of Black artists that are like...
A HARRIS: I actually brought that clip as well.
A HARRIS: I don't know if you want to play it.
L HARRIS: Let's play it, because is that redemptive?
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KRISTIN DAVIS: (As Charlotte York Goldenblatt) The collection includes Deborah Roberts and, oh, Barkley Hendricks and the early work by Derrick Adams, which is like owning early sheet music by Beethoven.
A HARRIS: What is that scene (laughter)?
JUNG: I think it still reads as cringe...
A HARRIS: Right.
JUNG: ...To me, but I do think in the scene, it's supposed to be redemptive for her.
A HARRIS: Right.
JUNG: I think that's sort of why it's cringe in that sense, because you're like, what? Like, there isn't a character who's like, shut up.
L HARRIS: But there should be, though. Like, why is Charlotte, this white woman, explaining to a table full of Black people all the Black artists that are on the walls?
L HARRIS: And I feel like at first I was like, that would never happen. Then I was like, LTW, I have eyebrows raised about her. And with her Black conservative friends, that makes sense that they'd be so happy that this white woman is explaining things to them. But, like, that would not fly at my dinner table.
A HARRIS: Yeah, that's what it is. It's the reaction to that moment. And that's where, at least with Nya, I can kind of get behind her a little bit more because she does sort of, even if it's also in this very let-me-explain-to-you-white-woman kind of way, she still does have those moments where she's like, you don't have to say that, or cool your jets here. We don't (laughter) - like, it's fine. And the Lisa character is just - her and her husband are - I did not necessarily need, like, a Hilary Banks in this way. And I feel like she's kind of a Hilary Banks.
L HARRIS: Interesting.
JUNG: Or just lean into that even, right? Like, if you want to create this character, at least go really hard into it. They feel sort of, essentially, secondary for the most part for...
A HARRIS: Yeah.
JUNG: ...Each of the main characters to kind of have a moment or learn something, right? They're still, essentially, instructive tools, I feel like, except for Nya, I do think at least gets her own storyline...
A HARRIS: Right. Right.
JUNG: ...With the baby stuff.
A HARRIS: We haven't talked about Che at all. And apparently, a lot of people have feelings about Che. Some people like them, love them, and then some people find them very exhausting.
A HARRIS: Like, I've loved Sara Ramirez since they were on "Grey's Anatomy." It's great to see them here, but this character is intense...
A HARRIS: ...In ways that sometimes, at least for me, feel as though this is exactly what the conservatives would call, like, quote-unquote, "liberals" - or woke people - as just sort of just always being very...
L HARRIS: In-your-face.
A HARRIS: Yeah, in-your-face about things in a way. But maybe that's just my own bias and I'm - I don't know. What do you - what do we think about Che?
JUNG: I mean, to be fair, Che is a shock jock, right?
A HARRIS: Right.
JUNG: Like, they do a sex podcast - or their stand-up. You know, it's a stand-up more in the kind of, like, '90s-ish mold.
A HARRIS: Very.
A HARRIS: Very. Yeah.
JUNG: It's not, like, alt comedy. It's definitely, like, commanding-the-stage kind of comedy. Sure, that person can exist. I'm like, yeah, I see it. I think where I have a little more trouble is, like, their relationship with Miranda is a little beguiling to me. That said, you know, I did enjoy that woofing scene, so...
A HARRIS: That was a top-notch comedy/sex moment. It was - yes. Yes.
JUNG: Oh, I mean, Cynthia Nixon felt that.
MEINZER: I was just grateful there was sex...
A HARRIS: Yeah.
MEINZER: ...Because, I mean, honestly, Che brings the sex. And the ladies - they're not really having sex. We have to watch Miranda's son have sex.
A HARRIS: Brady.
MEINZER: Let some of the original ladies have some sex. And so I'm grateful Che is there so that there can be some sex with Miranda. I'm totally fine with that. A lot of my friends hate Che though. That includes some of my LGBTQ friends. They just think that Che is a terrible, heavy-handed stereotype. But I personally would say that they're all terrible, so I don't know if Che is worse than anybody else on the show...
A HARRIS: No.
MEINZER: ...Since almost everybody's terrible on the show.
L HARRIS: They stack comparatively well against everyone else who is awful.
A HARRIS: Yeah.
L HARRIS: And I think, also, Che is, like, a stand-up comedian, and those are excruciating, exhausting people. And it's not that their nonbinary-ness (ph) makes them exhausting.
MEINZER: Yes (laughter).
L HARRIS: It's just that they're a comedian, and they're annoying.
JUNG: One hundred percent.
A HARRIS: So I think, also, we have to talk about, since Samantha is gone, we've kind of had this rotating fourth chair of friends who have got to sit at brunch and dinner with the ladies. And one of them has been Seema, who, as we've mentioned, is Carrie's real estate agent but also now kind of her best friend outside of the other ladies. LaTesha, do you have thoughts on Seema?
L HARRIS: You know, she made her fourth chair debut, finally. You know, she obviously fills the Samantha role. And then she only talks about getting Carrie a date on Tinder. Also, what is more depressing than watching a 50-year-old Carrie scroll through Tinder in her old bedroom?
A HARRIS: Yeah.
L HARRIS: I thought there could be nothing more depressing, but then I watched Miranda get upset about Steve washing his hand before fingering her. That was actually quite thoughtful.
JUNG: I know - our hygienic king.
L HARRIS: I know. He was doing stuff.
A HARRIS: Seriously.
L HARRIS: He had to clean himself.
A HARRIS: He's been treated very dirty this whole season. Poor Steve.
JUNG: Oh, they did Steve so dirty.
MEINZER: Oh, yeah.
A HARRIS: Steve and Samantha. And Stanford - like, really, he would just, again, with a note? It's not a Post-it note, but it's a note (laughter).
A HARRIS: I know, like, obviously the circumstances are a little different around that, but I feel like they could've given him a better out than just flying to Japan and leaving and not telling Carrie in person - or at least a phone call.
MEINZER: I think he's with Samantha, OK?
MEINZER: He and Samantha are like, we've had it with these people.
L HARRIS: We're done. We're leaving. We're going to be better people.
MEINZER: But just one thing I want to say about Seema - this is another lost opportunity. The show has a chance to do something with a character who actually is single, who Carrie was condescending to - like, oh, at least you're still putting yourself out there. I'm proud of you. But we could do something interesting with that character. It is not a weird thing to be in your 50s and single. And then to kind of treat that as, I'm just going to help Carrie to self-actualize, but I don't get to do anything myself?
A HARRIS: Exactly.
JUNG: Also, Sarita Choudhury is a fantastic actor.
A HARRIS: Yes.
JUNG: Like, let's not forget "Mississippi Masala"...
A HARRIS: Yes.
JUNG: ...From the '90s with Denzel. And, you know, she's fantastic. And smoky voice, sexy.
L HARRIS: Beautiful.
JUNG: I would totally love to see more actual plotlines with her, you know, instead of her doing Diwali and inviting Carrie.
L HARRIS: Well, not even inviting Carrie - being forced to bring Carrie to her parents' Diwali.
A HARRIS: Carrie invited herself.
JUNG: Right. So Carrie could wear a saree.
L HARRIS: Because Carrie had been looking at the sarees.
A HARRIS: Yes. Yes. But as Seema says, it's not cultural appropriation. It's cultural appreciation.
L HARRIS: Oh, word.
JUNG: Thank you so much for that (laughter).
A HARRIS: Well, we want to know what you think about "And Just Like That..." You can find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter - @pchh. And that brings us to the end of our show. Thanks to you all for being here. It was very fun to talk with all of you.
MEINZER: That was so fun. Thank you.
L HARRIS: Thank you, Aisha.
JUNG: Thank you.
A HARRIS: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. And we'll see you all tomorrow.
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