The Carrie Diaries: TV Review

'The Carrie Diaries' (The CW)
The CW

Premieres: Monday, Jan. 14, 8 p.m.

A Sex and the City for the younger set, the soapy CW drama is based on the City prequel by Candace Bushnell. It follows a young, Manhattan-based Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) growing up in the 1980s.

Jotting her feelings into a notebook, dreaming of Manhattan, but still trying to get through high school, this is Carrie Bradshaw the Early Years. And it may seem strange, but it works well for The CW.

Meet Carrie Bradshaw before she was a famous columnist and shoe shopper in love with Manhattan.

At first it might seem strange to take a series that helped define HBO and put the prequel on, of all places, the CW, but it ends up making more sense and actually working out – as a targeted drama – quite well.

In the arc of the story, long before there was Sex and the City, with the columnist, shoe-lover and perpetually single Carrie, there was The Carrie Diaries, featuring a 16-year-old version of Carrie, but also based on the books of Candace Bushnell.

The Carrie Diaries (premiering Monday at 8 p.m.) is a coming of age story about a young girl, and the place for stories of that ilk is on the CW, where the target audience is young women.

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The Carrie Diaries is set in 1984 and stars AnnaSophia Robb as Carrie, who lives in Connecticut with her sister Dorrit (Stefania Owen) and their father, Tom (Matt Letscher). In this version, Carrie’s mother has recently died and Tom is left to raise two teenage girls – no easy task. The younger Dorrit is rebelling more openly (pot, stealing, illegal videotaping of Purple Rain, etc.) than Carrie, who is called upon to be something of a surrogate mom. But at 16 she has other interests, namely the cute rich kid/rebel Sebastian (Austin Butler) and the lure of another man – Manhattan. Yes, that last line comes straight from The Carrie Diaries and it’s clumsy, as are a number of others, but there’s something sweet and engaging about this series even though it’s not so much about drawing hearts on notebooks as it is giving blowjobs and learning to party in Manhattan.

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That is to say that Robb is an adorable teen Carrie who spent the summer grieving for her mother and is clearly a girl who has been brought up well. But she’s also entering a period of sexual awakening, and that will certainly take the sweetness out of it for some people (or not, depending). In the show, Carrie is not the popular girl. She hangs out with a small group of best friends who help her out. There’s Mouse (Ellen Wong), Maggie (Katie Findlay) and Maggie’s boyfriend Walt (Brendan Dooling). In the second episode there’s a shot of Maggie on her knees in front of Walt. And in the first episode, Mouse, who comes off as pretty straight-laced, talks about losing her virginity to her older boyfriend and describes it thusly: “It was like putting a hot dog through a key hole.”

Luckily, there aren’t too many of those lines. But still, you can’t unhear it.

Ah yes, so everybody’s been laid except Carrie. Well, Maggie and Walt haven’t had sex even though Maggie’s practically mounting him at every opportunity. What’s holding back Walt? He’s just coming to terms with the fact he’s gay. And besides, Maggie’s two-timing him already anyway with a local cop (her father is the police chief).

Remember, this is the prequel to Sex and the City -- it just hasn’t morphed into the HBO version of adult sexcapades. But it’s to be expected that The Carrie Diaries will be more forthright as it deals with these coming-of-age issues.

Ironically, since Carrie is still a virgin, there’s still something quite innocent about the series – at least that part of it. More popular girls are trying to tempt Sebastian away, but he’s still hooked on Carrie and her curly hair. It’s kind of quaint and far less cynical than Gossip Girl.

But that might change. Because Carrie desperately wants to get out of Connecticut and we all know how hard she will fall for Manhattan. In this show, her father gets her an internship in Manhattan and when, on a shopping trip, she meets Larissa (Freema Agyeman), a stylist for Interview magazine (Carrie’s favorite), the art and fashion world and people of the late night begin to have a real allure for Carrie. The connections to her later life are being made.

Now, Carrie Diaries isn’t perfect. Sharing a pedigree with Sex and the City makes for a tough comparison. But it’s certainly a perfect CW show. Everybody looks young and pretty, etc. But at least in The Carrie Diaries, they’re not vampires or comic book characters. They are real people with plausible emotions. And in the hands of Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl, The O.C.), Amy Harris (Gossip Girl), Bushnell and two other executive producers from the CW’s Hart of Dixie, the storytelling has a chance to be handled maturely.

It’s just important to remember that – voiceovers and wild dresses aside – the prequel is still a couple of boroughs removed from the original.


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