First of all, despite evidence to the contrary, The Carrie Diaries is not Sex and the City: the Early Years. It lacks the essence of its parent show; it lacks the groundbreaking salaciousness, the raunchiness and the short, punchy episode structure. This becomes less of a criticism when you realize that The Carrie Diaries doesn’t seem interested in mimicking its namesake at all, with AnnaSophia Robb’s Ms. Bradshaw bearing little resemblance to Sarah Jessica Parker’s icon of ‘90s pop culture.
There are many ingredients to this show that, when arranged in the right order and distributed in the right quantities, could well create the next big teen phenomenon. Gossip Girl is gone, and the partial setting in Manhattan brings the glamor and wish-fulfillment that the character herself craves. Then there’s the Jane by Design-esque internship that turns into a case of mistaken identity, and the small-town relationship drama that has love triangles, queen bees, promiscuous friends and closeted boyfriends galore. The trouble is, none of it adds up to something compelling, and the show has no handle on where it’s going or what it could be.
There are two kinds of teen drama: small-town and big city. Beverly Hills 90210 followed rich kids in their rich lives with their rich people problems, while shows like Dawson’s Creek focused on teens in less privileged situations just going about their daily lives. The Carrie Diaries, unfortunately, wants to be both at the same time. I was, I’m sure like a proportion of the audience, bored to tears until Carrie arrived in Manhattan, and after the big reveal of Carrie Bradshaw: NYC idol, her return to the school dance seemed disappointingly small-time. Carrie wants desperately to get to her ‘real’ life in the big city, and we want her there just as much.
The worst thing about this pilot was the Bradshaw family we’re forced to endure. A house full of clichés, Carrie has a recently deceased mother, a well-meaning father in over his head, and a bratty sister who wears a lot of eye makeup and stays out too late. We’ve seen it all before and, let’s face it; this family belongs back in the ‘90s when the genre was just finding its feet. The subject of loss and acceptance is an admirable one to include in a show aimed at young people, but when it’s handled in such a saccharine way as this, before we’ve even gotten to know our heroine, it does everyone a disservice.
Because the episode needs to set up the situation we’ll be watching Carrie negotiate for the next few weeks, the friends and potential love interest aren’t given much room to make an impression. So far we have the naive shy friend who has been rejected after giving away her virginity, the extrovert friend who’s sleeping with an older man, the extrovert’s boyfriend who is withholding sex because he’s confused about his preferences, and the James Dean-esque love interest that so far hasn’t said or done much. He likes swimming, apparently. Then there’s Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who), the New York magazine editor who leads Carrie astray.
There’s a lot that works against this prequel series, but there’s also a spark of interest buried underneath all of the bad decisions. For one, it’s so different from Sex and the City that they may as well not share a brand, and the necessity of taking us back to the ‘80s adds no flavor other than the tediously retro soundtrack. The stuff in Manhattan actually has potential but, to be flitting backwards and forwards between Carrie’s mundane teenage existence and her fabulous adult lifestyle fills me with dread. Can The Carrie Diaries tempt an increasingly disinterested young audience, or has it died right out of the gate?
What did you think of the episode? Will you be tuning in next week? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.