Before making two godawful movies, Sex and the City was a godawful television show, packed with unlikable characters and starring four lead women whose obsessive consumerism was only overshadowed by defining their entire lives on relationships with men. So when The Carrie Diaries were announced, I couldn’t imagine what the point of it would be. The original series never delved deeply into the Bradshaw mythology, so what would the point of revealing Carrie’s beginnings as a writer and despicable human being (seriously, anybody who’d want to be involved with a prick like Mr. Big is a gross, gross person) be?
Well, it wasn’t quite what I – or anybody, fan of the original series or not – would’ve thought. The Carrie Diaries pilot is sneakily good, giving us a completely different and unformed version of Carrie Bradshaw. It disguises itself in high school dramedy for the first half hour or so, but once Carrie returns from the fairy tale world of Manhattan, the episode’s writing really fleshes out the world and person that is 16-year old Carrie. Unfortunately, we all know what this charming young woman will eventually turn into – but while watching this series, I’m not going to try and think about that too much.
The Carrie Diaries is grounded where Sex and the City wasn’t with Carrie – in this 1984 universe, she’s dealing with the recent death of her mother, a topic the show never even bothered to concern itself with. But in The Carrie Diaries, as we learn more about her life and the people surrounding it, her real feelings to the reaction of her mother’s death become a lot clearer – thankfully, in moving scenes that don’t hang onto moments too long, or over-expose themselves in the dialogue.
However, the grounded family drama involving her rebellious sister Loret, and grieving father, may eventually be shed to the side as wide-eyed Carrie explores the fanciful wonders of Manhattan. It’s a bit of a stretch that she’d randomly get a school-approved internship out of nowhere at 16, but the episode threatens to go off the rails into SatC territory when she enters the Century 21 store, and meets a British fashionista who shows her to a world of champagne drinking, fancy clothes, and shoplifting (which I’ll admit… felt a teensy bit racist). I suppose its inevitable: this show in some ways is about fulfilling the wishes of fans, but the beginning her “Manhattan Love Story” (barf) is a plastic-lined sugar fest, compared to the more grounded material of her family and friends back home.
But Carrie isn’t quite ready for all the love and sex of adult life just yet; the last half of the episode refreshingly avoids many of the cliched high school tropes ripe for the picking. She picks the fancy NY dinner over the high school dance, and really isn’t even that bummed when she sees her crush Sebastian smoking a joint with the school bitch in his fancy car (he asks her when she leaves “Is that it?” to which she replies “for now”). She then goes home and in the episode’s best scenes, confronts her sister and helps her father begin to move forward with his life.
It closes with her opening an empty journal of her mother’s and sitting down to write and “find her voice,” which is fine and dandy, except that if we’re supposed to consider this canon material, her motivations for becoming a writer completely fly in the face of the person she’d eventually become – a person I don’t really want to spend any time with, or see this version of Carrie becoming. I hope the show takes its sweet ass time getting there, because the responsible, mature Carrie we see in this pilot is not the irresponsible desperate mess that polluted HBO for five seasons.
As for the high school material, those sections most closely resemble the world that Carrie will eventually inhibit. There’s a Samantha type (who has a boyfriend who is obviously gay from the first scene, although the ‘reveal’ is held until the end), a mousy, shy girl named Mouse (who loses her virginity to a college kid and gets dumped), and of course Sebastian, who is poised to become the show’s Mr. Mini Big – which is really, really disappointing, because her nonchalant attitude to the guy she had her first kiss with (who goes open tongue on the first kiss of their life, by the way?) at the end will undoubtedly regress in later episodes.
As a whole, I really enjoyed the pilot, especially AnnaSophia Robb, who is absolutely fantastic as young Carrie. However, the fairly tale moments, and thoughts of “clothes will REDEFINE ME INTERNALLY” that are beyond shallow worry me quite a bit moving forward. Being able to maintain these relationships over an entire season without falling into the many, many tropes of both high school dramas and the impending doom of becoming Adult Carrie… but hey, we can always hope.
- there are some painful voiceovers that are reminiscient of the awful, horrid metaphors in SatC narrations. I mean, she calls a fucking cab a “golden chariot”… I’m sure once she smelled the inside, that thought went right out of her head.
- Carrie’s boss reacts to the dress Larissa sends her: “it looks like something that singer would wear… you know, the one who takes Jesus’s name in vein.”
- the show needs to not bounce back and forth between 80′s music and modern techno engineered to sound ironically 80′s. It’s disturbing.
- so Carrie and Sebastian stopped talking because he didn’t come to the public pool anymore. Seriously?