Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Carrie Diaries: Pilot (1.1)

It's easy to forget that Sex and the City was once a really interesting show. The word 'groundbreaking' is tossed around like candy today, but there was a time in which frank discussion of female sexuality on cable television, genuine or not, was hugely innovative and important. Regardless of the original show's sometimes demeaning fascination with materialism and its tendency to make the four leads draggy and broad at the best of times, it was a show with a voice and sense of self, as well as a breezy, light charisma that has made it sort of timeless.

The Carrie Diaries, originally a 2010 novel by real-life 'Carrie' Candace Bushnell, always read like a contrived attempt to keep her fingerprints on the brand, particularly when the HBO series itself was so vastly different from its original source material. But it did manage to tap into a specific section of audience that probably couldn't watch the series itself. Just as little kids in the early '90s (read: me) secretly stayed up and watched The X-Files through a crack in the door while their parents sat enraptured by it on the couch, so too did a bunch of pre-teen girls coming of age towards the end of the decade. Bushnell's new work bridged the gap, and it's no surprise that the hit-starved CW would try and tap into that audience.

But it's also the biggest problem with this pilot episode, the hour unsure of what kind of show it is, or who it's actually supposed to be aimed at. Parts of the series are filled with familiar teen drama trappings, from secret dating to excitable glee at those initial stabs at flirting and romance. All are fine, and depicting this through the Sex and the City vacuum could be fun, but writer Amy B. Harris struggles to make any of it particularly resonant or entertaining. It's just overly derivative, even for fans of that kind of storytelling.

Likewise, a ton of screentime is devoted to the young Carrie mourning the recent passing of her mom, the pilot opening with death all over the shop and the Bradshaw family about to burst into tears at the drop of a hat. For a brand that arrives with a light, energetic loudness, it's strange that this pilot is so grim, particularly with an ineffectual 'little sister in peril' closer that wraps up almost as quickly as it's introduced.

The only area in which The Carrie Diaries pops is whenever Carrie herself journeys to Manhattan. Freema Agyeman, as Carrie's new mentor of sorts, is one of the few sparkles of energy in the cast, while Carrie's makeshift nail polish-splattered purse works well as a prototype of her signature necklace in the original series. Where this show will likely run into trouble is aligning both sides of the drama, but either option is fraught with potential disaster: either play up the high school stuff and lose the fun of the show's entire premise as well as Agyeman, or focus deeper on Carrie's adventures in the city... but then we'd just have an annoying retread of the HBO show.

This is a series that needs a lot of work, but at least has a couple of strong elements in its pocket that should sustain it for a while. AnnaSophia Robb is relatable and charming in the lead role, the voiceover device is sweet without being overly saccharine, and close friend Walt, slowly coming to terms with his sexuality, could make an excellent supporting character, at least compared to Carrie's invisible female besties... ironic for a show rooted in female friendship.

But I'm not sure if this show will actually find an audience. The "Lawrence of my labia" horror of Sex and the City 2 sort of killed a lot of adult goodwill for the original series, while the old-fashioned simplicity of the drama and 1980s locale (which, outside of the soundtrack, isn't hugely impressive) could potentially alienate newbies. Carrie Bradshaw is discovering who she is, but The Carrie Diaries is the party in greater need of an identity. B-

Amy B. Harris Director Miguel Arteta


  1. I haven't seen it yet, but just wanted to see your thoughts on it.

    Interestingly, I've read a review that reads quite differently to this, making the High School stuff out as the show's strong point, rather than the NY stuff you talk about. I'm curious to see what my own view will be when I watch it myself!

    Fantastic review, as always. I'm trying my best to keep up with your stuff lately, but time is so short these days, so sorry for not dropping a comment more often! Happy New Year!

  2. Yeah, AV Club (don't know if that's the review you read) liked the high school stuff more. Maybe I just had SATC preconceptions? Read: fun?

    Meh. Thanks, Panda.