Review: ‘The Carrie Diaries’: Less sex, more fanny packs
I’ve seen roughly six and half episodes of ‘Sex and the City’ and before you start offering to let me borrow your DVD sets or worry about whether or not I was deprived of HBO as a teenager, I will tell you that I do not want them and no one withheld HBO from me.
I watched ‘The Sopranos’. I watched ‘Six Feet Under’ and ‘Deadwood.’ I was not deprived for HBO dramas, I can assure you. Instead, the answer is that I was unimpressed by ‘Sex and the City’. Sometimes I think I’m the only female left on the planet who hasn’t seen every episode and/or doesn’t like the show, but I’m not concerned about it. I don’t sit at home wondering if I’ve missed out on a piece of TV history. I found the show and its characters grating, their inability to evolve and develop as human beings pathetic, and eventually gave in to the idea that, contrary to what I had previously thought, not every TV show was for me.
So when The CW announced last year that it would be adapting Candace Bushnell’s 2010 novel The Carrie Diaries, the coming-of-age story of Carrie Bradshaw, I groaned in annoyance and cursed the TV gods for not being able to come up with anything fresh and new and for having to recycle characters and stories.*
But then something strange happened. Television critics across the board were updating Twitter with positive reactions to the pilot of ‘The Carrie Diaries’. And not just the women, mind you, but the men too. They all said that it was surprisingly good. The ice around my cold dead heart began to thaw. It was just the pilot I told myself, just 45 minutes when I cut out the commercials. Hell, I’ve spent more time cleaning my bathroom than the episode would last. So I sucked up my previous hesitations and set my DVR to record the episode. And last night, just after 8 PM, I sat down to watch the pilot episode of ‘The Carrie Diaries.’
Just as I had foolishly misjudged ‘The Vampire Diaries’ before it premiered, I realized after the first couple of minutes that I might have a chronic condition that results in judging TV adaptations by their book covers. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the show. This 16-year-old version of Carrie Bradshaw was far less annoying than the older, Manhattan-ite version played by Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘Sex and the City’. She hadn’t yet become the selfish character who constantly needed to be assured of her worth or who was desperate for acceptance. Everything about Manhattan Carrie that had turned me off was non-existent in this version.
In 1984, (the show has fudged the numbers a bit on Carrie’s age, I think) Carrie is just another girl trying to navigate the waters of life and everything that comes along with being a teenager. She’s attempting to understand what it means to grieve a loss (her mother died from cancer three months prior), how to deal with first crushes (Sebastian Kydd, played by Chord Overstreet twin Austin Butler, but who will be known as Baby Fish Mouth from here on out), and what to do when someone older and cooler (Martha Jones!) mistakes you for being an actual adult. That happens to everyone, right? I mean, I know when I first went to the mall to buy stockings, some fabulous British woman thought I was an adult and invited me to a cool restaurant where champagne was being drunk out of bottles. No? Not everyone? Just me and Carrie then, I guess.
The pilot also introduces us to Carrie’s good looking dad (Good Looking Dad) and younger sister Dorrit (who reminds me of Dana Brody from ‘Homeland’), her friends, Mouse (who owns a Mickey Mouse phone my best friend actually owned when we were children) and Rosie Larsen. I don’t actually know her character’s name, but since she was Rosie Larsen on ‘The Killing’ (which just got revived for a third season by AMC) that’s what I’ve decided her name will be. There’s also a Rob Lowe fan named Walt who is dating Rosie Larsen, but I’m willing to bet is secretly gay (kudos to the writers and producers for including the gay kiss in the pilot episode! You go, 1984!) and a character named Donna LaDonna – yes, really.
Where the show really surprised me was in the way that it managed to remind me of both my own childhood growing up a decade later (fanny packs were still big in the early ’90s folks, and don’t forget that Mickey Mouse phone!) and of the shows that used to litter the WB lineup in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
If ‘Hart of Dixie’ was the first CW show to successfully bridge the gap and feel like an old WB show, ‘The Carrie Diaries’ certainly isn’t far behind. And when you add in ‘Arrow’ and ‘The Vampire Diaries’ you basically have an entire WB lineup. ‘Hart of Dixie’ is the heir to feel good dramas like ‘Everwood’ and ‘Gilmore Girls’ (but with a slightly higher target age range), while ‘Arrow’ obviously fills the void left by the departure of ‘Smallville’. It goes without saying that ‘The Vampire Diaries’ is the ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ of The CW, but where then does that leave ‘The Carrie Diaries?’ Is it kin to ‘Dawson’s Creek?’ Is it the little sister to ‘Felicity?’
Considering the coming-of-age nature of the show and the existence of New York City as its own character, I’d be more inclined to compare it to the latter. As more episodes air we’ll be able to get a better sense of what the show is and where it is headed. But one thing is certain: ‘The Carrie Diaries’, with all of its ’80s music (love) and fashion (double love), has captured my heart and made me nostalgic for the teen dramas I grew up watching.
Teenagers today haven’t really had the chance to experience teen dramas the way I did (I’m working on my next ‘Dawson’s Creek’ revisit installment, by the way!) and it’s about damn time someone realized the need to fill that void. I’m tired of teen soaps about rich socialites pushing the envelope with their provocative nature. I want shows about teenagers acting like teenagers. Ever since the departure of The WB, networks have struggled with how to do this, and as much as I loved ‘The OC’, they’re at least partly to blame for the rash of over-stylized, hyper-dramatic teen soaps that have taken center stage in the last decade. It’s refreshing to see a show that doesn’t need the bullshit.
Some stray observations:
- Stranger danger! Guys, please remember this is set in the ’80s. If a weird woman tries to grab your purse and then pretends that she’s really just interested in it for how cool it is, PUNCH THAT BITCH AND RUN. Also, do not then accept an invitation into a quiet dressing room where you two are alone and said person can attack you. And lastly, do not go to the swanky fun restaurant they invite you to, even if they’ve sent you a cool new pink dress. You never know when they’ll whip out the chloroform. This has been a public service announcement.
- I love the mix of ’80s tunes throughout the episode. The songs felt natural and even though they’re all extremely popular songs, I do hope the music guys will work to incorporate some lesser known songs that don’t scream, “HI, THIS IS THE ’80S. CAN YOU TELL IT’S THE ’80S? I HOPE YOU CAN TELL.” I’m a big fan of the music from that decade, and while I’m not really saying you need to pull out some obscure song by Springsteen that no one knows or cares about, but just, let it breathe, don’t make it too obvious that you’re trying to sell a show set in 1984 in the year 2013.
- I was initially worried the costume designers would take the ’80s fashion too far, but they’ve seemed to have done a good job mixing the outlandish (NEON! EVERYWHERE!) with the natural. Movies and TV shows that are made today but set in the ’80s risk going overboard with the crazy styles of the ’80s, but these people really have a handle on when to hold back and when not to. I look forward to more ’80s fashions.
- I have to say that I was really hoping Carrie would have a hideous perm. I really hope there’s an episode about a perm gone wrong.
- Did you guys seen the huge cell phones in the scenes where Carrie is on the streets of Manhattan? Heh. Also: payphones. I love it.
*Yes, I recognize the irony that ‘Arrow’ and ‘The Vampire Diaries’ are two of my favorite shows and they themselves are adaptations of other mediums.