The Carrie Diaries is not your mother's Carrie Bradshaw, and thank God for that, right?
Young Carrie (AnnaSophia Robb) is only a high school junior when we meet her in The Carrie Diaries. She just lost her mother over the summer, and she has instinctively stepped up to help raise her younger sister, but she is still going to school, dealing with friends and boys and dances and internships. Series executive producer Amy B. Harris emphatically called her series a "coming of age" tale that would be heightened because of its 1980s time period and New York City setting.
"I really saw this as an origin story," Harris said during The CW's TCA tour in Los Angeles.
"So if you look at Smallville, which I think is a very good example where you're meeting Clark Kent before he realizes he has super powers, if you're meeting Carrie Bradshaw, I wanted to meet her before she had sex, before she fell in love, and before she met Manhattan. So, for me, the fun of it was like let's get to those things. Let's set her on those paths, and Manhattan was such a huge part of it, I really wanted to explore that in the first season."
Partially because of Robb's fresh-faced, exuberant energy, Carrie does not seem like one of those high school girls going on thirty that are so popular on most of today's teen television. Harris admitted this will be worked into the plot as Carrie hides and lies about her age for awhile when working in Manhattan ("a lot of jokes about good dermatology!" she said to expect), but that the idea of 'What is age appropriate?' versus 'What is a teenager girl just trying too hard to grow up too soon?' will be explored in the show, as well.
"[She's] chasing down this new kind of life," Harris said of her heroine. "So it's going to add a lot of drama, hopefully, and fun to the show, especially when it explodes in her face."
Harris was actually a writer on HBO's Sex and the City, and though The Carrie Diaries is out to tell its own version of Carrie Bradshaw's life-- separate and distinct from both the books and the TV series that preceded it-- she said there would be elements of this character that certainly set up the woman she is known to have grown into.
"We had an episode where Carrie talks about the fact that her father left, and that is a lot of why she has issues with men," Harris said of the former series, "and we debated a lot in the room whether that was a good path to go down, and some of us weren't so sure because, actually, almost everyone in the room had both parents, and we were all totally dysfunctional and screwed up about relationships! So we were sort of debating even amongst ourselves. And then when I read Candace's book when she sent me the galleys, I was blown away by the choice for her not to have a mother because that really, to me, perfectly explained why she's so damaged. And I think, you know, when you lose a parent, the fear and the abandonment that you come to every relationship with is so tremendous. And then to add on top of that, your parental relationship is totally romanticized because no one is going to say, 'Oh, your parents fought all the time,' or 'They had troubles,' or 'They worked really hard at their relationship.' It's suddenly now this perfect thing that can't be touched. And what I loved about that is Carrie, as an adult, is so romantic and has such high expectations for what a relationship will bring, and I think that's to some degree because she has a good relationship with her father. Her parents' relationship has now been so romanticized, and she's afraid."
Harris' version of Carrie, therefore, is "damaged and afraid," and the show will be playing with that when it comes to her first relationships and how "screwed up she is about embracing a good guy."
While the show isn't out to make all of its stories centered on mother issues, Carrie very much romanticizes her mother as much as she might her parents' relationship. Harris noted we will see that beyond the fact that Carrie took her mother's old, blank journals to begin writing herself. Carrie will also develop her fashion sense by mixing and matching things she finds in her mother's closet.
"She's got a lot of '60s and '70s clothes in there...and that's sort of how Carrie Bradshaw becomes the girl who does vintage mixed with couture," Harris said.
The world in which Carrie is growing up in The Carrie Diaries may physically look very different from teenagers' worlds today ("The '80s was very different in Manhattan. It was not, you know, pretty Time Square; it was scary Time Square, and that's what I love about that Manhattan is it was very sexy, but it also had a lot of danger to it," Harris said-- and that isn't even to scratch the surface of the technological differences!). Still, the issues, like keeping secrets from friends or family, looking for a place where you feel like you belong, and losing one's virginity, that Carrie and her friends will face are somewhat universal.
"All of these firsts happen, and they really do kind of shape whoyou become, and, to me, that's a fascinating story to tell if you are looking back on it in your 20s, 30s, 40s," Harris said of the high school setting.
"And then for teenagers-- when I showed the pilot to my 16-year-old niece, she was like, 'I feel like no one is telling these stories and having these conversations, and I'm super excited to watch that play out,' because...we'll be having conversations I think teenagers are really having that no one is saying out loud, and I'm really excited for that."
And yes, that means dealing with Carrie getting ready to lose her virginity. As the last virgin standing among her group of female friends, it is already weighing heavily on Carrie's mind, even before she starts dating Sebastian (Austin Butler).
"We've definitely been talking about it a lot because that's obviously a first that means a lot to everybody, whether it's because you did it in the back of a car or you made it a romantic experience. It shapes you," Harris said, noting that they haven't written the specific point in the story for Carrie to face the decision just yet.
"I love that it gets to be the first. How is that first love going to play itself out so that we find out why she chases people like Big and ends up not with someone like Aidan? So for me to be able to layer that in and let that shimmer for the Sex and the City audience, like, 'Oh, you know, if she hadn't ended up with that A-hole, maybe she would have been attracted to the Aidans of the world!' Not Sebastian necessarily, but maybe. We haven't played that out entirely yet. For me, the fun of it is sort of how those first loves help shape what you are attracted to in the universe."
But Carrie isn't the only character facing serious questioning and coming-of-age moments, though she is certainly in the center of things. Harris pointed to Walt (Brendan Dooling) as another key character whose story would tackle some of these rarely talked about firsts in a very special way.
"[Walt] is potentially figuring out his sexuality and struggling with whether or not he's gay, and I don't think we can play a series that takes place in the '80s in New York and not examine that in a real way, and we really hope to," Harris said.
"I don't actually think I knew anybody was gay in my entire high school at all, and I remember getting to college and being in theater, and someone told me that they were gay in a theater program, and I was, like (gasps). It was so silly because I grew up in Washington, D.C., and I went to a performance art camp where there were kids who were actually openly gay, but I really didn't have any close people in my life who were [out as] gay until I was much older. And I felt like I really wanted to authentically play that out for Walt and how scary that is because-- I think Dan Savage said this, and it's really true: 25 years ago, to imagine as a gay person that you could have a family, children, marriage-- it's not just coming out to family and friends who will be shocked in the '80s. It's also saying no to a life that a lot of people want, which is to have a home life with a partner and to have children. You were letting go of so many things, and that's the struggle I really want Walt to go through, and I am excited to play that out."
With so many important and emotional and rich stories to play out for the characters The Carrie Diaries introduces already, it might not seem like there would be room to meet the younger versions of Miranda, Samantha, or Charlotte from Sex and the City. Yet, you almost can't do a show about Carrie Bradshaw without crossing paths with them at some point-- even if it may be seasons down the line.
"My whole thing when we first started developing this series was let's get to know Carrie [first]," Harris said.
"Let's get to know Carrie, see her world really develop, this new world that we're in. And then, yes, I've definitely thought about different ways that we will meet her three other friends, but I really felt like, at least initially, just let people enjoy this new universe, kind of get sucked in, and then hopefully we can have a lot of fun with how they get introduced."
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