There is an innocence in The CW’s The Carrie Diaries pilot that seems almost unheard of for television today. Perhaps it is because it is ultimately a period piece, set in the ‘80s, which was certainly a simpler time, or perhaps it’s because our heroine Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) is so fresh-faced, wide-eyed, and refreshingly sweet and well-adjusted the show hardly screams teenage angst, even if many specific growing pains are implied. It’s nice to see a coming-of-age show centered on a regular kid for a change—not one who’s been touched by the supernatural, or even by an internal darkness that causes her to rebel, but rather simply someone who just wants to find her way. It’s the kind of show we certainly could have used in our own teenage years, but now that we are safely out of them, The Carrie Diaries helps us look back with fondness, rather than cringes.
Still, we can’t help but worry that the sheer level of innocence that Carrie embodies might be a detriment for the portion of the audience that wants to connect with and relate to her. Carrie seems so much younger than a sixteen year-old today—or even a sixteen year-old when we were sixteen. She’s not overly awkward, nor overly entitled; she’s better adjusted than most and about to have some amazing adventures. She’s the kid you might not have noticed unless you were already in her circle, but at the same time, she’s the kid you should have wanted to be. She’s certainly the kind of kid parents want to have. And that’s not typically sexy among The CW’s usual demographic.
Robb is absolutely the shining light of The Carrie Diaries. Not only does she perfectly physically embody what we all know Carrie Bradshaw to be, but she has a light inside of her and innate sense of wonder that allows us to imagine possible futures for the character without pigeonholing or dooming her to—well, what we know Carrie Bradshaw to be. She effortlessly flits back and forth between a kid trying to figure things out and a surrogate mother to her little sister and even her father at times. She’s a girl in two worlds whose self-confidence is spotty at best but who is gradually finding her place—and her voice—and is full of childhood glee at her new adventures.
Naturally, where Carrie finds that place and voice is within the bustle of New York City, where she gets to travel to after school thanks to an internship her father lined up. But a chance encounter in Century 21 leads to a friendship with a magazine fashionista (Freema Agyeman) and a slightly double life. By day, Carrie is your typical suburban high school student obsessing over the fact that her summer fling (Austin Butler) is now a new student in her halls and that she might just be the last remaining virgin. But by night she’s gallivanting around city hotspots with a crowd of fabulous people who take her under their wings in a way you don’t think of when you think of New York. They’re altruistically nice, and their parties are oddly chaste, too.
For the Sex & The City fans, there are a couple of key nods to the elder Carrie’s life within The Carrie Diaries pilot, most notably the sense of awe Carrie has when stepping inside her deceased mother’s closet to pick out something to wear for her first day back at school. It is reminiscent of the moment at Vogue but it is much more sentimental and heartwarming because it’s not about consumerism or fashion at all but a little girl’s desire to hold onto the woman who should have taught her to be a woman.
But like Sex & The City before it, The Carrie Diaries is not really all about Carrie. The friends around her help define who she is, but they don’t quite prop her up the way a mature, healthy group would. Their youth betrays them at times, waxing poetic but sophomoric about sex and therefore not really acting as authorities on anything. In order to really grow up, Carrie will probably have to accept leaving some of these kids behind, but for now, they provide nice challenges and offer alternative takes and personalities.
Katie Findlay’s Maggie is in a relationship with the doesn’t-yet-realize-he’s-gay Walt (Brendan Dooling) forever but also secretly sleeping with an older employee of her father’s because Walt “wants to wait.” Meanwhile, Ellen Wong’s Mouse learns the toughest lesson about love and sex in the pilot episode, and the terribly-named Dorrit (Stefania Owen) is pretty much the antithesis of Carrie, with her Kohl-eyeliner and klepto ways. Everyone has a long way to go to maturity, but they’re each on their own individual path that Carrie will undoubtedly influence. The show is not all about her, but she certainly is at the center.
The Carrie Diaries is a little heavy-handed with the voiceover: we get it, the word ‘diary’ is right there in the title, and Carrie is going to grow up to be a writer. But she doesn’t know that yet—not even at the end of the pilot when she actively starts writing for the first real time. She dabbles in creating fashion, too, and teenage hobbies so rarely turn into full-fledged, profitable careers. The voiceover is all internal monologue, rather than looking back with hindsight, so much of it is rendered unnecessary because of how much Robb wears on her face. As episodes unfold, we have to hope the voiceover dissipates. They cast an actor who can handle the emotional weight, now the show needs to show it trusts her with such a thing.
On the other hand, though, the appropriation of more modern covers of classic ‘80s songs serves the story extremely well for both the time period and the tone of the show.
The Carrie Diaries should be treated independently from what you already know (or think you know) about Sex and the City’s version of Carrie Bradshaw. This pilot, and the subsequent series, is based on Candace Bushnell’s young adult novel the way HBO’s Sex and the City was based on her adult novel: liberties will be taken, and timelines, let alone character traits—or in some instances, complete characters in general—will not add up. But that is actually welcome in The Carrie Diaries because it allows for a fresh version of a character who as actually quite grating in its previous television incarnation. You should have no desire to see a young girl grow into a terrible mess of a woman, but with The Carrie Diaries, there is a lot of hope that this Carrie Bradshaw will be much better adjusted—and far more successful in life and love. There is a sense that anything can happen; that the world is wide open for Carrie and will someday soon be her oyster. It will still be a long road, full of adolescent shortcomings and mistakes, but it is one that promises to be a joy to watch unfold.
The Carrie Diaries premieres on The CW on January 14th 2013 at 8 p.m.
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