I am Carrie Bradshaw. Or at least by the reckoning of The CW’s The Carrie Diaries–which puts the Sex and the City protagonist in high school in 1984–I’m roughly her age and pop-culture-reference peer. I also watched every episode of SATC when it originally aired, give or take. So I watched The Carrie Diaries pilot with interest, but expected to be disappointed.
I wasn’t disappointed at all! Part of getting older is accepting that nothing will be exactly the same when you return to it a second time. And so, yeah: Carrie Diaries does not feel like my raw childhood experience the way, say, Freaks and Geeks did. (Though it might have hit closer for someone who grew up in an upscale suburb, like the Connecticut town its young Carrie Bradshaw lives in. Also, the V-neck Rob Lowe sweaters deserve an Emmy for costuming accuracy.) Nor is it really the same show as SATC: it’s less arch and more openly emotional.
And if Carrie Diaries manages to stay on the air, that’s exactly why it will work. AnnaSophia Robb is not really a teenage version of Sarah Jessica Parker–just look up an old Square Pegs clip if you want to see that–but she manages to capture something of the sensibility of the adult Carrie. Really, part of the essence of Carrie in the HBO show is that she’s still part teenager–in the sense that, however much she gets burned by experience, she still looks at the world like an unopened present. Carrie Diaries takes these broad-strokes essentials and packages them in a smarter-than-average teen dramedy, where they fit pretty well.
If you want a lot of continuity in story and tone with SATC, you’ll find a lot to dislike in the show. For starters, there’s a lot of focus on Carrie’s family, who as far as I recall were nonexistent in the HBO series, raising the question of what happened between them.
But I look at Carrie Diaries as a kind of rebooted superhero-origin story—the Carrie Bradshaw version of Smallville—where in this case the superpowers the hero is discovering include fashion sense and wordplay. So the first episode ticked off some touchstone Carrie moments like a Superman origin story introducing kryptonite. Carrie stands awestruck on a Manhattan avenue! Carrie meets her first gays! There’s even a trademark Carrie monologue complete with groaner pun: she still hasn’t had sex but she lost her virginity “to a different man–ManHATTAN.” Yet it also gives Robb room to depart from Parker’s version of the character, which she’ll have to if the show is to last.
In its charming pilot, anyway, Carrie Diaries managed to echo its big-sister story without being enslaved to it, while playing to nostalgia not just for the ’80s but for SATC and for a certain breed of light, less-dour teen shows that The CW’s predecessor The WB used to specialize in.
No, it’s not exactly the same, but nothing is. (One price of the show’s possible success will be listening to mopey cover versions of every Cyndi Lauper and New Order single of my youth, the better, I assume, to sell soundtracks with.) You SATC fans out there may remember an episode that introduced the dubious concept of “revirginizing” yourself. We’ll see if it lasts, but The Carrie Diaries may just have pulled that off.