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The Morning After: The Carrie Diaries Re-Virginizes Itself

Think of this Sex and the City prequel as a kind of superhero origin story, with couture instead of kryptonite.

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Nino Muñoz/The CW

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.

5 comments
Poppersci
Poppersci

I think my comment has been removed. James, I was joking, as was implied by my tone. Perhaps it was off. Probably it was off. I did state in your review of Sepinwall's book that you are my favorite TV critic. But I was trying to pull a Don Rickles, mock-insulting to be funny. When I've done that, it's been usually to create an informal, casual atmosphere between friends. So I apologize for my words. They weren't meant.

Lucelucy
Lucelucy like.author.displayName 1 Like

Thanks, James.  This was my status yesterday on Facebook:  Big decisions here. Should I or should I not watch The Carrie Diaries on the CW?  At one month almost to the day away from 70 (yeah, I keep doing the math, just to be sure), I don't even watch Girls - it just doesn't seem to apply. But I loved SATC, once I realized it wasn't one of those crazy "interview in a taxi" reality shows. I took a girlfriend to the second movie for her birthday and almost lost her friendship when I tried playing Sudoku on my phone just so I wouldn't have to watch my favorite characters behaving like women married to the bad guys in Deliverance.  At my age, is there anything I have left to learn from speculations about young women on the verge? Or is it more that I have something to remember?

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Must have been a slow day in the TIME newsroom...

This article is the equivalent of a "puff piece."  If I was a teenage girl, I would be all over this article.

But, I'm an adult, looking for objective news articles.  TIME used to be a bastion of objectivity...not so much anymore.

snackphood.com
snackphood.com

Wow....I was a bit excited about the continued airing of Carrie Bradshaw and her life experiences in some frame of time, but now after reading the comment I feel insulted if it does not cover the hard facts of her character and resemble a belief of "she could have actually looked like that" and " I see Carrie Bradshaw as only she would have looked" kind of thing because I like most who would waste a moment watching the show are true fans......I don't anticipate a real come back....but I've been wrong before....ONCE!!!

SusanAndreaAlbornoz
SusanAndreaAlbornoz like.author.displayName 1 Like

In one of your paragraphs you state that there is a possible issue with the fact The Carrie Diaries not keep in touch, follow, or even manage to sustain some semblance of what the original Carrie from SATC. It holds no SATC integrity as we were told by Carrie she grew up with her, mother had no siblings and her father left her when she was 7 years old. Thus, for me following this show is a disappointment as there are true die hard SATC viewers who want accuracy!