The Carrie Diaries.
Seen outside the long shadow cast by Sex and the City, The Carrie Diaries is relatively inoffensive (based on its pilot episode): a fair to middling CW teenage soap opera with some nice performances, particularly by Matt Letscher as the father of the 16-year-old Carrie Bradshaw and Austin Butler as her first crush. It's not relationship material, but you wouldn't feel guilty about spending a night with it.
But if you watched and enjoyed Sex and the City, it's pretty unlikely you'll be able to take its new prequel that benignly. The memory of how that touchstone HBO show, at its best, wrapped heartbreak and satire in high comic style makes the ordinariness of The Carrie Diaries a little more disappointing than it would be otherwise.
Based, like the original series, on the writings of Candace Bushnell and developed and written by a Sex and the City and Gossip Girl veteran, Amy B. Harris, the new show focuses on the Connecticut high school days of Carrie, the future clotheshorse and freelance writer. Played by AnnaSophia Robb (a reasonably convincing physical match with the original, Sarah Jessica Parker), Carrie once again narrates the action, though her bons mots aren't quite up to the old standard. (In a particularly clunky moment she muses about losing her virginity "not to the man I had hoped, but to a different man — Manhattan.")
And as she will in the future, she has a three-member posse: Maggie (Katie Findlay), a bossy, sexually precocious cross of Samantha and Miranda; Maggie's closeted boyfriend, Walt (Brendan Dooling), who hasn't figured out yet that he's Stanford Blatch; and Mouse (Ellen Wong), the Charlotte stand-in and obligatory teen show nerdy Asian. Also in the mix are the gentlemanly heartthrob Sebastian (Butler) and a generically troubled younger sister (Stefania Owen).
The pilot opens just after the death of Carrie's mother, establishing the melancholy doomy-gloomy atmosphere typical of hour-long teenage dramas and allowing for some poignant scenes involving Mum's dresses and shoes that set up the daughter's fashionista tendencies. To help Carrie get past her sadness, her extraordinarily sympathetic father arranges a one-day-a-week internship in Manhattan, and before you can say "East Village," she's helping a fashion editor shoplift a dress and crashing a party at Indochine.
There's some fun to be had in the show's low-budget evocation of post-punk 1984 Manhattan, with Burning Down the House and Girls Just Want to Have Fun on the soundtrack and suspiciously well-scrubbed "artists" dressed in shoulder pads and bright primary colours. And wistful Sex and the City fans can keep an eye out for homages; for instance, one story line in the pilot explains the adult Carrie Bradshaw's distaste for pantyhose.
Robb is fine as Carrie, exhibiting more personality than other young CW heroines like Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) or Britt Robertson (The Secret Circle). She's carrying a big load, though; her new sidekicks look like a dull bunch, and there's no hint of the charged camaraderie that was at the heart of the original show.
Watching The Carrie Diaries can make you wonder why American scripted television shows for teenagers and 20-somethings all have to be mopey and angsty echoes of My So-Called Life. Why can't one have the style and humour of Sex and the City? Actually there is one — Awkward, on MTV. Keep an eye out for it.
New York Times