Vicki Briganti – CW50 Writer / Producer / Editor
I watched the HBO series Sex and the City when it aired on TBS, so I was as excited about the prequel, The Carrie Diaries, as Lord of the Rings fans are for The Hobbit. Perhaps that’s a poor example. I was mildly curious, not obsessive.
The Carrie Diaries is the coming of age story about young Carrie Bradshaw. She’s on the verge of blossoming into a woman — breaking the rules, lying to her dad, fighting with her sister, and getting grounded for staying out past curfew. Yep, sounds exactly like the ‘80s to me.
The CW midseason drama has similar themes to ABC’s Suburgatory: a high school teenager without a mother being raised by her father in a suburb of Manhattan surrounded by friends from the island of misfit toys. Main difference? The Carrie Diaries takes place in 1984.
Within the first two minutes of the pilot episode, we’re treated to the visual delights of a Rubik’s cube, Santa Bear, Cabbage Patch Kid, and a poster of The Cure. I thought the Salvation Army returned the bags my mom donated when I moved to college and barfed the contents into Carrie’s sister’s bedroom.
If I wasn’t nostalgic enough already, Matt Letscher, who I was almost in Janet Maylie’s acting class with at U-M, strides into the scene, playing the dad of two teenage girls. The dad. I saw plays in college that Matt Letscher starred in. The Broken Pitcher, The White Rose, August Snow. Originally from Grosse Pointe, he had a role in The Tropical Pickle; one of the first plays produced when The Purple Rose Theatre opened in Chelsea. Rumor had it that Jeff Daniels helped him find his agent. Maybe you’ve seen Matt on TV in Brothers & Sisters, Entourage, or Scandal.
I’m not familiar with AnnaSophia Robb who plays Carrie, but she brings a nice mix of openness and naïveté to the role. My favorite scenes were a mutual sharing of grief with her dad over her deceased mom and a heart to heart conversation with her friend, Mouse, who reminded me of Lane on Gilmore Girls.
Girls Just Want To Have Fun
If you like ‘80s music, you’ll appreciate the soundtrack, which includes Modern English, Talking Heads, New Order, Depeche Mode, and Cyndi Lauper. Overall, the pilot’s retro vibe is contrived, offering us the 2013 version of 1984. To a younger generation, the inauthenticity might not matter. Tweens can go gaga over Carrie’s love interest, Sebastian, played by Austin Butler…. just like I plastered my bedroom walls with Tiger Beat pinups of Rob Lowe.
The producers missed some opportunities. Braces, people. Where are the braces? Teenagers had braces in the ‘80s. Also, Valley Girl came out in 1983. The writers would, like, for sure do well to sprinkle in some gag me with a spoon phrases, like, grodie to the max. And where was the, like, totally awesome breakdancing scene at the high school dance? The film Breakin’ came out in 1984. I don’t remember a middle school dance where someone in parachute pants wasn’t poppin’ and lockin.’ I read online that AnnaSophia Robb is a trained dancer, so maybe in future episodes you’ll see her bust a fly move.
The cloudy script has awkward tonal shifts. From an upbeat first day at school to cleaning out deceased mom’s closet to Carrie partying in Manhattan with an older crowd, it feels like the writers don’t know which direction to take the story. Since Carrie herself doesn’t know who she is, where she’s going, or how she feels, neither do we as the audience. If the intent is to create an environment similar to a teenager’s experience of infinite possibilities, then it’s a work in progress searching for a voice.
As for The Carrie Diaries being a prequel to Sex and the City, the writers flirt with sexual topics when Carrie and her friends gossip in the library about their virginity. Carrie’s passion for Manhattan is explored, but since the characters are teenagers, don’t expect the R rated material of the HBO series. Expect girls pining over boys and looking for love. Oh, wait. That sounds like Sex and the City. Maybe older single girls aren’t much different than younger single girls.
The Carrie Diaries premieres Monday night at 8:00pm on CW50.
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