‘Alive Girl’ TV: The Carrie Diaries
Originally published as Kill Your Darlings TV Column.
Get ready to feel old: it’s been ten years since the final episode of Sex and the City aired. I’m not talking about the first episode back in 1998, but the final episode – the one before the two questionable movies were released.
SATC still incites mixed feelings for many. Personally, I love it; it helped open up discussions around female sexuality in the popular conscience and provided wonderfully layered depictions of female friendship. As Emily Nussbaum argued, thirty-something Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) was HBO’s answer to the anti-heroine, paving the way for the joys and frustrations that come with viewing the likes of Girls’ Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham).
Carrie as anti-heroine was one of the reasons SATC was great. Meanwhile, today’s teen version of Carrie Bradshaw – played with doe-eyed curiosity by AnnaSophia Robb – in The Carrie Diaries is a wonderful antidote to our current anti-hero/heroine obsessed pop culture.
It’s 1984 and Carrie Bradshaw is a high school junior in Castlebury, Connecticut surrounded by her three best friends Mouse (Ellen Wong), Maggie (Katie Findlay) and Walt (Brendan Dooling). Following the recent death of her mother, Carrie lives with her overwhelmed single father (Matt Letscher) and rebellious younger sister Dorrit (Stefania Owen). Carrie starts an internship at a law firm in NYC, but in a move indicative of her wide-eyed enthusiasm and lust for life, soon leaves it for an internship with the flamboyant Larissa Loughlin (Freeman Agyeman) at Interview Magazine. As Carrie begins to fall for Manhattan, she simultaneously falls for the new boy at school Sebastian Kydd (charming Austin Butler). Carrie’s creative proclivities are demonstrated through her passion for writing in her titular diary and her flair for fashion.
Initially marketed as a prequel to the original show, The Carrie Diaries may be haunted by the ghosts of the formidable Sarah Jessica Parker and company, but this extension of the SATC franchise strives to serve up a different menu of stories, varied cast of characters and a much sweeter flavour.
Given how markedly it digresses from the original series, The Carrie Diaries has been criticised for its failings as an origin story. For SATC fans, there is the thrill of discovering different little Easter Eggs along the way (from virginity loss in a rec room to eating oranges in bed). But the best way to enjoy this show is to shirk continuity, succumb to its lack of fidelity and take the series for what it is: a separate teen TV show.
After all, The Carrie Diaries is produced by network The CW. Unlike HBO – now the altar at which we worship (and expect) ‘quality’ television – The CW is the network responsible for glitzy teen dramas Gossip Girl and the reboot of 90210 as well as wholesome programs 7th Heaven and Life Unexpected.
The tension between the past SATC mythos and this newer retrospective version creates a fissure where the gap between teen TV and adult television is awkwardly felt. This is a point of contention that The Carrie Diaries is figuring out as it goes along (and hopefully will continue to, if it gets picked up for a third season). Likewise, the viewer must learn to suppress their preoccupations with this distinction in order to enjoy the spirit of friendship between the characters and the adorable accessibility of sixteen-year-old Carrie.
Fundamentally, the anti-heroine basis of SJP’s Carrie is overthrown for a sweet and sentimental show based around values and niceties. Personal style, friendship and romance are still key to The Carrie Diaries; this isn’t an overly sentimental 80s nostalgia trip. There are definitely some timely references for an older audience, but The CW makes sure the show is accessible to modern teens with conservative 80s clothing choices (for instance, the cast aren’t given a Pat Benatar makeover – with the exception of OTT Larissa) and strong storylines (particularly Walt’s coming out).
The Carrie Diaries is one of the most genuinely heartfelt television shows around and I would prescribe both available seasons to anyone who is feeling ‘Dead Girl TV’ fatigue. Because while it’s not a ‘great’ show, it’s a feel-good show about Carrie Bradshaw: a kind, intelligent young woman with her whole life ahead of her, who is very much alive.