Will "The Carrie Diaries" connect with CW viewers? Hard to say since some of the network's target audience was in elementary school when "Sex and the City" went off the air in 2004. True, "Sex and the City" lives on in reruns and big-screen movies, but as a prequel series "The Carrie Diaries" will have to stand on its own.
The pilot episode gets off to a pretty decent start. "The Carrie Diaries" (8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14) doesn't re-invent the teen drama, but it does offer a comparatively tame take on the teen years, at least in its pilot episode. Tonally, "Carrie Diaries" is much closer to the late "Life Unexpected" than it is to "Gossip Girl," which ended its run last month. There's a surprising innocence to "The Carrie Diaries" and its lead character; if not for the "Sex and the City" cachet, it's difficult to imagine The CW picking this show up.
Set in 1984 when Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) is a 16-year-old virgin living in Castlebury, Conn., "The Carrie Diaries" is based on a book by author Candace Bushnell, who also wrote the book "Sex and the City" was based on.
"Carrie Diaries" rewrites some of Carrie's past as presented in HBO's "Sex and the City." In the original series, Carrie's father abandoned her and her mother and no mention was made of siblings. As "The Carrie Diaries" begins, Carrie's mother died a few months earlier, leaving Carrie's father (Matt Letscher, "Eli Stone") to raise Carrie and her younger sister, the rebellious Dorrit (Stefania Owen).
"The Carrie Diaries" pilot was written by Amy Harris, who was previously a writer on "Sex and the City," and executive produced by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, whose previous credits include "Gossip Girl" and "Hart of Dixie."
"Sex and the City" was one of the first shows in the modern TV era to make widespread use of diary-style, voiceover narration, a stylistic choice that's been copied to death ever since. "Carrie Diaries" can get away with this crutch -- telling, not showing -- because of its pedigree, I suppose.
"As I watched everyone passing around the news of the day like mono after a homecoming dance, I realized that I was the virus no one wanted to get near, the freak who had lost her mom," Carrie narrates on the first day of the new school year.
Viewers meet her best friends: Super-smart Mouse (Ellen Wong, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") and Maggie (Katie Findlay), who is dating Walt (Brendan Dooling). Carrie also has a few frenemies, including Donna LaDonna (Chloe Bridges), who looks like she walked off the set of "Square Pegs."
And then there's Carrie's proto-Mr. Big: Sebastian Kydd (Austin Butler, "Life Unexpected"), a rich kid she bonded with two summers earlier. He's since been kicked out of multiple boarding schools before landing at Carrie's high school.
"Carrie Diaries" isn't just a high-school-set show. The opening scene, reminiscent of the beginning of "Sex and the City," shows Carrie walking down a busy Manhattan sidewalk. Turns out it's a dream that foreshadows her New York adventures to come when her father snags her an internship with a Manhattan law firm. It's not glamorous work, but on a break she goes to a department store and runs into a hip style expert for Interview magazine. Larissa (Freema Agyeman, "Doctor Who") doesn't seem to realize that Carrie is a high-schooler and invites her out to party and meet her boho, chic friends. (This gives the show shades of the canceled ABC Family series "Jane by Design," where another high-schooler found herself working in the city for employers who didn't notice she was a teenager.)
It will be interesting to see, as the show goes forward, how it will deal with a few '80s issues. Showing off '80s-era fashion is one thing, but when Carrie meets her first gay guys -- and the show foreshadows a coming-out among her peers -- you have to wonder if "The Carrie Diaries" will work the AIDS crisis into its storytelling.
Will "The Carrie Diaries" be a show of moderate depth, like "Sex and the City," or merely a shallow teen soap? Time -- and Carrie's ubiquitous narration -- will eventually tell the story.
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