If you go into The CW’s new ’80s series, “The Carrie Diaries,” hoping for a perfect replica of “Sex and the City,” you might be disappointed — at first. The new show is something of a prequel to the HBO favorite, letting viewers in on how the iconic Carrie Bradshaw became the fabulous, fierce, fashionable woman that Sarah Jessica Parker turned into an icon.
In this series, set in 1984, Carrie is just 15, played by AnnaSophia Robb — so if you’re expecting salacious episodes about vibrators and lesbian dalliances… wait. “I really saw this as an origin story,” says showrunner Amy B. Harris. “So if you look at ‘Smallville,’ which I think is a very good example where you’re meeting Clark Kent before he realizes he has super powers. If you’re meeting Carrie Bradshaw, I wanted to meet her before she had sex, before she fell in love, and before she met Manhattan.”
Yes, the show does take some liberties with the backstory established by
“Sex and the City” — Harris is quick to remind viewers that “The
Carrie Diaries” is intended as an adaptation of Candace Bushnell’s book,
not a beat-for-beat companion to the HBO series. For example, in “Sex and the City,” we learn that Carrie never knew her father, but obviously in “The Carrie Diaries,” her adolescence is defined instead by the death of her mother.
The most important part of Carrie’s life remains intact, though: in the first episode, Carrie falls quickly, madly, and recklessly in love with Manhattan. It’s that relationship that drives this series and bridges the gap to “Sex and the City.”
She’s existing in an adult world, but her approach and reactions are refreshingly young. In the third episode, Larissa (Freema Agyeman) brings her to a performance art piece in which a former porn star “takes back the vagina” and bares her genitals when audience members put a penny in a jar. It’s a storyline worthy of “Sex and the City,” and worthy of Carrie Bradshaw… but her response is decidedly young.
“The Carrie Diaries” has the potential to appeal to an extremely broad audience. The teen and 18-34 audience that The CW covets will love it. The series also isn’t afraid to dish up some serious nostalgia-porn for older audiences — their attention to ’80s detail is great, and there are even some fantastic cameos worked in. “Sex and the City” fans looking to recapture the exact scandalous appeal of that series will probably have to adjust a bit.
This show could just restore our faith in Josh Schwartz’ and Stephanie Savage’s Fake Empire. (We’re still pretty mad about “Gossip Girl.”) “The Carrie Diaries” balances sugar-spun neon fun with a surprisingly responsible approach to real issues. Yes, this is the teen drama we’ve been waiting for. Here are five reasons we’re falling in love with this show… and you should too!
Your new crush. If Sebastian Kydd (Austin Butler) didn’t win your inappropriate affection in the first episode, just wait for episodes 2 and 3. A teen-driven show is only as good as its lead heartbreaker, and Sebastian will prove himself worthy of all your Jake Ryan comparisons. (It helps that Butler did plenty of John Hughes research to prepare for the role.) The bad boy thing isn’t just a shtick — wait til you find out who he (allegedly) slept with to get kicked out of his last boarding school!
Attention to nostalgic detail. The producers went to great pains to make the show feel authentically ’80s. Even a detail as small as dialing a payphone — in 1984, you didn’t have to dial an area code, just the basic 7 digits. “I was typing ten, and they had to tell me
to only press seven. I thought that was interesting,” Butler says. Every extra goes through ’80s hair and makeup, and there’s even a team on hand to dirty up NYC streets so they look as grimy as they were 30 years ago.
A brave, responsible coming-out story. “Sex and the City’s” success was largely due to its enthusiastic following from the gay community, and “The Carrie Diaries” doesn’t take that for granted. Despite the ’80s setting, a storyline in which Carrie’s classmate Walt explores and discovers his sexuality is incredibly timely today. We’ve written before about how important it is for young-skewing shows to embrace diversity and tell brave stories, and “The Carrie Diaries” is doing that. Harris even plans to address AIDS, which was just entering the public consciousness in the ’80s. “Look, we have a character, Walt, played by Brendan, who is potentially figuring out his sexuality and struggling with whether or not he’s gay,” she says. “And I don’t think we can play a series that takes place in the ’80s in New York and not examine that in a real way, and we really hope to.”
Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda… eventually. Don’t expect to see all three women pop up in the first season, but obviously the presence of Carrie’s future BFFs will be felt over the course of the series. First, we’re going to focus on meeting Carrie and digging into her childhood, but the other women aren’t off-limits by any means. “I’ve definitely thought about different ways that we will meet her three other friends,” Harris says. “But I really felt like, at least initially, just let people enjoy this new universe, kind of get sucked in, and then hopefully we can have a lot of fun with how they get introduced. I’ve thought a lot about that.”
Anthony Michael Hall! The ’80s icon guest stars in the second
episode as the father of our new favorite heartthrob. Fun fact? “Sixteen Candles” came out in 1984.
Are you sold? Vote in our poll below and let us know if you’re going to tune in next Monday for the second episode of our new favorite show!