Listen, America. I can’t blame you for not tuning in to “The Carrie Diaries” when it first started.
I was very skeptical when The CW first announced plans for the “Sex and the City” prequel. Would fans care about the beginning of Carrie Bradshaw’s story when they already knew the end of it? Then, after the fiasco that was the “Gossip Girl” series finale, I had my reservations about getting invested in another teen-centric series from Fake Empire. (Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and… I’m just the idiot that invested a hundred precious hours in two shows that made absolutely no sense.)
My concerns were unfounded. Trust me when I tell you that “The Carrie Diaries” is not just good TV, but it’s important TV. Not only should you be watching it, but if you have kids and you deem the content to be age-appropriate, they should be watching it.
The first season skewed a little younger than some of The CW’s other fare, because Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) is a fifteen-year-old 1984 Connecticut high school student who truly feels fifteen. As she enters the very glamorous adult world of magazine publishing in Manhattan, she reacts to the inevitable presence of sex, drugs, and Madonna with the appropriate naivete and awe. Though some moments may feel a little juvenile, the nostalgia factor makes it worth watching, even for adults — and I’m not just referring to the 1984 of it all. I’m not old enough to remember the ’80s, but I definitely remember the awkward awesomeness of a first kiss. Though adults may not be able to relate much to Carrie right now, we do remember what it was like to be Carrie. Virginal, but intrigued. Green, but enthusiastic. Scared, but determined.
“The Carrie Diaries'” attitude about sex is refreshing, particularly in the current TV landscape. I’ve seen one too many TV shows with teenagers making fun of their friends for being virgins at the ripe old age of 15, and one too many TV shows where girls who are sexually active in high school are condemned as sluts. On “The Carrie Diaries,” sex isn’t portrayed as some kind of unforgivable, dirty act, but it’s also not trivialized or taken lightly. The characters have varying levels of experience, but the sex they’ve had or haven’t had doesn’t define them. It’s presented in a healthy, respectful manner, designed to make young female viewers feel good about themselves. Fancy that.
Perhaps the most important part of the show, though, is Walt’s storyline. I’ve written before about the importance of including diversity when marketing a show for young people, and “The Carrie Diaries” is doing a brilliant job of it. When we first met Walt (Brendan Dooling) in the first episode, he was your standard suburban kid with a girlfriend and white-picket-fence plans. Throughout the first season, though, Walt has come to terms with his sexuality, and in tonight’s season finale, he finally finds it in himself to admit that he’s gay and that he’s interested in Carrie’s friend Bennet (Jake Wilcox).
Seeing Walt’s story through 1984-tinted glasses makes it all the more powerful. When Teddy came out on “90210,” his friends — enlightened, informed Beverly Hills kids — were all accepting. We saw one of his friends a little hesitant to go party at a gay club, but Teddy was never rejected or made to feel less than by the people he loved. Because of the setting of “The Carrie Diaries,” Walt’s story is very different.
In tonight’s episode, his ex-girlfriend, Maggie, finds out that he’s gay — and her reaction is harsh, painful, and devastating. She screams that there’s something wrong with him; she calls him a “homo.” It’s important for this to be seen on television because this is the experience that so many gay teenagers have had — and continue to have — today. While it may seem arbitrary to those of us who don’t have to face the coming-out angst, it’s important that people (especially young people!) who do are able to see themselves reflected in the media. It makes a difference.
If “The Carrie Diaries” is picked up for Season 2, showrunner Amy B. Harris plans to explore Walt’s coming-of-age as a gay teenager the same way she explores the other characters’ sexual awakenings. That means talking about the dangers of sex, too, and especially given the ’80s setting, that danger includes HIV and AIDS. Again, even in 2013, this is important. It generates conversation, awareness, and understanding.
That said, the show doesn’t focus only on the hardships Walt faces as a gay teenager. Below, you can watch what I believe is the best scene from the show’s first season, and one of the most important moments I’ve seen from current teen television. In the scene, Walt and Carrie talk about what it means to be gay. “If being gay is who you are, Walt, then it must be good, because you are good,” Carrie says. “And if anyone thinks otherwise, they’re wrong … whatever happens, I love you, and I’m here for you.”
I know that a TV show generally can’t change a person’s foundational, fundamental beliefs, but I also truly think that if there were more moments like this on TV — particularly TV aimed at teens — we’d see a profound impact. This isn’t the way everyone responds when someone comes out, but it’s the way that we should respond. It’s the attitude that we should see reflected in the media. This show may take place in the past, but this moment presents a future to which we can aspire.
Visibility is important. Conversation is important. “The Carrie Diaries” offers both of those things, not only for young women figuring out how to navigate relationships, but for gay youth figuring out their own identities. So watch it. If you’re an adult, enjoy it for the nostalgia factor, and for the refreshing perspective it offers on growing up. And if you’re a teenager — or, you know, a twenty-something still figuring stuff out (Hi, welcome to the club, grab a beverage) — watch it for the reflections you’ll find of yourself and your friends.
And as for you, imaginary CW network big-wig who I like to pretend reads all of my articles while sitting on an exercise ball, sipping a cocktail made from the tears of “Veronica Mars” fans, and throwing darts at a giant “American Idol” poster… please renew the show for Season 2. It matters.