Based on Candace Bushnell's 2010 book (a prequel to her anthology of 'Sex & The City' essays famously adapted into a 1998 HBO series), The Carrie Diaries stars AnnaSophia Robb as a 16-year-old version of Sarah Jessica Parker's character. It's set in 1984, and is a very typical coming-of-age story aimed squarely at young girls, with precocious Carrie Bradshaw escaping her quiet suburb to work as a law firm's intern in glamorous Manhattan. Coping with the recent death of her mother (SJP should play Mrs Bradshaw in flashbacks, no?), Carrie has a rebellious younger sister called Dorritt (Stefania Owen), a bland father (Matt Letscher) doing his best as a single dad of two daughters, a clique of great friends, and the prospect of first love when hunky Sebastian Kydd (Austin Butler) arrives in town.
To its credit, The Carrie Diaries doesn't feel like a Sex & The City prequel in the slightest. Beyond the title's recognisable name and presence of a walk-in wardrobe, there wasn't much of anything to link the two shows. This may frustrate SATC fans drawn to this expecting to see a young Kim Cattrall lookalike sleeping around with 18-year-olds, but I'm not sure what they really expected from a show airing on The CW. Instead, this is more in the vein of a John Hughes movie—albeit one entirely lacking in his wit and insight, unless platitudes delivered in annoying and incessant voice-over is your idea of deep.
Doctor Who's Freema Agyeman). Her moments of gazing into the middle-distance excitedly are often cut short by rude New Yorkers pushing into her, making her rip her tights. Of course. That's the clichéd punchline to the old joke of a naïve newcomer learning the ropes in a Big City. I wish The Carrie Diaries was more in the vein of The Devil Wears Prada, to be frank, but there's a bit of an identity crisis going on. It doesn't seem to know if it's a 1980s-set family drama, or a high school rites of passage story, or the tale of a young career girl starting out in the Big Apple. In trying to be all three at once, it just felt obvious which aspect of the show works better than the rest. I could defend the idea of a high school comedy-drama set in the '80s starring winsome AnnaSophia Robb (if it was funny and clever), but everything about the city rang false to me. Robb looks considerably younger than her character's 16 years, despite being 19 in reality, so it just feels odd when she's outside of the school/home environment.
On the positive side, the show evokes its '80s period pretty well—although it does so in heavy-handed ways. I spotted a Rubik's Cube and Joy Division poster less than 60 seconds into the episode, and the whole thing comes doused in '80s pop songs. (And not cheap ones to buy the rights too, either, thankfully.) I have childhood memories of the '80s, so found pleasure in seeing its vibrant fashions on-screen, and remembering a time before the internet and mobile phones created social distance by, ironically, connecting us. Teenagers interacted face-to-face most of the time back then, do you remember? Crazy days.
Overall, there's sadly no escaping the truth of the matter: while I'm glad The Carrie Diaries isn't the dreadful Sex & The City prequel that lurks in the nightmares of all sane people (especially men), it's not a particularly funny or dramatic show in its own right. It's just a tepid high school drama with baggage, squandering the wise decision to cast a talent like AnnaSophia Robb (who can't be blamed for simply appearing too young at times). Perhaps the biggest frustration is that SATC could always inspire a passionate reaction (good or bad), but this prequel stimulates nothing beyond a shoulder-padded shrug.
written by Amy B. Harris / directed by Miguel Arteta / 14 January 2012 / The CW