"The Carrie Diaries" Review: A Manhattan Fairy-Tale Set In a Mythical Place Called "The 1980s"
I tuned into The CW's "Carrie Diaries" pilot because I assumed it would be an easy mark: Trash it, torch it, and move one, chalk it up to another misguided and failed effort to exploit a name brand for capitalistic gain. But while it's perhaps an unnecessary prequel (in the entertainment world, what really is "necessary"?), it's not a terrible one. It's not even a bad one, inasmuch as it's a defanged and oddly innocent imagining of a young Carrie Bradshaw, one that sugar-coats the 1980s, and one that the original Cyndi Lauper "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" seems particularly well-suited to: It's frothy, surface deep, vibrant, and cute.
AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia, Because of Winn-Dixie) plays Carrie Bradshaw, and would be terribly miscast were it not for the fact that she's such an endearing actress. She's a young Sarah Jessica Parker (circa Footloose and "Square Pegs") who has been given a Blake Lively make-over and first season "Felicity" locks. The show picks up in Carrie's senior year of high school, three months removed from the death of her mother (NOT CANON) and dealing with the weight of that while trying to immerse herself back into high-school life.
Naturally, she has a circle of friends, and this is where "The Carrie Diaries" plays the most with familiar 80's character tropes: There's the mousy best friend (Ellen Wong); the slutty one (Kate Findlay, Rosie Larson from "The Killing"); and the slutty one's closeted gay boyfriend (Brendan Dooling), i.e., gay Duckie. The unrequited love of Carrie's life couldn't be more Spader-esque if they'd gotten a young Spader and sandblasted him with muscles, and of course, there's a group of Heathers that are certain to Mean Girl Carrie to death all season long.
Meanwhile, Carrie has also secured an internship in New York City where she is mistaken by a fashion editor for Interview ("Doctor Who's" Freema Agyeman) as an adult (see: Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead), and I expect that she'll eventually find her way onto the magazine as a writer, Cameron Crowe-style. She also has, in a suburban sense (and not the Precious sense), a dysfunctional younger sister (Stefania LaVie Owen) going through a Goth phase in the wake of their mother's death, and a widower father (Matthew Letscher) just trying to cope.
That's the basic set-up, but undoubtedly, the star of the show will be the 80's fashion, the giggly gossip, a fairy-tale Manhattan that never existed, and the boys (*titter, titter*), which is to say: It's well suited to the CW demo: "Sex and the City" by way of "Saved by the Bell" starring a grown-up Ramona Quimby and a lot of John Hughes' characters. The voice overs (CANON) are just as painful as they were in "SATC," but "The Carrie Diaries" is too harmless, too easy on the brain, and too sweet to raise much of a fuss over. The heaviest thing about the pilot was this fantastic cover of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," (Spotify link)and while I doubt "The Carrie Diaries" will ever be a compelling show, it's perky, delightful, and winsome enough to be watchable.
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