Reviews: The Carrie Diaries (The CW) 1×1

The sexless city

Young Carrie Bradshaw from The Carrie Diaries

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, The CW

Sex and the City? Remember that? It’s a little known HBO show that’s practically vanished into obscurity now, so just in case you need reminding, it featured four female 30/40-something best friends, including one Carrie Bradshaw, a columnist for a New York tabloid who writes about sex, dating and relationships in that city. Hence the title.

Based on the books of Candace Bushnell, it was notable for its giving a women a rare forum of their own to discuss their attitudes towards sex, men, relationships, shopping, jobs, family, friendships, social occasions, vacations… Life basically.

It was also notable for being if not always massively explicit with its sex, at least being explicit with its dialogue about sex.

So what should we make of The Carrie Diaries on The CW? Yes, it’s again based on books by Candace Bushnell, but since her books never resembled Sex and the City too much, that’s not much of a recommendation.

It also features a 16-year old Carrie Bradshaw so is set during the mid-80s – horrifyingly enough, that’s over 20 years ago now and yes, the maths on that do not add up in the slightest – making it less relevant to the typical audience of The CW, who are in their mid-to-late teens and early 20s.

There’s also no Miranda, no Samantha, no Charlotte – yet – just Carrie, so perhaps the most important group of female friends in TV history isn’t going to make an appearance or have much to do with the show.

And just to reiterate some of those facts again for a final point, it’s on The CW, it’s going to be watched by teenagers, it features a 16-year-old girl as its lead – exactly how sexually explicit in thought, word and deed do you think it’s going to be?

In short, just how much of a pale shadow of Sex and the City is this show going to be?

The quick answer is very pale, with little that’s remarkable or interesting to draw you in. Even the Twin Towers have been erased from the 1980s New York skyline just in case they upset anyone.

Having said that, despite all the worst fears you might have had about it, The Carrie Diaries is still perfectly acceptable fare. Here’s a trailer. You may notice Freema Agyeman from Doctor Who in it. You may also notice she’s lost all trace of acting ability since.

Before she was a fashion icon, before her column in the New York Star, before Mr. Big, Carrie Bradshaw was an innocent 16-year-old girl living in suburban Connecticut. The year is 1984, and Carrie’s mother has just passed away over the summer, which means Carrie has to grow up fast. Her younger sister Dorrit is more rebellious than ever, and their father Tom is overwhelmed with the responsibility of suddenly having to care for two teenage girls on his own. Carrie’s friends – sweet, geeky Mouse; sarcastic and self-assured Maggie, and sensitive Walt – make life bearable, but a suburban life in Connecticut isn’t doing much to take her mind off her troubles. Even though the arrival of a sexy new transfer student named Sebastian brings some excitement to Carrie’s world, she is struggling to move on from her grief. So when Tom offers Carrie the chance to intern at a law firm in Manhattan, she leaps at the chance.

The energy of New York City turns out to be exactly what Carrie needs, and her eyes are opened wide at the glamour and grit all around her. When she meets Larissa, the style editor for Interview magazine, she’s thrilled and inspired by the avant-garde club culture, performance art and amazing individuals that make up Larissa’s world. Larissa becomes an instant role model, and her influence gives Carrie a new perspective on every relationship in her life.

While Carrie is experiencing new things, her friends are facing their own challenges. Carrie’s friends Maggie and Walt have been a couple for two years, and though Maggie is more than willing to take the next step, Walt keeps putting off sex while he struggles with his own identity. It’s hard for Carrie because she loves them both, and what she doesn’t know is that Maggie is hiding a secret – her affair with an older man. Adding to the drama surrounding first sexual encounters, everyone in the group is surprised when studious, reserved, over-achieving Mouse suddenly confesses that she and her Princeton-student boyfriend had sex – and that he’s been avoiding her ever since. Though she’s trying to be there for her friends, Carrie has her own new romance with Sebastian to think about. Beneath his cool, bad-boy exterior, Sebastian has known his share of hurt. He reveals to Carrie that his own mother recently left the family, so he understands the sense of loss that comes with losing a mother. Unfortunately for Carrie, Sebastian’s good looks also catch the attention of the most popular – and most experienced – girl at school, Donna LaDonna, who immediately sets out to challenge Carrie for Sebastian’s affections.

On the home front, Carrie and her sister Dorrit are still clashing as they come to grips with their mother’s passing in different ways. Dorrit’s pain – along with the fact that she is 14 – leads her to rebel against all authority figures, while Carrie is doing her best to keep up the illusion that everything is fine.

Carrie’s next challenge will involve the internship that has opened up this new world to her. The job at the law office means nothing to her, but being in the city means everything, and she will soon have to decide whether to defy her father, leave the law office and take the first step toward a writing career. For young Carrie Bradshaw, friends and family will always have a big place in her heart, but she’s suddenly seeing everything in a brand new light, thanks to the most important man in her life – Manhattan.

The series stars AnnaSophia Robb (“Soul Surfer”) as Carrie Bradshaw, Austin Butler (“Switched at Birth,” “Life Unexpected”) as Sebastian Kydd, Ellen Wong (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Combat Hospital”) as Mouse; Katie Findlay (“The Killing,” “SGU Stargate Universe”) as Maggie Landers, Stefania Owen (“Running Wilde,” “The Lovely Bones”) as Dorrit Bradshaw, Brendan Dooling (“An Elf’s Story: The Elf on the Shelf”) as Walt Reynolds, Chloe Bridges (“90210”) as Donna LaDonna, Freema Agyeman (“Doctor Who,” “Law & Order: UK”) as Larissa Loughton and Matt Letscher (“Brothers & Sisters,” “Entourage”) as Tom Bradshaw.

Based on the novels “The Carrie Diaries” and “Summer and the City” by Candace Bushnell, THE CARRIE DIARIES is from Fake Empire in association with Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Amy B. Harris (“Sex and the City,” “Gossip Girl”), Josh Schwartz (“Hart of Dixie,” “Gossip Girl”), Stephanie Savage (“Hart of Dixie,” “Gossip Girl”), Len Goldstein (“Hart of Dixie”) and Candace Bushnell.

Is it any good?
Actually, it’s relatively engaging with a decent enough cast – bar Agyeman – a great soundtrack and a sense of humour. It’s nothing like Sex and the City, beyond a Carrie voiceover, but if you can get over that issue, it’s perfectly acceptable teen drama, just set in the 80s for no good reason.

The show, in fact, is largely drama, lacking most of the fun of Sex and the City. Carrie and her family spend most of the episode emoting over and dealing with the loss of Carrie’s mother to cancer. There’s a nascent romance blooming with a boy, Austin Butler (Life Unexpected ‘s potential love interest, too) and the potential for Carrie to get into the world of fashion through photographer Agyeman. All perfectly ordinary – too ordinary, in fact, with nothing you won’t have seen before here – even if SatC‘s Carrie got into sex journalism then fashion journalism, rather than the other way round.

Rather than wondering about the etiquette of oral sex and how soon you should have a shower after sex, this virginal Carrie and her friends are more concerned with first kisses and whether it’s wrong to play with another girl’s boyfriend in a swimming pool. Dilemmas for teenage girls of the 80s, maybe, but most 16-year-olds are a little more advanced than that these days, I suspect. I doubt it’s going to really grab their attention – after all, if they’re fans of Sex and the City and are watching The Carrie Diaries as a result, chances are they’ll have seen the original.

Where it does use its high school and 80s settings well, apart from in a magnificent soundtrack largely consisting of the tracks of the time (bar one weird cover version of Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’), is in foreshadowing. Carrie has a gay best friend. We know he’s gay because of all the classic TV signals (he likes clothes and wears one sweater because Rob Lowe wore it in Interview). But she doesn’t know he’s gay, and neither does his girlfriend. Arguably, he doesn’t know he’s gay either, although he has suspicions. And that failure to instantly set up one of SatC‘s more memorable features – the large number of out gay characters – is at least one estimable aspect of the show.

Less estimable, however, is Agyeman’s character. The only regular black character on the show, she’s at first suspected by Carrie to be a potential handbag thief, which turns out not to be the case. Instead, it’s later revealed that she’s a serial shoplifter. Just for the thrill of it.

Oh dear.

Nevertheless, there’s enough going for the show as a regular albeit relatively neutered teen drama that it’s worth a look in, perhaps more if you never liked Sex and the City than if you did. Really only Carrie is worth watching the show for, but there are more egregious things on TV at the moment and with such a good end point in sight, it only has the potential to get better.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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