The Carrie Diaries Season Finale Review: Summer Is Here, Already

The Carrie Diaries S01E13: "Kiss Yesterday Goodbye"

We haven't said much about The Carrie Diaries since its confident, enjoyable pilot episode back in January. With a short order for a first (and sadly, possibly only) season, the show completed its run on Monday night, so this is going to be a review of both "Kiss Yesterday Goodbye" and the season as a whole. That's sort of fitting, as the finale embodied some of the season's biggest problems—and in certain cases, made those problems worse. 

Though the pilot offered us a world with interesting characters and suggested that it would treat those characters with a level of respect and realism we rarely see from CW-era teen dramas, The Carrie Diaries ran into some trouble over its 13 episodes, almost entirely because of its fascinating, but ultimately problematic story structure. As friend and fellow critic Myles McNutt nicely detailed earlier this spring, the decision to move through a full school year in one season, dropping in on important moments in Carrie and company's lives hampered how coherent and consistent the storytelling could be. I admire creator Amy B. Harris' decision to not keep Carrie in high school for too long, especially with her Manhattan ambitions and the stories already taking place in that location and in theory, I love the idea of checking in. When done well (on something like Mad Men), the survey of little moments elucidates larger stories and arcs. But whereas Mad Men (which is obviously a much better show, but go with me) deals with adults whose small changes and decisions lead to larger movements, Carrie Diaries is all about teens bound to waffle emotionally quite a bit more. Consequently, while this season has been full of some really great individual moments, stories and episodes, the whole piece has been disjointed and sometimes even disorienting. 

Take Carrie's relationship with Sebastian. AnnaSophia Robb and Austin Butler have wonderful chemistry and every time the characters interact, the show moves up another tic. However, because this season told a year's worth of story in just 13 hours, we were forced to watch the two lovebirds play the on-again, off-again game too quickly, and much too often. Although I understand that these characters are teenagers and quite enjoy that this version of Carrie is as fickle about her men as the one from Sex and the City (whether this series is based on the HBO offering or not), it's difficult to really build a rooting interest for the two of them when they're always in the midst of a major drama. I believe that this amount of drama would happen over the course of a school year, but never getting to many moments where Carrie and Sebastian just existed together as a couple, without the state of their relationship serving as a dominant story, was frustrating. I don't want to sound too critical because Robb and Butler can make it easy to forget the wonky, push-and-pull storytelling. But it's been an issue. Nothing ever settles. 

That feeling is ramped up to 11 in this finale, where Carrie and Sebastian get back together in one of the season's best heartfelt moments, then have a fight about a secret Sebastian was keeping, only to reconcile later in the episode, only then to end the episode not speaking to one another because Sebastian drunkenly and stupidly kissed Maggie in a moment of pain and loneliness for both of them. Can you imagine following this relationship on Facebook? The relationship status changes alone. But more seriously, this is a microcosm of the show's problems. I get wanting to end the season with Carrie in Manhattan for the summer and giving the audience something to hope for come the possible season two, but the back and forth eventually wears thin and the relationship-altering moments don't have the same impact. 

While Carrie and Sebastian's relationship probably received too much attention, other stories suffered a bit from not enough legitimate burn. Walt's journey out of the closet was one of the season's best stories and one of the better versions of that arc that we've seen on broadcast television. The series managed to let him work through his confusion by interacting with a number of different characters, sometimes overreacting (like his calling Bennett a fag earlier in the season) and other times dealing with his emotions more calmly (in his coming out to Donna). Brendan Dooling did consistent, solid work in these stories. Still, I felt like we missed a beat or two along the way, and the Bennett character is way too much of a Young Gay Spirit Guide stereotype, unlocking all the secrets for Walt but then holding back on romantic feelings. 

We could probably say the same thing about Maggie's junior year journey. The series tried to really emphasize how complicated her relationship with Walt was and how her affair with the cop made that more problematic, but too often, one or more of the characters wasn't around in an episode, so we were only getting one side of a conversation and even then, those conversations were being used to move the story along despite an absence or two. This was obviously a byproduct of budgetary restrictions, but it hurt the stories, and Maggie the most. She's an interesting character in that she doesn't really have an obvious future direction, but that doesn't mean the show should keep using her as a tool to start drama. 

Both Walt and Maggie's stories coalesced in awkward ways in the finale. The episode wanted to create substantive drama out of the reveal of a number of different secrets--Walt's sexuality and Carrie's knowledge of it, Sebastian and Maggie's info about Carrie's dad--but I'm not sure it all worked. Maggie basically outing Walt in the diner didn't have the emotional wallop I expected it to, and though Maggie's response to it created another patch of tension between her and Carrie, Walt mostly running away limited the emotional impact of the resolution. That's obviously something the show wants to explore in season two, but again, when you only have so much time to tell these stories and then you want the finale to be the big payoff, it actually has to come together. 

Weirdly, the two stories that worked best for me, both over the course of the season and in this episode, involved Mouse and Dorrit. Unlike with Walt and Maggie, the show always managed to move Mouse's story along with logical beats. Of all the stories in Season 1, her journey from grade-obsessed and uptight nerd to grade-obsessed and more confident nerd felt like a legitimate arc. Her relationship with West was simple yet cute, and it's admirable that the show kept the character committed to her future while allowing her to open up with someone who has the same kind of hopes and dreams. And yet, the finale probably pushed it too hard by trying to give her one more moment of maturity by introducing the random forced prom date. 

The Dorrit character annoyed me throughout much of the first season, as these kinds of characters do, but the relationship with Miller worked well enough. While it wasn't heavily featured in the second half of the season, the pairing allowed Dorrit to be happy, which is a good thing. And her willingness to simply be happy and have sex with Miller nicely contrasts with Carrie's inability to calm down and go with the flow. 

I really hope we'll get a second season of The Carrie Diaries. The show boasts some good characters and solid performances, and most of the episodes in Season 1 worked on an individual level. But if does get renewed (and I believe it will), the show needs a larger episode order. It also needs to improve its approach to storytelling, or ditch it all together. 


NOTES

– Whether intentionally or not, AnnaSophia Robb picked up many of Sarah Jessica Parker's mannerisms by the end of the season. The good news is that it's not really distracting; feels completely natural.

– No Donna in the finale. That's really unfortunate.

– Pretty great use of Bryan Adams' "Heaven" in this episode. The show, unsurprisingly, does really fun stuff with its needle drops. 

– Matt Letscher did really fine work as Tom throughout the season. Loved the conversation where he and Carrie discussed his new relationship, or "the gym."

– Said this on Twitter yesterday, but Austin Butler was clearly made in a teen drama heartthrob lab right? He's quite the specimen. 

Comments (28)
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Is the Carrie dairies coming back on?????
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This show has been a surprisingly delightful series. That's the only way that I can really describe it. I gave it much praise for finally, FINALLY, showing teenagers who look and behave like teenagers. That alone made the characters feel organic, natural, and just real, unlike other teen dramas on the CW and elsewhere where the teen characters act, behave, look, and sound like adults regularly. This show did a pretty good job at showing teens/young adults behaving and acting like teenagers, with the typical teenage problems, dealing with teenage issues, in a teenage manner, and all with the fantastic backdrop of the eighties, that was subtle enough where it didn't come across campy.
-I agree that Walt's journey was probably one of the best things on the show in the thirteen episodes. The actor did a fantastic job with that, especially given the fact that he wasn't in every episode.
-The chemistry between ASR and AB has been pretty fantastic, which makes Kydd and Bradshaw a fun couple to watch.
-Dorritt was so annoying in the beginning. Playing the annoying little sister role to perfection I suppose, but as much as I wanted to dislike the relationship she has with Miller, due to it's possible inappropriateness, it actually worked. It was rather good, actually. He brought out a more likeable and mature side to her, and he actually seems good for her despite the age difference.
-Mouse was probably my favorite character. Loved her. She was Asian stereotype acknowledging that she was an Asian Stereotype but still it didn't come off wrong. I loved her budding relationship with Wes by the end of the season. I loved that he was just as driven as she was and that it was a relationship that would allow her to continue being her, while not causing the typical issues between them because they have different interests etc. I also thoroughly enjoyed that there was a black male being portrayed as a smart, and competent character despite being an athlete. I really appreciated that.
-Carrie's father and his storylines have been just as interesting to watch, which makes it a great family show.
-Maggie, I liked in the beginning and begin not caring for towards the end. The outing scene impacted me enough, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth, personally. I hated that scene, and yet, she's had quite the journey as coming across as the most confident of them all but really being that poor girl with the low self esteem and insecurity issues. The moment with Carrie at the end felt like it came out of nowhere, because Carrie had to tell us that this was sort of repeat behavior for Maggie's character being self consumed and selfish or whatever...we never really got to see that ourselves, which I felt was unfortunate. I hate it when they resort to telling us things instead of showing us.
-Most of all I have to give this show kudos for the diversity. I mean it almost makes me laugh that the most diverse show on the CW right now is a show that takes place in the eighties. It was pleasant to see a variety of different characters of all different races, sizes, ages etc, different types of personalities, sexual orientations and the like..and it being covered in a realistic way. Not dwelling on it in such a manner where they're trying to make a social statement, but not ignoring it as though it isn't there. That's life. I love when the art can imitate life in that way.
-I did miss Donna.
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Is it coming back on
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Yes.
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The show is good well it could have stand alone if we do not know Carrie Bradshaw from SATC, I gave this a shot in all fairness but it failed. It would have been better if they just made up a new character and start fresh than cram up everything in this show. Probably would have liked the show if I did not watch SATC before.
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In general...and in a perfect world. I really wish shows that have troublesome ratings get another season just to see if there will be any improvement on viewership the following season.
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Agree about the Carrie mannerisms, I wanted to slap her like I have wanted to slap Carrie on Sex & the City sooo many times, & I mean that in a good way. Also the "U couldn't possibly love me as much as I love u" line was sheer perfection (Awwwwww). I adore Austin Butler, this show gave me the forefront, come on WE NEED another season
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*gave him the forefront* sorry :P
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God I hope it gets renewed!!!!! I love this damn show lol.
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REALLY!
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I love this show! I get tired of Carrie and "Sebastian" always breaking up and then getting back together, but oh well... I'm much more interested in Carrie, Larissa, Walt and Bennett. I guess the New York parts are more interesting. I hope it gets a second season, it really deserves one, a more profound season. Give those actors better material!
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I agree with this review. In my opinion CW kind of ruined the show. If this series was on any other network that sole purpose wasn't to fucus on ill-developed and shallow mindless teen story lines, it would have been a big hit. It should have been more of a period drama focused on Carrie, her friends and the city , and not on a girl's life in high school.
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I loved this show. I really don't think it will get renewed. The ratings are so low. I hope you are right though and it does. I've definitely become a AnnaSophia Robb fan. She's adorable.
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It's sad CW doesn't have much luck with their shows. I think the deal is they do the same type of shows about rich teenager kids that gets old after awhile.
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CW doesn't need luck, it needs structure and a right mind.
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you don't know the half of it, austin butler has been around a lot longer than people realize. he was in every epsidoe of ned;s declassified, the last season of zoey 101, life unexpected, and he always comes off sweet and charming!
i really really REALLY hope this gets a season 2 because i was surprised by how much i liked this show. my one complaint (other than the whole covering a year in 13 episodes thing) is we don;t see or know nearly enough about maggie. for 3/4 of the season mouse has been the same one note teenage asian girl character whose defining characterisistic is that she;s asian and wants to please her parents. she finally got interesting in her relationship with west (and it certainly don;t hurt that the guy who plays west is gawwwwwwwwgeous) but maggie is just so more an interestig character. why do her parents not care what she does? crushing-pressure parents are a dime a dozen on tv, i;d like to see maggie;s indifferent upbringing.
i really really hope this gets a season 2!!!
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that mouse girl was probably the most boring and stereotypical character on tv this season.
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no doubt!
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I won't mind if next season is only 13 episodes if it's only the summer between junior and senior year.
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I think that'd be a really great idea.
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Next season: more New York, more Carrie and Walt action, and less small town high school drama, please!
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Hopefully the show will return for season 2.
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Staff
Such a dreadful, overstuffed finale. AND NO DONNA (as you noted). What the hell.
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Also: Miller's the worst.
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I don't mind Miller. I'd rather Dorrit be happy than an emo plot device.
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I want her to be happy, too! But I'd rather it not be with a smug, condescending jerkface.
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Ha, tell us how you really feel.
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