The Carrie Diaries' Series Premiere: Bradshaw Begins

The Carrie Diaries S01E01: "Pilot"

The Carrie Diaries wasn’t supposed to be good. The show is adapted from a prequel book series that is based on a previous book series that also inspired a popular, yet somewhat controversial HBO series (did you get all that?). It is a period piece, set in the mid-1980s, a time period more likely to be given the VH1 clip-show treatment than to be featured in a quality contemporary television show. It is from the Josh Schwartz/Stephanie Savage Fake Empire factory, which has reached the law of diminishing returns in recent years. And it is on The CW, a network that's seemingly been dedicated to telling empty, tone-deaf stories about the 1% since it came into existence.

Yet, here we are. Despite each of those problematic obstacles, The Carrie Diaries' pilot is one of the better ones of the 2012-2013 television season. The show might be part of and share characters with the Sex and the City world, but its premiere quickly moved out of the respective shadows of HBO, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Michael Patrick King. And although The Carrie Diaries has inherited Gossip Girl’s timeslot and appears to loosely follow in its Upper East Side footsteps, that really isn’t the case. In fact, The Carrie Diaries isn’t quite like anything The CW has developed in recent years, and while I enjoy many of the network’s offerings, this is a very good thing.

The highest compliment I can pay this first episode that it was straightforward, honest, and earnest. The script by Amy B. Harris didn’t carve out any new ground within the teen drama sphere, and in fact relied on a number of tried-and-true conventions of the genre, but those familiar elements were a nice respite from the finally ending era of hyperbolic wealth and cynicism that made shows like Gossip Girl, 90210, and Melrose Place, and others so unbearable at times. Characters' emotions were taken seriously, and importantly, were prioritized over puns, sarcasm, or incessant popular culture references, which I think was especially nice for a period pierce. While the pilot name-dropped Interview Magazine, Madonna, Rob Lowe, and more, those references felt purposeful instead of part of some attempt to be ‘cool’ or whatever (at least for now; we’ll see what happens if the ratings aren’t solid and The CW gets anxious).

The Carrie Diaries’ use of generic tropes helped it set up the premise relatively quickly: Carrie, high school junior, recently lost her mother, and she, a younger sister, and her dad are all still trying to pick up the pieces. Because of these unfortunate circumstances, Carrie felt out of place on the first day of school, something that was both calmed and further exacerbated by the appearance of her former almost-flame, heartthrob Sebastian. While Carrie tried to put her own life back together and catch up with friends (Mouse, the nerdy girl; Maggie, the sexually-active Samantha stand- in; Walt, the closeted gay man), her father offered her the opportunity of her short lifetime: an internship in New York City. Spellbound by Manhattan, Carrie immediately made friends with a much-older magazine editor, Larissa, and simply couldn’t wait to move away from the Connecticut suburbs.

This is very clearly a coming-of-age story about a girl with big dreams. Not only have we seen this story framework hundreds of times, we know that Carrie eventually reaches those dreams, and more. However, the execution of this origin story is what mades The Carrie Diaries' pilot an effective one. By playing everything straight and taking the characters’ emotions seriously, the opening episode established what so many good shows about young people do: that every new emotion is the most important one and that the little moments are often what help make us who we are and who we might become. It might be lame to trot out the old “journey, not the destination” epithet here, but it most certainly applies. Though this Carrie is obsessed with fashion and New York City (and voiceovers), she is far from how most of us might know of her, and the show seems dedicated to exploring the varying roads it could take in the character’s developmental process.

This all starts with AnnaSophia Robb, who, if you haven’t heard of her, is almost certainly going to be a big star. There were moments in the pilot where it seemed like Robb was channeling SJP a little—and doing a fine job of it—but she truly has made this version of the character her own. In her care, Carrie wonderfully does not fit into one clear character type. She isn’t an awkward wallflower, or an elite member of the school’s social circles. Robb’s Carrie feels like a normal high school girl, yet not in the traditional TV style. Her performance drove the pilot through Carrie’s highs and lows and never over-extended emotionally on either end of the spectrum. Though she may've been less believable in the circumstances where Carrie was pretending to be much older, Robb nailed the character’s enchantment over New York City. But it was in the scenes with home-based characters like her father, sister, and love interest where Robb’s work really shined. There, we saw a Carrie who, despite love for NYC, was also still figuring out how to be a sister, a daughter and a young woman.

While Robb carried the pilot, most of the rest of the cast members fill their supporting roles nicely. Austin Butler is compelling and likable as Sebastian, and he and Robb have an innocence to their chemistry that I really enjoy. Kate Findlay (The Killing’s Rosie Larsen) and Ellen Wong (Scott Pilgrim’s Knives) do solid work with little material—especially Wong, who in the pilot made a nice runner about Mouse losing the long-distance boyfriend who took her virginity feel worthwhile, despite the small amount of attention given to it. Matt Letscher is also quite good as Carrie’s father Tom, so hopefully the show will commit to developing that relationship as the first season progresses.

The show further established its simple, yet effective world by not acknowledging the period too much. There was a nice sense of place in both the Connecticut and New York sequences, while the production design, fashion, and musical cues all signified the mid-'80s, but in a muted way. Meaning, the pilot succeeded in establishing that the series will take place in the past, but never over-emphasized the time period in the narrative. Really, the show, devoid of context, could take place in any decade.

This might be sacrilege, but The Carrie Diaries is more like Freaks and Geeks than it is like Gossip Girl. It lacks the raw emotion and specific perspective of a show like Freaks and Geeks, but it at least made an attempt to develop those things in its first episode. In short, it has the potential to be the sincere teen drama that many of us have been waiting for The CW to develop since its inception seven years ago.



NOTES


– I love the Jens already. More of them.

– I’ve seen most of Sex and the City, though I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “fan.” I’d love to hear from people who do consider themselves fans of that series. Does this show work for you?

– As a long-time viewer of SATC, I liked that The Carrie Diaries' pilot didn’t overwhelm with the allusions to Carrie’s future. Obviously the voiceover is here, but the sex conversation with the girls at school felt familiar to me, and Carrie putting her hair in a ponytail so she could write was a nice touch.

– Frankly, the high school stuff worked better for me than the New York escapades. Freema Agyeman is fun, but it’s silly that all those people believe Carrie is at least 6-7 years older than she is. Unless they’re all on drugs. Are they all on drugs?


What did you think of the premiere?

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I thought it was great, I'm still amazed at Robb's acting skills, that quality of acting is rare on the CW... I'm sure she'll become a big deal in HW
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I loved it.AnnaSpohia is great as a young Carrie and I was a SATC fan.The end scene where Carrie pulls back her hair and sits at her desk in front of the window to write was a throwback to SATC.I like the family drama,feels fairly relatable .
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Great Review! You nailed it completely. This is pretty much my sentiments exactly, right down to the Freaks and Geeks comparison. There is a certain authenticity to it without it being overwhelming.
-I was pleasantly surprised with this show.I watched it just to see the pilot, and didn't expect that I'd continue doing so, but I was so wrong. It was such a gripping pilot and any snap judgments I could have made about this show have been thrown out of the window. I loved that they took time to flesh out things, that they allowed the characters to feel emotions and respond in a reasonable way rather than speeding through all of that or not addressing it at all, which is typically what most CW shows are won to do.
-I must say what touched me the most was Carrie's relationship with her father. I absolutely, positively adored it. Them sharing the grief of losing her mother and trying to wrangle in her younger sister. That closet scene was beautifully done. They just had fantastic scenes together, right up to that one where she admitted that she felt like she was taking the mother role, and he acknowledged that he'd have be the disciplinarian now.
-The supporting characters were great too. They were properly used and given their own sidestories and moments w/o detracting from the lead. Not too many shows pull that off successfully.
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I watched the pilot and was pleasantly surprised. It was actually really good. That said, it never felt like a show I wanted to invest my time in. I enjoyed the pilot but didn't feel like I needed to continue with these characters. None of the storylines grabbed me.
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Ok, I recorded the pilot and it was a waste of space on my dvr. This pilot was not very good, it falled to hold my attention after 10 minutes. Sarah Jessica may not be a beauty queen, but nobody plays Carrie Bradshaw like her. I was born 1979 and the 80's music and clothing wasn't an intrest to me Thank God. The 80's had horrible clothes, hair, style ALL OF IT , JUST RATCHET!
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I read on this very site that the show was not bad and i decided to give it a try. I couldn't pass the 10 minutes mark. I want to give it another shot, but i was soooo bored with that beggining....
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I like this. I honesly do! Is it bad for a guy to liek this series? I don't think so. Allthough I'm only 24 I liked the original runs of Sex and The City too.

I started watching in the later seasons I Think it was around season 4 halfway through the season it came to my attention. At the time, as a pubescent teenager, the explicitly of the show was the reason to tune in late for this show. But trough geting to know the show it grew on me and started to learn and enjoy it for the bigger thing it was. With all the reruns and the internet I have seen every episode once or twice and liked it all. When the announcement came for this prequel series I was skeptical and thought about the second movie which did not deliver in my opinion.

So here we are today! The pilot is downloaded to my iTunes folder and streamed to my TV. The only way a Dutchman can follow-up on shows within a day of the original release.

I will say it right away. It was good, it might get great with time. I hope this show will make it. It has kept the essence of the original series and right of the bat it captured emotions and problems head on. The story is strong, but different from the orignal. This is not a bad thing but makes it different. The whole 80's thing does it for me, love the music, love the clothing. The 80's had style in which I could be dressed to style. Nowadays I'm a bit to conservative to be called hip.

Anywho I see a good trend, caputring iconic times from our imagination and incorporating it into series. Mad Men, Pan-Am, Vegas, Playboy Club. Not all have made it but that is the way it is. The previously named show all go back to the 60's and that is great but the 80's is more my cup of tea. With this show filling the spot I feel satisfied but hungry for more shows. I hope this show will last some years to follow and give a nice peak into the life of a growing up Carrie.

One thing I did notice is the necklace of Carrie. Famously it was het named spelled out but the young Carrie only wears a C. Maybe I missed something or she did not get it at this point. But I thought she told that the necklace goes back to high school in the original series. Seeing she is in senior year there is a short window for getting the correct necklace. Not a big mistake but one to note.

Is that all I had to bitch about it? Frankly yes!
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i have always hated sex and the city, but i have to say i really like this carrie i will continue to watch, besides freema yay!
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I fell in love with Sex and the City after watching just one episode... but I am happy that this show can stand on its own... I do not love it as much as SATC yet... but if it continues on this path... I just may.
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Well, well, well, I am most definitely agreeing with you and obviously I am surprised by this. First when I heard that CW is planning to do this show, I already hated it. I mean to take the HBO´s edgy and iconic show with Parker and Field and just throw it into the teen drama category in the CW no less... I did not expect anything good of it, but wow, I am pleasently surprised.
It felt natural and not forced into some kind of specific frame that SATC had. It felt right and I did not hate the leading lady. Such a nice surprise. Definitely I will keep watching it, hopefully it will meet the newly established high standards. Nice job, CW.
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Surprisingly LOVED it, AnnaSophia has the Carrie charm and little things she says or does is very reminiscent of SJP. It was't over sexualized which was nice and seemed more appropriate for the decade it's in and I loved the characters, I'm definitely going to keep an eye on this show for now.
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I really enjoyed the pilot. I felt that the touches and allusions to SatC were perfect - there's a bit to Carrie that is very much the Carrie that we knew and loved, but there's still that fresh feeling to her as well - she's a younger Carrie, someone who is going to grow into the Carrie that we already know. What kind of worries me is that so much of high school dramas are focused on the romantic possibilities and the set up for the happily ever after. We already know who Carrie ends up with, and it isn't Sebastian or anyone else she's going to meet in the course of this show (unless it lasts for 14 years, which would be weird). I do hope the creators and writers realize this and don't spend too much time on the will they/won't they of Carrie's relationships, and more on the development of Carrie and how she becomes the Carrie that we already know.
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I actually really enjoyed the pilot. You're right, Cory, it showed a lot of heart and sincerity, which has sorely been missing from The CW schedule, with GG and 90210 having verged into a cartoonish area. It actually somewhat reminded me of Gilmore Girls, and wasn't that show on a network that became The CW?
The weak points for me were the unbelievability of Carrie's New York acquaintances thinking she was older than she is (you might be onto something with the drugs theory), and the obvious set up for the reveal that Walt is gay (which was clear they were going there from the moment we saw him in that blue sweater talking about Rob Lowe). Also, I did not appreciate the two gay guys in that restaurant using the stereotype of 'into fashion, not into sports' to describe someone as a possibly gay.
Finally, the soundtrack was great to me. I've heard complaints (Tim, mostly) about 80s music being covered by new bands, but since I wasn't around back then to hear the originals when they first appeared (all of which I do listen to now and love), I didn't feel so protective of the material.
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I was iffy about the two gays stereotyping gay men, but I don't think they meant it in all seriousness. I'm sure they didn't mean that all gay men are into fashion, not sports, I think they meant that most men who are into fashion rather than sports turn out to be gay (which is common).
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As someone who experienced 80s first hand I have to say "Material Girl" performed by someone other then Madonna is a blasphemy.
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I've seen the pilot... and I think I'll pass.

Here are my thoughts:

The Carrie Diaries wants to be a period piece, but it just doesn't work, for me at least. Everything feels unnatural. I hear the 80's music, but I only see teenagers who are taking a part in a high school period dance. There is no climate of the era. If you want to see a good 80's period piece I strongly suggest checking out Ashes to Ashes.

Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshow was charming and funny. For now I don't see her character in Anna Sophia Robb.

For me Carrie Diaries looks like a generic high shool drama. The only diffrence is that the actors are wearing clothes in garish colors. The spirit of Sex and the City is just not there.
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I didn't live in the 1980s too much, but I at least appreciated that the show didn't belabor the 80s point. The time period isn't IMPORTANT, which I liked.
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Clearly you're right, Cory.

Since The Carrie Diaries is not based on HBO's SATC (I didn't know that) and consistency with it is not important I think it would be better to say that the show is happening in the early 90s. That would be easier to stomach.
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"There were moments in the pilot where it seemed like Robb was channeling SJP a little." I noticed she ran her hand through her hair in the same way as SJP's Carrie used to do.

I watched the pilot with half an eye, just to be able pass judgement on the show. I can't say that I was that impressed. Watchable? Yes. Something so great that I need to put it on my watch list? No. Before the pilot aired I read a few reviews which said that it was going to be better than expected. Some early comments said that this show will actually appeal to a broader audience than just teenagers. But to me it seemed like a pretty regular show aimed at teens. Maybe if I had focused better on watching the pilot my opinion would be different, but right now it is summarized in two of your sentences:

- "Didn't carve out any new ground within the teen drama sphere, and in fact relied on a number of tried-and-true conventions of the genre."
- "Not only have we seen this story framework hundreds of times, we know that Carrie eventually reaches those dreams, and more."
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I thought the pilot was great. Very charming and fun. It turned out better than I would have ever expected. Please let this show stick around!
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Oh, and I love Sex & The City. Didn't think this would work, but it does.
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As someone who loves SATC, maybe you could answer a question I have from the pilot? I've seen all the episodes, but cannot remember anything being mentioned about Carrie's sister (or her even having one) and her father. Do you know what their relationships are in the future? What becomes of the sister?
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On the show, Carrie's father left when she was five and a sister was never mentioned. This show is based on the books I guess.
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The show is based on the books not SATC where she does have a sister and her father is still in the picture. In the show, there's no mention of a sister and she says in an episode that her father abandoned her when she was young.
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It.. Wasn't bad. I actually enjoyed parts of it, it doesn't feel like a period drama where they continually reference the past, (Even if I disliked stuff like seeing a The Cult, Depeche Mode, and Joy Division posters.) it doesn't feel like a teen drama that's all about sex, growing up, and all that stuff, and it doesn't feel like a show about rich white people problems.

There was one line that made me cringe, (The whole losing virginity to a man... Manhatten thing) which was less than I expected. So I'll keep up with it until I lose interest.
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That was one of my favourite lines it was a very Carrie thing to say considering she's full of puns in SATC
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didn't watch SITC but i will try to watch this new show, looks promising. gossip girl just ended
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It's Sex and the City not Sex in the City.
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I wasn't really a fan, but I did enjoy that they played footloose at the dance...it was a nice touch.
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The promos didn't give the pilot any justice. Indeed this is one of the best pilots of 2012-2013! Really surprised how good it was considering the typical and crappy teenage shows that CW used to produce. This is Anna Sophia Robb's breakthrough role and she's such an amazing actress. I'm a Sex and the city fan and I would definitely watch this every week. Though I wish this show was produced in cable 'cause I want this show to run for a long time :)
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It was basically SATC nickelodeon style..
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The pilot episode was way better than I expected. I expected it to be really cheesy and worth getting canceled, but it was actually very well-done. I can honestly say that I already love this show and can't wait for future episodes. Is it weird to say this is already my new favourite show?
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See!
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As a huge fan of Sex And The City I was terrified of The Carrie Diaries ruining the my viewing experience. It wasn't made clear in the advertisements that Mouse was not Charlotte and that Carrie was not in NYC yet. I did not realize before the show came on that she hadn't already met Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha. I was mortified that they had cast an Asian woman as Charlotte (No racism intended, but Charlotte is not Asian.) The idea of anyone else being Carrie besides SJP was just unsettling. However I think AnnaSophia Robb did a great job as a young Carrie, now I am excited for future episodes.
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The Sex and the City characters might show up later, but not for a long time.
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Yep in the book Carrie ends up being friends with Donna and gives her the number of her cousin when she goes off to NYC, that cousin happens to be Samantha!
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I enjoyed the pilot, it felt real and flowed nicely.
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JANE BY DESIGN meets GOSSIP GIRL. Soundtrack has possibilities but is fragmented. Will watch another episode or two but not holding out much hope. Naturally as I am ambivalent it will probably be successful.
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Heard a lot of the Jane by Design comparisons. Never saw it, but Robb is so good I think it's worth watching nevertheless.
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So far so good! I was fan of SATC and when I found out they were doing this I honestly thought it'll be crap. Guess what it wasn't at all. This worked for me. Maybe because of the music or the clothes (80's fan)...I don't know but I thought it was fabulous.
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The only thing that didn't work for me is that in Sex and The City it was clearly stated that Carrie's father left her and her mother when she was little .... I know the show is based on a book so I can't help but wonder who messed this detail so much, was it HBO, the CW or the writer herself.
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According to Candace Bushnell, The Carrie Diaries is not a prequel to the HBO series, so there are some notable changes to the brief backstory glimpsed on SatC.
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Just saw this and agreed! Though I understand what asuiteheart is saying-you still have to take into account the HUGE fan base of the HBO show and know that they would expect the show to be consistent, regardless of the book. Just a thought.
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It's important to note while SatC was based on Bushnell's writing it was never directly sourced from it like Carrie Diaries was. Bushnell - after SatC - wrote the Carrie Diaries books where Carrie's mother dies and she is raised by her father. It's more of a no harm, no foul difference.
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Yeah. Important to know that this show is based on the book series, not the HBO show. So chances are there will be fissures in the timeline.
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That in turn will be fixed once everyone realizes who their constants are. EVERY SHOW IS LOST.
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Like some CW shows eg gossip girl they also started off alright/good however gossip girls started to stink wen it ran for too long and thus the writers had nothing new to write about so just repeated stupid storylines and stole stories from crap soap operas. Hopefully this show doesnt have the same fate as i really enjoyed the pilot. The carrie diary has a lot of heart
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The New York people might all be on drugs. I liked the pilot. I remember they had a whole episode of SATC about how Carrie never had a dad growing up so I didn't expect the show to be a faithful prequel. I did like it for what it was. It was cute. Plus, I feel for SATC's merits, it also over-relied on SJP's innate likeability. It hasn't done that so far in this show which I like.
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