In Defense Of The Carrie Diaries From A Skeptic
I admit it, I was so skeptical of The Carrie Diaries. I mean, who isn’t skeptical about a show on the CW? The promo pictures looked more like Gossip Girl than the 1980s or Sex and The City. Oh, girl, I could not have been more wrong about this show. It is a GOOD show. Not a so-bad-it’s-good-show, not a show I like to hate-watch, it’s a good show. Do they still make good shows for teenage girls? This is something that could have been on during the Golden Age of Disney (probably not because the teens do drugs and have sex) or on ’90s Nickelodeon or on Teen Nick today.
The show has heart. Over the summer Carrie’s mother has died of cancer, while she spent her summer grieving she learns that both her friends spent it losing their virginities. Her younger sister, Dorrit, spent it smoking pot, wearing black eyeliner and sneaking out. The show gets major points for having a diverse cast which is something SATC failed to do. Carrie is not the free-spirited, kooky lady we know who smokes cigarettes and accumulates debt because she spent her rent money on shoes.
This Carrie is more conservative, more plain – more innocent. Loss is the theme of this episode and it is executed in various ways that are nuanced but totally appropriate to the shows target audience: teenage girls. Carrie loses her mother, her friends lose their virginity and they all lose their ability to perceive the world naively any longer; they must reconcile that the decisions they make will ultimately decide the people they become.
SATC was a 26 minute show while this one is 45 minutes, which could be the reason why SATC lacked a certain meatiness to it, unlike TCD.
The show is more like My So-Called Life, Felicity or a Judy Blume novel than Sex and The City. Which might annoy some fans of its predecessor. The show doesn’t follow Carrie’s mythology at all. In this series her mother dies of cancer, she comes from an upper middle class family and has a sister. Whereas in the HBO series Carrie is of working class beginnings, has a father who abandoned her at five and has never mentioned a younger sister. These changes, the prospect of them annoyed me before I saw the show because the promo shots insinuated it would be more like Gossip Girl. A show where teenagers regularly sipped martinis at exclusive clubs, wore designer clothing and had lives too melodramatic and unbelievable to follow. It was essentially money porn. Which isn’t to say that Sex and The City didn’t eventually evolve into a show that worshipped fashion and loose story lines. SATC is actually closer to Gossip Girl than The Carrie Diaries is.
For this reason I would say that The Carrie Diaries is a better – gasp – show than Sex and The City.
Teenage Carrie is already smitten with Manhattan in her dreams, she finds the conformity of her Castlebury, Connecticut suburbs to be boring. Her efforts to reconcile her mother’s recent death makes her slightly more thoughtful than her peers, which makes for narration that’s insightful and with purpose as opposed to the sassy, not-so-clever soundbites and segues used in GG and SATC. She is not the outspoken, edgy woman she will become yet, but she still has the same kind of pining for freedom, affection and meaning that was central to Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie.
While interning at a law firm in Manhattan, which her father set up, Carrie is told to buy new stockings by her supervisor after ripping her own. It’s when she goes to the department store Century 21 that she is exposed to the power of fashion. She says, “You can enter the store one person and leave somebody else.” Here a fashion editor spots Carrie’s purse (a satchel her mother gave her that she customized with nail polish). She asks to use it for a photo shoot in Interview magazine – not realizing Carrie is only sixteen she invites her to a swanky, trendy party at the club Indochine. She goes to the club, excited by the prospect of hanging with a real writer, instead of a school dance where her crush is waiting.
Here’s what I love about the show. It glamorizes New York City in all the right and real reasons. It’s not about the money, the decadence or the designer clothing. As Carrie says, sitting at a table with her new friends, “They’re all artists, writers, fashion designers, each an individual all to themselves.” The show is highlighting the artistry and individuality of New York City, the freedom – even the sexual freedom as she dances with a gay couple. She tells them she’s never met a gay person before and they assure her that she has but she just doesn’t know it yet. This strategically alludes to her BFF’s boyfriend who is secretly struggling with his own sexuality. Never has a show on the CW dealt with topics so subtly and so coming of age without injecting them with melodrama that pulls the viewer out of the moment the way a Lifetime movie might. No, this show is better than that. It lets things happen without shoving it down your throat.
The show isn’t about wealth, boys or sex it’s about being a teenager and the struggle to find a stable identity even when things are constantly changing around you. Carrie announces through the narrative voiceover that she has lost her virginity to Manhattan. That her night there means that she will never be the same. That it is through loss that we find ourselves. Serena van der Woodsen would never ponder a thought so deep.