Monday, January 14, 2013

Pilot Review: The Carrie Diaries

The Carrie Diaries (Mondays at 8:00 on The CW)

Let's get one thing straight: I never understood Sex and the City; I never saw Sex and the City; I don't give a fuck about Sex and the City. But then again, anyone who did probably isn't the target audience of the CW's tween prequel to the HBO megaseries, The Carrie Diaries. You're not going to find any nudity, any frank discussions about sexual positions, or anything close to the production values of the pay cable parent series. This is the CW, where even ABC Family shows scoff at how desensitized everything is.

The Carrie Diaries attempts to rewrite the history of Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb, Soul Surfer), a woman who defined at least two generations of females on Sex and the City. Here she is 16, starting her junior year of high school on the heels of her mother's death. After a summer dealing with her pot-smoking kleptomaniac sister Dorrit (Stefania LaVie Owen, Running Wilde), she begins anew with a brand new internship in Manhattan. On her first day she serendipitously meets Larissa (Freema Agyeman, Doctor Who), a magazine editor who wants to introduce Carrie to the big city. The problem? Larissa doesn't know she's a typical teen with a complicated web of friends, enemies, and love interests back in suburban Connecticut. That, plus she has a curfew... which kind of puts a damper on all the night life fun to be had in New York.

It's a totally ridiculous and wholly unbelievable story, but it's not like that really matters. This is 1984, and anyone who's watched a John Hughes movie knows that anything can happen in the 1980s: people with nothing in common can become best friends in the course of a single day, you can take miles off a car by driving it in reverse, or whatever. And that's exactly what The Carrie Diaries seems to be attempting. It's John Hughes by way of Ambien, a pedestrian attempt at recreating the dialogue and just-unbelievable-enough-without-being-ridiculous situations of his classic films. Unfortunately for everyone involved, his movies are so ingrained in our collective conscience that any attempt to be like them immediately pisses us off. You can reinvent the type of film Hughes did for the new generation (Easy A would be a good example of this), but you can't try to recreate it. The Carrie Diaries is too much like Ferris Bueller's Day Off whenever Carrie is in New York and too much like The Breakfast Club whenever she's dealing with her extended group of friends' problems in Connecticut.

Speaking of the latter, everything about Carrie's home life screams "after school special." Her sister is spiraling out of control, sneaking out of the house and coming back the next day drunk, smoking pot, and stealing (and I would too if my name was Dorrit... I mean, seriously); her father doesn't want to to clean out his dead wife's closet or let anyone touch anything inside; Jill (Ellen Wong, Combat Hospital), one of her best friends, is dealing with relationship problems; Maggie (Katie Findlay, The Killing), her other best friend, is cheating on her boyfriend; that boyfriend, Walt (Brendan Dooling), is struggling with his sexuality; and the list goes on. The 1980s setting allows for a kind of judgment-free exploration of such issues, but piling them all into the pilot is groan-worthy. It reduces every character to a stock type, and it makes their future stories painfully obvious: Jill will deal with the repercussions of losing her virginity to the first guy who showed interest; Maggie will deal with the repercussions of her illicit, secret relationship; Walt will have a slow, agonizing journey toward self acceptance (one that will inevitably lead him to the freedom of New York, natch); Dorrit will continue her spiral until she hits rock bottom and then reform; Carrie's love interest and arch rival will become an item, and Carrie will retreat into the world of Manhattan's night life... you get the picture. What I'm trying to say it, The Carrie Diaries is completely unoriginal and predictable. Everything is so tame, the issues all beaten to death in the nearly thirty years since 1984, that it doesn't feel edgy or responsible or anything of the sort... it's very "been there, done that."

And it's not even like there are good performances or writing to elevate the stale material. AnnaSophia Robb is far too pretty to end up looking like Sarah Jessica Parker (sorry, it's true), and such a cliche character could have been played by any young blonde. There's nothing about Robb that makes you think she is Carrie Bradshaw, or that she will become a powerful woman in fifteen years. The supporting cast is likewise dull, and that can be directly attributed to Amy B. Harris's (whose only other major writing credits are one episode each of Gossip Girl and The Comeback, and the Lindsay Lohan film Just My Luck) terrible script. There is a painfully slow scene early in the pilot in which Carrie and her girl friends discuss how it feels to lose their virginity, and the phrase, "It was like fitting a hot dog in a keyhole" is repeated throughout. It's enough to make you want to cover your ears and shake your head, blessing the poor soul who thought of such a comparison. And even the 1980s setting isn't used to full effect. The fashion is understated, the colors are muted, and all in all it feels like an afterthought. Even the music doesn't really fit. We hear snippets of "Footloose," "Let the Music Play, "Somebody's Watchin' Me," and even a really bad cover of "Material Girl," though that song technically wasn't released until two months after the time of the pilot (don't fuck with me when it comes to Madonna), but because these songs are such a part of pop culture as a whole it feels somehow false. The Carrie Diaries hits you over the head with the time period, like a bad theme party. But I feel like it shouldn't be imitating 1984, it should be placing the audience in the middle of it. Unfortunately it's just another misstep, of which there are too many for the show to overcome.

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