Monday, March 4, 2013

The Carrie Diaries is a 15 Year Old Girl's (and 21 Year Old Man's) Dream

AnnaSophia Robb as young Carrie Bradshaw

I often say that if some strange disease were to wipe away everyone on earth older than the age of 12, all children would need is Pixar films and Avatar: the Last Airbender and they'd be fine.  Granted, they'd probably know too much about balloon houses and waterbending and not enough about scavenging food to realistically last in this imagined apocalyptic scenario, but you get what I mean.  The magic and depth of Pixar films have been well-documented, but Avatar: the Last Airbender is essentially the television equivalent of them.  When you strip away the impressively serialized narrative and the breathtaking action choreography, Avatar: the Last Airbender essentially teaches kids everything they need to know about life, love, friendship, responsibility, good/evil, heartbreak, etc.  It's probably too early to make any declarations (or devote 1000 words to it), but I think The Carrie Diaries may be doing the same thing for teens.

Of course, there are many barriers to entry with The Carrie Diaries originating from both ends.  Fans of Sex and the City, to which The Carrie Diaries is a prequel, may be offended by the way that the show plays fast and loose with the continuity of its originator.  Those who were never fans of Sex and the City in the first place have no incentive to watch the early life of a character whom they didn't care about as an adult.  It's a shame that there are so many preconceived misgivings about The Carrie Diaries, because millions of people are missing out on a fun, charming, and really refreshing show.  Listen, I didn't like Sex and the City much either, so I'm just as surprised to find The Carrie Diaries to be the best teen show in a very long time.

Central to the appeal of the show is AnnaSophia Robb, who plays teenage Carrie Bradshaw, caught between her suburban home life in Connecticut and the glamorous pull of Manhattan.  Robb's performance is a star-making turn, imbuing young Carrie with a level of warmth and endearment largely absent from her adult counterpart.  With a lead as talented as Robb, it'd be easy for her to feel above the material if the writing wasn't up to par, but Carrie Bradshaw is a surprisingly strong female character, especially in the landscape of current teen shows.  There are certainly some well-drawn teenagers in dramas, like Dana Brody on Homeland, but I can't remember the last time one has been as insanely likable as Carrie is.  She constantly makes the exact opposite decision we've been trained to expect from the lead character of a CW show.  It's kind of amazing the way that the writers have been able to manage to find drama for a character who's smart enough to not really engage in petty conflicts or play games with guys.  On paper, "Carrie reacts to almost every obstacle with level-headedness and aplomb" doesn't sound terribly interesting, but eight weeks in and the concept still hasn't gotten old.

Part of why the show is able to continually depict Carrie as a logical, normal teenage girl is because it rarely ever scandalizes any of the elements that these kinds of shows usually scandalize.  The show treats sex, alcohol, and drugs with the casualty that real teens do.  Consequently, the show's worst episode was the 4th episode, where it turned ecstasy use and a character's closeted sexual orientation into an after-school special.  Most impressively, The Carrie Diaries is one of the most sex-positive teen shows on television right now.  When you think about it, this should come as no surprise, since it is the prequel to Sex and the City, a show that is famous for revolutionizing the way in which women speak openly about sex.  Even still, it's remarkable to have a show with younger characters that neither villainizes nor objectifies sex.  The show's lax attitude about sex leads to some problems -- a statutory rape storyline is one of the weakest, simply because it never feels as wrong as it should -- but overall, it's pretty realistic to what I've experienced.

This lack of scandalization is a problem for some, who accuse it of being too low-stakes, but I like how small these initial episodes feel.  The show is not perfect, not even close.  Overall, the plotting is pretty shaky -- many storylines isolated from Carrie seem pretty useless, they still haven't gotten a good handle on Carrie's little sister Dorritt or her mentor Larissa, and the writers often have trouble concluding an episode in a way that isn't completely dumb or goofy.  However, what the show lacks in plot it makes up for in relationship building.  In general, there's a nice sense of warmth that presides over the interactions between characters, giving everything a more real feeling.  Carrie and her two best friends feel like people who would actually be best friends, with their inside jokes and level of support that they provide one another.  Additionally, Carrie's relationship with her father is refreshing, given how many times we've seen the "angsty teen, parent who doesn't understand" formula.  Carrie and her father often find themselves in conflict with each other, but the state of their relationship never seems like its in jeopardy, and she more frequently serves as a consultant for dealing with the very moody Dorritt.

Ratings aren't great for The Carrie Diaries, so who knows if the show can survive past the first season.  Perhaps the low-stakes nature of the show is too quiet for a network that's increasingly becoming vampire and action oriented.  Tragically, the fact that the show is unlike almost anything else on tv is what makes it so appealing and also so unpopular.  If we ever get to see it live to a season 2 or 3, I wouldn't be surprised if it became one of the great teen shows of our generation.

No comments:

Post a Comment