Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Carrie Diaries - "Hungry Like the Wolf" Review

Season 2, Episode 11

It's hard to have good voiceover narration in a television show.  Make your narration too direct and it becomes unnecessary, basically describing what the audience already knows (see: the later seasons of Dexter).  But if you go the other way and make the narration too subtextual, describing what should be implicit to the audience, you'll get accused of being "on the nose."  Avoiding the "on the nose" complaint is one of the most difficult things to do, because it seems like everything gets accused of it now.  (I've often wondered whether critics hate voiceover narration and heavy-handed symbolism because it does their job for them.  If a show spells out the point it's trying to make, there's basically no room for the critic to say anything.)

There are obvious reasons for why voiceover narration exists in The Carrie Diaries.  After all, it's in the name -- the narration serves as entries in Carrie's diary.  Sex and the City, the show's predecessor, made Carrie's writing-as-voiceover a staple of the universe, so it's almost mandatory for The Carrie Diaries to continue that trend.  But just because I can understand why there's narration in the show, that doesn't mean I want there to be any.  At its best, the narration is something that's just there, existing without calling too much attention to itself.  But most of the time, the only purpose it serves is to make labored connections between the show's frequently scattered plotlines.  (To be fair, at least young Carrie hasn't learned the joy of puns yet.)  At its very worst though, the narration commits the mistake of making text out of subtext and stumbling into that dreaded "on the nose" zone.  If there's one big flaw in "Hungry Like the Wolf," it's that the episode not only stumbles into that zone, it plants itself there and grows roots.

You see, this week's episode was all about instincts, and how all of these characters are going to need to rely on them if they're going to survive in this dog-eat-dog world.  How did I know this?  Well, that's because people say the word "instinct" and throw out various iterations of the term "dog-eat-dog world" numerous times throughout the episode.  We open on Carrie in the city as she watches people gathering around a hawk eating a pigeon on the ground, which serves as a jumping off point for the hour's examination of the harsh realities of the predicaments the characters find themselves in.  It's Spring Break, and Carrie has just gotten her acceptance letter from NYU, ensuring that she'll soon be spending all of her time in New York instead of splitting it between the city and Connecticut.  Sometimes prequels still try to draw tension from questions that the viewers already know the answer to, so it's nice that the show treats Carrie getting into NYU as a foregone conclusion.

What's less pleasant to see, however, is the episode's handling of everything that happens in her storyline afterward.  At Interview, things are getting hectic, with assignments coming in and Bennet nowhere to be found.  He claims that he's still getting over learning that his ex-boyfriend is dying of AIDS, so Carrie decides to write his article that's due for him, but gets upset when she feels like he takes too much credit when Larissa praises him for it.  It's all a blatant way to show that if Carrie is going to make it full-time in New York she'll to have to learn some -- you guessed it! -- killer instincts of her own, to respond to the hawks in the world who will always be ready to swoop in and take advantage of her.  So she does just that, taking Bennet's interview with 17-year old ballet sensation, Amelia Strong, after learning that he was faking being sick.

While Carrie's learning to follow her instinct, Maggie struggles to fight off her natural inclinations after hitting it off with Pete the army guy last week.  She enlists in the help of Maggie and Donna -- continuing their slow transformation into the greatest power trio that Castlebury has ever seen -- to make sure she doesn't take things too far too soon with Pete.  Much like Carrie, Maggie has to learn to adapt to the cruel and opportunist world around her, but in her case that means not making rash decisions and allowing men to break her heart.

Despite being united by a singular theme, "Hungry Like the Wolf" feels like it's all over the place.  The Carrie Diaries has never been a plot-heavy show, but things were still a little too loose for there only being two more episodes left in the season after this.  With the finale quickly approaching, there's no reason for us to be spending our time with another useless Tom plot, where he has to deal with an unorthodox lawyer, all in service of having another angle to tackle the episode's inelegant metaphor about shrewdness.  Both Tom and Carrie learn that lesson via the help of others, as it turns out Carrie's interview with Amelia Strong was just meant for Carrie to have more subtext spouted at her.  Meanwhile, Maggie learns that she may not need the prodding of others, realizing that she should trust her own instincts every once in a while.  Perhaps the show can take a lesson from its characters and just act, instead of explaining and talking about the act so much.

Random Asides:

-Antonio's Self-Loathing Corner: I wasn't looking forward to writing this review, because I'm generally not very good at writing negative reviews.  But I think this turned out terrible for completely different reasons!  I'm sure not getting any better at this, huh?

-This week in AnnaSophia Robb being delightful: Did you catch that scene where she's in Sebastian's apartment and she's just sitting on his bed, peeling an orange?  Weird and delightful.

-Mouse Sweater Watch: Clearly Mouse is rooting for the 49ers to win this weekend, because she wore a beige sweater in the beginning of the episode, and a sweater with red and beige stripes near the end.

-That was Julia Goldani Telles (aka Sasha from Bunheads, my number 1 show of 2013) as Amelia Strong.  I flirted with the idea of making the entire review about her, which would have been more material than the show gave her.  Though she was frustratingly under-utilized, it's amusing that they made her sassy and a ballerina, just like Sasha.  But if you're going to do that, then give her a random dance scene!  If you haven't seen her mesmerizing work on Bunheads, here you go.  Have this, too.

-In other "Hey, it's that person!" news: Penny, the woman Tom has a meeting with, was played by Cara Buono.  She was Dr. Faye Miller in season 4 of Mad Men.  I like to believe that she only appears in period pieces set in New York.

-Seriously, rewatch this episode and count how many times somebody talks about "instinct" or it being a "dog-eat-dog" world.  It's crazy.

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