Saturday, May 11, 2013

Young Carrie Bradshaw is very much her own person

(Published May 6, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
“The Carrie Diaries” is the inevitable spawn of the hugely successful comedy series “Sex and the City,” a teen-centric prequel that’s based on a similarly titled set of books. The nostalgic new show is set in the 1980s and brings back the titular Carrie Bradshaw, but she isn’t the sex columnist character popularized by Sarah Jessica Parker yet.

Gorgeous AnnaSophia Robb, young actress from “Race to Witch Mountain” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” plays the teen Carrie, an inquisitive high school student recovering from the death of her mother. She reconnects with an old friend, Sebastian (Austin Butler), a cool rebel figure that her father (Matt Letscher) is wary of.

“Carrie” isn’t structured like the snappy, adult-oriented predecessor. While “Sex and the City” almost provided symmetrical focus on four stories that often led to bombastic and climactic punchlines and denouements, this new show is more like a mash-up of “Gossip Girl” and “Awkward,” but is nowhere as racy as the original version of “Skins.”
There are, however, numerous situations where the characters discover, or get interested in sexual intimacy. The adult Carrie has semi-kindred spirits in Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte, but teen Carrie’s friends are differently curious and more wide-eyed when it comes to the subject.

Jill/Mouse (Ellen Wong) is obsessed with excelling in school and is attracted to similarly motivated guys. Maggie (Katie Findlay) is the girl who sneaks around with illicit lovers. Walt (Brendan Dooling) is the closeted gay guy who initially has trouble accepting his sexuality. It’s not the circle of friends viewers are accustomed to, but they form a solid and charming group that complements virginal Carrie’s growth.

 Just as important is her mentor figure Larissa (“Doctor Who’s” Freema Agyeman), a stylish editor and party girl who lures Carrie to New York. Larissa is aware of her teen protégé’s talent for writing, unlike Carrie’s dad, who hopes her daughter would follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer.

Robb is a talented actress, and while only her hair truly resembles Parker, she nevertheless creates a whole new dimension to the character. Bustling with naïveté and potential, Carrie is often torn between being a dutiful daughter and the committed magazine intern. She also looks after her punk rock-loving younger sister (Stefania Owen), who almost always gets into typical teen trouble.

The show is watchable, but its formulaic structure makes things predictable. It’s easy to figure out how the characters will get out of their high school binds; we see problems with Carrie’s on-again, off-again beau Sebastian coming. Still, this series smartly fleshes out the main character in ways “Sex and the City” didn’t, while providing an expanded continuity where younger, relatable characters are going through both fun and tough times.

Older fans of the original show may not easily get into it, but those that do are rewarded with a romanticized version of the 1980s, flavored by a veritable who’s who from the era’s pop pantheon (John Waite, Corey Hart, The Cars, Depeche Mode, Cyndi Lauper, etc.).

“The Carrie Diaries” wrangles its throwback elements creatively, giving a familiar setting where its young protagonist is soundly shaping her destiny. And it’s Carrie at her most malleable, at a point in her life where she starts insightfully asking about connections and compatibility.

“The Carrie Diaries” airs Mondays, 8 p.m. on ETC.

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