October 26, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “The Carrie Diaries”



When THE CARRIE DIARIES was almost unaccountably renewed by CW despite its awful ratings, even by that network’s standards (supposedly because of online and DVR strength as well as appeal to the young female demo–although the latter wouldn’t make the network’s move of the show to Fridays very helpful), the Sex and the City prequel didn’t have a lot of cards to play.  In its Season 2 premiere, it’s quickly played one of them:  introducing the young Samantha Jones (Lindsey Gort), who will of course grow up to become Kim Cattrall.  Samantha is a particularly difficult character for the barely PG-13 ethos of Carrie Diaries to deal with, but Gort is a considerably more successful facsimile of Cattrall than AnnaSophia Robb’s Carrie is of Sarah Jessica Parker’s, so the addition may be a good one.

Another relatively smart move, at least for the Season 2 premiere, is to have most of the action take place in Manhattan and away from Carrie’s insipid hometown of Castlebury, Connecticut.  The premise has Carrie and now-openly gay pal Walt (Brendan Dooling) apartment-sitting for Carrie’s older friend and boss at Interview Magazine, Larissa (Freema Agyeman, absent from the episode) for the summer, which implies that not far down the line, Carrie will unfortunately be back in Castlebury, unless a further contrivance can keep her in town.

Despite these improvements, much of Carrie Diaries is as bland as it was last season.  The premiere, written by series creator Amy B. Harris and directed by Andy Wolk, picks up the storylines of last season’s finale, where a crisis was precipitated by Carrie’s friend Maggie (Katie Findlay) kissing Sebastian (Austin Butler), the rich, troubled, sensitive hunk who’s the love of Carrie’s high school life.  (For good measure, Maggie also outed Walt.)  Now no one’s talking to Maggie, and a very dim storyline has the other member of the gang, Mouse (Ellen Wong), being so furious at Maggie that she gets her fired from the country club where she works as a waitress at the 4th of July dinner–but then feeling really, really bad about it so that they’re buddies again by the end of the episode.  Meanwhile Sebastian goes with Carrie’s frenemy Donna (Chloe Bridges) to Manhattan so he can pine after Carrie and show how badly he feels about his indiscretion.  Carrie, not wanting to spend time with him, goes club-hopping herself and very symbolically has the “Carrie purse” that had been her late mother’s stolen, shortly before she meets Samantha, a bouncer at another club.  And if all of that weren’t enough to make a viewer older than 12 gag (not to insult sub-12 year olds), another subplot has Carrie’s kid sister Dorrit (Stefania Owen) hiding her own boyfriend from dad Tom (Matt Letscher, much better as a psychotic killer on Scandal) until the boyfriend bonds with dad over the Rolling Stones (“and Dylan!” Dad genially reminds him).

The central problem with Carrie Diaries isn’t that it’s Sex and the City for young people, but that it’s for very, very slow young people.  The intended audience seems to be those for whom English is a second language, the writing painstakingly spelling out every theme and emotion (Carrie’s voiceovers, an unwise retention from Sex, are especially hard on the ears), terrified of permitting any nuance or ambiguity.  It’s the only one-hour drama on television that’s written like a multi-camera sitcom from 20 years ago, with a Lesson To Be Learned summed up at the end of every episode.

Robb, while only vaguely reminiscent of Sarah Jessica Parker, has some charm as Carrie, and Owen sparks things up a bit as Dorrit.  The friends, though, are no more than types, and any or all of them could exit without any loss to the show.  It also doesn’t help that for a series concerned with fashion and style, Carrie is inhibited by its limited budget to a merely generic nod to 1980s New York.

There’s little reason to think Carrie Diaries will suddenly grow its audience in Season 2, but there wasn’t much reason to think the show would get renewed, either.  Beauty & the Beast, which replaced it on Mondays, is floundering, so if these numbers are acceptable to the network, perhaps Carrie will stick it out for a while.  Before it’s done, Carrie may hit that “In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass” button again and bring in yet more beloved Sex characters.  What else can it do?


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."