At the risk of sounding like an anomaly within the world of television-obsessed females, I should admit that I have never seen an episode of Sex And The City. I was ten-years-old and uninterested when it premiered but I was still aware of its massive existence mostly thanks to older friends who were lucky enough to have HBO (and parents who went to bed early) and who would discuss episodes on Monday afternoons. Admittedly, it seemed that they didn’t watch the show because they actually liked it but because it felt somewhat cool and rebellious to talk about sex in the basement cafeteria of a Catholic Church, which was the location of my summer day camp. Sure, some friends followed the show until the end but a handful quit when they didn’t have to whisper while recapping sex scenes out of fear that a nun would overhear. Aside from that, my knowledge of the show is limited: I know of the oft-mocked “Which Sex And The City Character Are You”? quizzes, I know there’s a Mr. Big (but I’m not sure if that’s his real name), and I know that Carrie liked shoes. I figured I’d watch it eventually—out of curiosity or boredom or “cultural research” or just to viciously mock it on the internet— but, well, full disclosure: I snuck into Sex And The City 2 after plowing through a few bottles of bum wine during Marmaduke (don’t ask) but my only very, very vague memory of the film is being so thoroughly horrified and offended by the racism that we all left after about five minutes and I decided I never wanted to watch another second of any of these women.
This is a weird roundabout way of saying that not only did I watch The Carrie Diaries—twice!—but I actually sort of enjoyed it.
The Carrie Diaries is, first and foremost, a simple teen drama. Okay, sure, technically it’s a prequel that centers around a young Carrie Bradshaw. And yes, it’s clear they’re trying to keep a strong link there: There are frank conversations about sex by a group of four friends (though this time they’re high schoolers), there is an importance placed on fashion (the dresses are as delightfully ‘80s as you could possibly hope for), Carrie’s voiceover waxes poetic throughout the episode (hopefully the show will use this a little less in the future), and New York City is less of a city and more of a character (even if the writers are seemingly unaware that the World Trade Center did, indeed, exist in 1984). Carrie is a character that most viewers are already familiar with (and have close ties to, I’d imagine) and it’s a narrative that’s supposed to setup an already existing narrative.
Honestly, I’d say that the reason why I liked—or at least didn’t actively dislike—The Carrie Diaries is because I’m not familiar with Sex And The City. I have no idea if the backstory here fits with the existing continuity, I can’t say whether or not this show will, in the future, manage to seamlessly blend into the original program, and I don’t know if AnnaSophia Robb was a good choice for a young Sarah Jessica Parker (though I can say Robb is so charming that it’s hard to believe she once played the super bratty Violet Beauregarde). Still, because Sex And The City was such an, ugh, beloved show watched by millions of people and because presumably a lot of these people watched The Carrie Diaries, it’s understandable that there is prequel nitpicking—I recommend this Vulture recap—and that this is what largely makes up the criticisms so far. (Well, aside from the basic criticisms that are lodged at every teen drama simply because it’s a television genre that, post-My So-Called Life, hasn’t exactly been taken seriously, no matter how hard Dawson’s Creek tried, but that’s a much different and longer discussion.) But none of that has to matter!
In fact, I’d recommend viewing the two shows as completely separate from each other. If you ignore the prequel factor then basically The Carrie Diaries pilot follows the Rules Of Teen Dramas down to the letter. Carrie’s teen dream? Become a writer, live in Manhattan. Teen angst? Her mother recently died. Best friends? Three giggling girls and one closeted boy (who is dating one of the girls). Well-meaning father, cute crush, and bitchy nemesis? Check, check and check. Unrealistic plot point? Carrie gets an internship at a law firm which leads to her meeting a shoplifter-slash-mentor who brings her to a fancy party. There’s the requisite drug use (courtesy of Carrie’s pot-smoking, Joy-Division-listening rebellious sister) and the requisite secret relationship (Maggie and a police officer) and the requisite love triangle (of course her nemesis has a crush on Sebastian). There are also some nice surprises, such as an early scene where Carrie’s friends discuss losing their virginities (one girl grossly and hilariously describes it as “putting a hot dog into a keyhole”); it’s a very matter-of-fact conversation that’s free of all the usual fanfare and romanticization. For the most part, the show does feels familiar but it’s a good kind of familiar. It’s even slightly reminiscent of the heyday of WB before the merge into CW caused the network to rely on rich elitists or secret vampires to propel their teen dramas. Once you ignore The Carrie Diaries' ties to Sex And The City, it’s easy to see how it can become a viable program in its own right, provided the series keeps up the same momentum.