Picking Apart the Terrible Pilot of “The Carrie Diaries”

Posted on: January 17th, 2013 at 11:31 am by

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Disclaimer: I have never seen Sex and the City. Not one episode.  I don’t really have a good reason as to why, except that it was on HBO during my college years, and I chose to marathon The OC over SATC when I had mono.

Like so many before it, The Carrie Diaries promises to drive doe-eyed girls clacking their heels with determination to destroy something beautiful, namely our city.  Sometimes the best strategy is to get behind enemy lines to figure out why shows like this make New York so appealing to this particularly impressionable demographic. I am here to take one for the team in the hopes of putting an end to this.

Here we go.

It’s 1984. The show opens and we see flashes of Times Square (natch); the lights, the bustling, the beautiful.  Carrie is narrating about a glitzy life she can only dream of. We come out of the dream sequence to see Carrie lying in bed, before school, shaking a snow globe of New York City.  We are accosted with several hundred 80s references before the first commercial break.

We learn within three minutes of the opening sequence that Carrie’s younger sister, Dorrit, is the dramaz of the family.  We also know that their mom passed away, so the “single dad raising two kids” card is a recurring theme that probably won’t die any time soon (see what I did there?).  Carrie confronts Dorrit while looking for her dead mom’s purse, but instead finds pot in her sister’s bureau.  No one is surprised, given the skull stickers and Joy Division posters on Dorrit’s wall and the scowl on her face.  Carrie eventually finds the purse in a hollowed out teddy bear, but her sister has spilled nail polish on it.  Carrie is pissed, but decides to get super 80s and splatter more neon polish all over it, thus defying her sister and embracing the unique, creative creature that she aspires to be. Vom. She also paints her name in giant letters on it. As if!

[Photo: MTV Style]

[Photo: MTV Style]

Our protagonist lives in Connecticut and goes to the kind of school where nobody goes to class, everyone hangs out in the courtyard and swimming pool, and there are boys named Sebastian who drive Porsches. The Gems are a less hot version of Mean Girls, and, as you might imagine, Sebastian is a point of contention.  He’s a cross between Jonathan Brandis and Rider Strong, with a mouth that physically cannot stop smiling.

Carrie’s first day of school is awkward; she’s paranoid that everyone is looking at her because her mom died – sounds like someone dipped into her sister’s stash.  She meets up with her motley crew of “normal” friends – the allegedly straight guy, the Asian girl in khakis and a sweater vest, and the girl who puts out – and their gossiping continues into what appears to be study hall. We learn that Carrie had a secret first kiss with Sebastian over the summer while working at the swimming pool. We are also privileged to hear the juicy details of the Asian – aka “The Mouse” – losing her virginity to a college guy. The Mouse giggled, “It was like sticking a hot dog into a key hole.” Thank you for that wonderful visual.

Carrie’s dad shows up to the school randomly just as she tries to ask Sebastian to the school dance – this is all too much and she passes out.  When she comes to, her dad hands her a surprise internship at a law firm in New York for her to go to one day a week.  This is how we finally get into the city.

Carrie’s city fairy tale starts when her dad drives her into Manhattan on a wide open highway. She narrates that the city has seen better days as they drive by walls of graffiti. Rude.  Her dad drops her off downtown, and she does the wide-eyed, swelling chest, Little Mermaid “Part of Your World” thing and says something about dreams and individuality.  Then the city knocks her over, tearing her nylons. This was the single LOL moment.  It was actually more like a “Hah!”

Carrie’s stuffy boss is not happy about this so she tells her to go buy some new nylons at Century 21 during lunch. It’s at Century 21 that she bumps into a British shoplifter who grabs at Carrie’s aforementioned purse because she loves it and wants to use it in a photo shoot for the magazine she works for – what-are-the-odds?  She also invites her to a swank party that night.  It’s here that Carrie has a grueling decision to make – does she go to the high school dance scheduled for that evening in hopes of hooking up with Guy Smiley, or does she make a brand new life for herself?

She obviously chooses the party, and her eyes are opened to a stereotypical world of religion and tattoos and 80’s fashion all sitting at the same table. She drinks champagne straight from the bottle and gets sandwiched between two gay guys on the dance floor. When she leaves, she says that she hasn’t lost her virginity to a man, or maybe she did – a different kind of man – Manhattan.  And that’s our cue to collectively throw up.

She breaks curfew, but Dorrit comes home drunk, so Carrie gets off easy. We learn in the final montage that the guy who popped The Mouse’s cherry broke up with her and her pleated Dockers, the allegedly gay friend IS gay, and the girl who puts out is banging a cop.  The city opened her eyes to all of this, and now Carrie feels powerful and independent.  The show ends with the cliff hanger of Carrie flirting with Sebastian in the school pool, while two Gems stand on the balcony above, sipping coke in glass bottles and judging. A storm is coming.

The problem with The Carrie Diaries is how the producers continuously find ways to plant painfully obvious stereotypes and false assumptions into the minds of the high school girls they are targeting.  It’s worse than Gossip Girl (though produced by the same Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage) because the characters are more or less average in their station, dialogue, and acting. They portray a normalcy that is incredibly deceiving.  They don’t have the sordid, outlandishly wealthy lives and adventures of the Chuck Basses and Blair Waldorfs. They instead subtly coax teenage girls into believing that they, too, can stumble into New York City and let the bourgeois magic happen.

The larger problem lies in the show being the prequel for Sex and the City, which we must unfortunately assume will be each viewer’s next accomplishment.  It’s one thing to watch an indulgent show; it’s quite another to continue to develop programs that bludgeon the world with the warped notion that New York is nonstop martinis and parties and sex. The more these shows promote that, the finer the line becomes between fiction and unstoppable reality – the reality of a city amassing gaggles of heels and high pitched drunken screaming at 2am on a Thursday night.

Some of us have to work in the morning.

Best of the episode: Cobra Verde covering New Order’s “Temptation.”

Worst of the episode: The hot dog analogy.

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