The world-wise women of HBO's hit series Sex and the City didn't just spring forth from the womb obsessing over men and Manolo Blahniks. No, their fascination with fornication and fashion must've blossomed later, sometime after they learned to tie their shoes but before any of 'em tied the knot.
Ever wondered how they got that way? Me neither. But the CW thinks we have, and it wants to show us.
The Carrie Diaries, a teen-centric drama based on the book series written by Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell, gives us a look into the life of Carrie Bradshaw before she met her first Jimmy Choo and penned her first column for Vogue. It traces her personal path from wide-eyed ingénue to sparkly world-weary glam maven.
In other words, it's a tragedy. Not that the CW presents it as such.
The Carrie Diaries begins following Carrie when she's a 16-year-old high schooler in possession of her virginity, a Manhattan internship and a compelling sob story. Seems her mother died of cancer, and the only thing left of her is a closet filled with clothes and shoes and trendy sunglasses. Fashion becomes a way for Carrie to connect with her dearly departed mom—an admittedly bittersweet twist that might help some viewers excuse Carrie's rampant consumerism.
But will it help answer why she also spends so much time misleading her father, breaking curfew, drinking, cavorting and obsessing about sex? Keep in mind that Carrie's considered the good girl of the family. Her little sister, Dorrit, is getting drunk, squirreling away marijuana in her room and sometimes failing to come home at night at all.
So while Carrie's forays into the Manhattan party circuit are presented as part of her quest to find her "voice," we're expected to treat Dorrit's traipses into adult behavior as signs that the poor girl is going off the rails—even though, when you think about it, the two sisters aren't really doing things much different from each other. When the underage Carrie drinks champagne during a very adult Manhattan party and breaks curfew, she's just taking the first steps into the character she'll fully inhabit years later. When Dorrit staggers into the house drunk the next morning, it's reason for Carrie to have a mini-breakdown, telling her sis how tired she is of worrying about her all the time. Ah, the unimaginable pressure of being a good role model!
(After a season or so, Dorrit seems less disaster-in-the-making—at least by the show's standards—and more family dark sheep, though she's still the antithesis of perky-in-pink Carrie. Carrie's found her voice but lost her virginity. Her friends struggle with almost every hot-button teen issue you can think of, from being pregnant to being gay to being unable to communicate with parents. In a sentence, Carrie and her friends have turned angsty navel-gazing into an art form.)
I understand that life without a mom can be tough (as Carrie repeatedly says). When bad things happen, the people left behind can sometimes do bad things. And Tom, Carrie's poor, overwhelmed father, needs to be given space to do what he thinks is best when it comes to guiding his daughters.
But as a television show—and a show intended to be at least partly aspirational in terms of Carrie's literally too-cool-for-school vibe—The Carrie Diaries is pretty loathsome. Carrie may be hurting on the inside, but on the outside she and her friends are all about escaping into worlds of clothes and boys and drinking … and sex. As for consequences, well, they rarely seem to journey anywhere near Manhattan. The worldview here can sometimes feel like the exact opposite of what most parents would like to teach their kids—never mind that it's not nearly as graphic or as disturbing as the show that spawned it.
The Carrie Diaries is indeed a tragedy—for viewers, if no one else.
"This Is the Time"
Carrie's been accepted to New York University—her dream—but has also been offered a job at Interview magazine. She decides to accept the job, which infuriates her dad. "I will not subsidize your life unless you are going to college," he says.
Meanwhile, Walt reunites with his boyfriend, Bennet (we see them hug), and announces to his parents that he's not going to pretend he's not gay anymore. His father softens and doesn't force him to move out; others encourage Walt to embrace his sexual proclivities. Donna is outed as a smart girl, but is forgiven and crowned prom queen anyway. Her date tells the school that she has "the sweetest rack in the entire school, and that is the only thing that matters." Several people speak admiringly of Donna's breasts too. We see a tawdry and immodest clip of her washing cars. Dorrit tells her date that he's a "good kisser" and suggests he's a "bit of a snake" (a compliment, in her eyes). And it's worth noting that these girls' prom dresses bare a fair amount of skin.
Carrie and her friends drink shots of liquor on the way to the prom. Dorrit and her date spike the punch (a deed oft-commented on). Carrie's boss searches for champagne for her and Carrie. Characters say "a‑‑" (twice), "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑" and "b-llocks" (at least once each). God's name is misused. There's talk of urination and defecation by dogs and humans.
Carrie yells at Dorrit for being a "klepto," then merely smiles and nods when a new friend in Manhattan shoplifts a dress. Carrie goes to a dance party with that new friend, drinks champagne and meets her first two openly gay men (who kiss a couple of times). She breaks curfew, and while she's punished for that, Carrie never tells her father where she actually was (an omission that, in the show's ethos, is no big deal). She says in narrative mode that she lost her virginity that night: "Not to the guy I hoped, but to a different man. Manhattan. Maybe he wouldn't respect me in the morning or even remember me. But I knew after tonight I would never be the same."
Carrie's friend "Mouse" confesses she lost her virginity over the summer, describing the "painful" experience by way of a graphic metaphor, then calling it confidence-building. Friend No. 2, Maggie, lost hers with a cop. Maggie's high school boyfriend remains a virgin, telling Carrie that he's the only 17-year-old who says "no" to his girlfriend. We later see him looking at sexy shots of male models: Seems that in The Carrie Diaries, people don't stay virgins because of moral compunctions, but rather because they're secretly gay.
We see Sebastian and a girl do drugs. Carrie finds pot in Dorrit's room (but doesn't tell their father). Later, Dorrit sneaks out of the house and gets drunk. She and Carrie get into fight complete with hair-pulling and biting. Carrie's boss is mocked (by the show) for her Christianity and lack of fashion sense. A woman moves her own breasts around while wearing only a bra. We hear two or three uses each of "p‑‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and "b‑‑ch." God's name is misused a half-dozen times.