TV Review: The CW’s ‘The Carrie Diaries’ Tries Too Hard to Please

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CHICAGO – It’s all about timing. Great teen dramedies find a very specific rhythm. It’s in the non-stop, often rapid-fire dialogue between characters overflowing with hormones, social drama, and parental problems.

HollywoodChicago.com Television Rating: 1.5/5.0
Television Rating: 1.5/5.0

The characters need to be grounded in reality but their exchanges also need to have a certain larger-than-life quality attained in great shows like “My So-Called Life,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “The O.C.,” “Veronica Mars,” “Gilmore The Carrie Diaries,” “Bunheads,” and even the best parts of “Gossip Girl.” It’s a very subtle thing but viewers can tell when that rhythm is off, like a drummer missing every third beat at a concert. Such is the case with the truly awful “The Carrie Diaries,” premiering tonight on The CW. The tonal shifts, the anachronistic characters, the pacing problems, the exchanges between people that feel about as real as “The Hills” — there’s problems in nearly every scene of this complete misfire, a show with good intentions that can’t fill the former Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks.

The Carrie Diaries
The Carrie Diaries
Photo credit: The CW

Long before Mr. Big, Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) was just another 16-year-old growing up in suburban Connecticut. In a TV view of what life was like in 1984, Carrie’s mother has just passed away and she’s going back to school emotionally damaged but ready to find herself. Younger sister Dorrit (Stefania Owen) and father Tom (Matt Letscher) are struggling with the loss of the family matriarch as well but the show mostly focuses on Carrie and her friends at school, geeky Mouse (Ellen Wong), confident Maggie (Kate Findlay), and sensitive Walt (Brendan Dooling). The hunky guy at school named Sebastian (Austin Butler) seems to be likely to be Carrie’s first Mr. Big as she discovers her friends all lost their virginity during their summer vacation.

Just as “The Carrie Diaries” seems to be another high school dramedy, our young heroine is swept away to the Big Apple by an internship opportunity. There she meets a role model named Larissa (the great Freema Agyeman), falls in love with the fashion world, and worries about leaving her friends behind.

The Carrie Diaries
The Carrie Diaries
Photo credit: The CW

Almost every scene in “The Carrie Diaries” feels designed from an outline of desperation for audience response. Here’s the ’80s fashion scene. Here’s the heartfelt “I miss my mom” scene. Here’s the wacky friend repartee. Of course, I’m sure most shows work from an outline in which each scene has a defined purpose but it’s rarely this blatant because the characters aren’t usually this thin. Even the period stuff feels false, like a costume party for “I Love the ’80s.” The dialogue just doesn’t match with the period. I expect a character to say “LOL” before the Spring thaw.

“The Carrie Diaries” is entirely a failure of writing (although the tonal problems could be related to bad direction as well). Worst of all is the narration, a clear nod to the Carrie-narrated “Sex and the City.” Part of the problem is that THIS Carrie is not yet a writer and so her teenage narration seems purposefully naive and shockingly uninteresting. Some of it literally verges on “so, that happened.” And, at least at the beginning, the character’s voices don’t sound real. They sound like writers trying to imagine life as a teenager in 1984 instead of anything genuine.

To be fair, it’s through no fault of Robb, an interesting young actress for a few years now and easily the best thing about this show. She’s charismatic and talented but she struggles against a script that just doesn’t give her a consistent character with which to work. I can’t be as kind to the rest of the supporting cast (other than Freeman) as they range from unmemorable to simply awful. They’re all young and mostly new to the game so I won’t name names but there are a few scenes in the pilot that simply needed another take or two or twelve.

Even with all of that being said, there is a chance that “The Carrie Diaries” could turn it around. Why? There’s a talented star in the lead role in Robb and the arc of an average teenager in the burbs to a material girl in the Big Apple in the mid-’80s is rife with creative possibilities. If the writers could explore them from a place of character, find the truth in Carrie’s story instead of the cliche, this might be a diary worth reading. But someone needs to rewrite it.

“The Carrie Diaries” stars AnnaSophia Robb, Austin Butler, Ellen Wong, Katie Findlay, Stefania Owen, Brendan Dooling, Chloe Bridges, Freema Agyeman, and Matt Letscher. It premieres on The CW at 7pm CST on Monday, January 14, 2013.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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