After two weeks of fiscal-cliff stories followed by that truly awful BCS championship game (Q. How do you make Eggs a la Notre Dame? A. Put three eggs in a bowl too big for them and then whip them for three hours...), I understand why we’re longing for the golden days back when the worst thing we faced was the Maya prophecy of the end of the world. But Monday night’s television is a good lesson in the perils of nostalgia.
The CW’s The Carrie Diaries is like a real-life video version of that old story The Monkey’s Paw, in which a mother’s wish for the return of her dead son results in a shambling, mutilated corpse knocking at her door. In this case, the body is that of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, who comes back as a puerile teenage version of herself in a misbegotten 1980s-era prequel.
And the cops-courts-and-corpses documentary True Crime With Aphrodite Jones turns its sights on 2011’s Casey Anthony murder trial to recall a grotesquely ugly chapter in American jurisprudence — or, rather, the public’s reaction to it.
The Carrie Diaries is based on the book of the same name by Candace Bushnell, whose mid-1990s newspaper dating columns were the basis of Sex and the City. This show is an attempt to provide an origin story for Bushnell’s fictionalized alter ego, Carrie. It starts in 1984, three months after her mother’s death from cancer, an event that has left the 16-year-old (AnnaSophia Robb, Soul Surfer), her younger sister, Dorrit (Stefania Owen, Running Wilde), and their father emotionally whipped.
In the first of a continuous stream of preposterous premises, Carrie’s dad tries to cure her mopery by letting her skip her suburban high-school classes one day a week to work as an “intern” at a Wall Street law firm. At lunch, of course, she’s discovered by the beautiful people of Interview magazine, who ask her to help them shoplift and hang out on their boozy, ambisexual club nights, where they’re awed by her because — well, it’s not exactly clear. Mostly she sits around wide-eyed and says stuff like “I don’t know anyone who’s gay.” Perhaps they’re mistaking her callowness for irony.
Michael Patrick King, the major creative force behind the TV and movie versions of Sex and the City, opted not to come along on this ride. The Carrie Diaries is executive-produced instead by Josh Schwartz, who was adept at exploring teen and twentysomething triumphs and tragedies in The O.C., Chuck and Gossip Girls but has lately misfired. (His Hart of Dixie, about a hip young New York girl trapped among Alabama hicks, is one long misanthropic eye-roll.)
Schwartz appears to have drawn his inspiration less from Sex and the City than John Hughes’ epic teen comedies of the 1980s: Carrie’s antics in New York are a kind of chick version of Matthew Broderick’s madcap adventures in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But Schwartz can’t cut the umbilical cord — perhaps fallopian tube is a more apt metaphor — to his original source material, and that’s where The Carrie Diaries goes off the rails.
In Sex and the City, Carrie’s highly literary narration of the show made sense; she was, after all, a successful newspaper columnist. But hearing the same stuff from a 16-year-old girl is a case study in cognitive dissonance. Even more fatal is the raunch factor.