Strange as it sounds, “The Carrie Diaries” — CW’s “Sex and the City”-inspired teen drama — primarily resembles “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” Both involve exploring the youthful version of a well-known fictional character, and while there’s moderate intrigue in seeing what forged the man or woman, the setting is so different and touchstones to the main franchise so glancing that the result is only fleetingly interesting and mostly inert. About the best “Carrie” has going for it is the show’s ’80s soundtrack, but for target CW viewers, the main reaction might be, “Ew, my mom did what?”
In theory, the “Sex” connection could make “Carrie Diaries” something moms and daughters watch together, while offering a ready-made excuse for the too-popular practice in youth dramas of having the protagonist narrate the entire show, the better to get inside their angst-ridden heads. After all, it’s a diary, and the grown Carrie did much the same thing.
After the introductions, though, “Carrie Diaries” becomes just another teen soap, albeit filtered through Reagan-era music. It’s 1984, and young Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) is living in Connecticut, dreaming of life in Manhattan. She’s also recovering from having lost her mother, leaving her to tend to her 14-year-old sister (Stefania Owen) and her dad (Matt Letscher), who, despite his efforts to be strong for his girls, clearly hasn’t dealt with his own emotions.
The pilot also thrusts Carrie into two worlds, the first being her school life, which includes a handsome new kid (Austin Butler) and her awkward, outsider friends (Ellen Wong, Katie Findlay). As if to encapsulate everything that’s wrong with the show’s occasionally too on-the-nose writing (Amy B. Harris, one of several “Gossip Girl” alums, developed and penned the pilot), one friend describes the loss of her virginity as being “like putting a hot dog in a keyhole.”
In a separate, less-improbable twist, Dad lands Carrie an internship in New York, where she quickly encounters and befriends Larissa (Freema Agyeman), a style editor at Interview magazine who introduces her to a fabulous, club-going Bohemian crowd, opening the young Ms. Bradshaw’s eyes to what’s possible in the Big Apple.
Based on “Sex and the City” creator Candace Bushnell’s spinoff young-adult novels, the ’80s setting does allow the show to be more frank in tackling issues like sex and drugs, but other than that, the premiere deals in typical teenage girl stuff, the sort one can find in any number of ABC Family shows. And because the elder Carrie’s famous quartet hasn’t coalesced yet, what’s left is the appealing Robb’s coming-of-age anxieties and, frankly, not much else.
Strategically, CW sought to assist its marketing team this season with series possessing familiar presold titles, even if they come from an earlier generation (a la “Beauty and the Beast”). Yet the gimmick only goes so far, and soon enough, these reborn concepts have to stand on their own.
By that measure, many of those who remember “SATC’s” signature personalities may be moved to reminisce less about “Big” than think, “Big deal.”