"Carrie Diaries": There was fun before sex (and before the city)

Let's forgive 1984 for trickle-down economics, cocaine, "Hawaiian Heat," "Partners in Crime," lingering disco music and "Finder of Lost Loves." It was still a time for optimism; and CW's "The Carrie Diaries" is an entertaining show.

"Diaries" introduces Carrie Bradshaw in '84, when she was merely dreaming of sex and the city. The second episode (rerunning at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan.25) and the third (8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, rerunning that Friday) are flawed but fun. Here's the story I sent to papers:


After six seasons, seven Emmys and two
movies, people figured they knew Carrie Bradshow.

She's smart, sexy, stylish. In HBO's
“Sex and the City,” she had long-time friends, short-time affairs
and a mastery of Manhattan.

But now CW's new “Carrie Diaries”
shows us a much earlier time. “I wanted to meet her before she had
sex, before she fell in love and before she met Manhattan,” said
producer Amy Harris.

So “Diaries” catches her at 16,
commuting from Connecticut to Manhattan. That's in 1984, a time of:

– Big hair. AnnaSophia Robb, who
stars, finds herself amid a cascade of blond curls. “I do like the
hair (and) it's a really vibrant time,” she said.

– Flashy fashions. Freema Agyeman,
who plays Carrie's zesty guide to city life, recalls the first time
she saw some of the radiant clothes she'll wear. “It looked like an
explosion in a fabric factory.”

– Upbeat sounds. “We have some Wham
in there,” said Robb, 19. “And the Bangles and Madonna.”

– And optimism. Vietnam was gone and
Iraq was ignored. Wall Street was rich; no bubbles had burst.

Set against that is the wide-open
feeling that comes with a first visit to New York.

Robb remembers that vividly. She was 11
at the time, a Denver kid who had starred in the TV film “An
American Girl Holiday” and the movie “Because of Winn-Dixie.”
Now she was at a New York hotel to promote the latter. “I was just
so enamored with the chandeliers,” she said. “I remember just
sitting, not being able to sleep, trying to count how many cabs went

Katie Findlay, who plays Carrie's teen
friend Maggie, was 14, “an angry Goth kid” from Windsor, Canada,
when she visited New York on a school trip. “They told us to
sleep,” she said, “but I couldn't.”

Brendan Dooling, who plays their friend
Walt, grew up as a Long Islander who was awed by New York. “My dad
lived in the city and every other week, we would visit him.”

Even for Agyeman, who's from London,
New York is a jolt. “It's so overwhelming and fast-paced …. I
feel like a wide-eyed Carrie Bradshaw when I'm there.”

That's the feeling “Diaries” wants
to convey. (“This is a coming-of-age story, with the heightened
experience of Manhattan,” Harris said.) It could be universal
enough to draw an audience.

A typical CW show draws 1.8 million
viewers; a typical show for a big-four network has 8.7 million.
“Carrie Diaries” drew only1.6 million for its opener, but has the
potential for many more.

For grown-ups, there's nostalgia. “We
have a whole story around a Rubik's Cube,” Harris said.

And for teens, there are eternal
stories. “High school, for me, (was when) all these firsts
happened,” Harris said. “They really do shape who you become ….
That's a fascinating story to tell.”

It's especially interesting when it has
a big change. “The story of a young person moving to the big city
is (in) so many classic novels … Flaubert, for instance,” Candace
Bushnell said. “It's always fresh.”

Back in 1840, a teen-aged Gustave
Flaubert moved to Paris to study law. That was reflected in his final
novel, “ Sentimental Education.”

In 1978, a teen-aged Bushnell moved
from Connecticut to New York, promptly becoming a writer, college
student and socialite. Much later, in 1994, she was still
socializing; she wrote about people like her, “single women in
their 30s in New York City …. They all thought that they would be
married and have kids by the time they were in their mid-30s.”

So she wrote her “Sex and the City”
magazine column, which was turned into a book and a TV hit. Novels
followed:“Lipstick Jungle” became an NBC series; “Carrie
Diaries” – with the teen years of someone a lot like Bushnell –
tries to bring fresh hope to CW.

– “The Carrie Diaries,” 8 p.m.
Mondays, CW (began Jan. 14), with reruns at 9 p.m. Fridays