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Vivien Chang Headshot

Before Sex and the City

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Carrie Bradshaw is back.

In a touching, potentially star-making performance in Monday's premiere of The Carrie Diaries, AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia, Soul Surfer) captures the beloved Sex and the City character's essence -- the earnestness, loyalty, and idealism that have endeared her to fans since 1998.

Physically speaking, Robb does not resemble Sarah Jessica Parker, who played Carrie in the long-running television series as well as the two rather lackluster movie sequels. On the contrary, she is reminiscent of a young Lindsay Lohan, all wide eyes, delicate features, and winning smile.

Based on the 2010 novel of the same name, The Carrie Diaries is full of references to the '80s -- some oblique; some not so much. At one point, Carrie gushes about Rob Lowe, who was a teen heartthrob back in the day, though for many Millennials he is better known as the perpetually upbeat Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation. There is another scene in which Carrie's internship supervisor voices her disapproval of Madonna, then a young and controversial up-and-comer (this is pre-Lady Gaga, pre-Nicki Minaj America). Wrinkling her nose at a dress that arrives for Carrie, she says, "It looks like something that singer would wear, you know, the one that takes Jesus' name in vain." It's scenes like these that make The Carrie Diaries so watchable. We are amused because we have the benefit of hindsight, and we are nostalgic because the past is always more richly hued than the present.

For fans of the late John Hughes, this is a delightful breath of fresh air from the Millenial-centric shows of late. From the snobbish Upper East Siders in Gossip Girl to the overanalytical 20-somethings stuck in perpetual adolescence in Girls, we are tired of entitled, self-absorbed young women in television. Robb is no Molly Ringwald. She has yet to display the wit and self-awareness of the '80s teen queen, but she already has Ringwald's likable and relatable character down pat, and that alone distinguishes her from the contemporary army of jaded young adults.

The show also pays homage to the fashion and music of the decade. Eighties classics like Footloose and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun complement the plot, while costume designer Eric Daman gives us the retro look without resorting to anything truly frightening: no leg warmers, ripped sweatshirt à la Flashdance, or anything Lycra. Instead, Carrie is decked out in floral jeans, sequins, and a very Carrie Bradshaw vintage pink and black dress.

I am just one episode in, but already I find myself cheering on the good-natured and still innocent girl from suburban Connecticut who has just lost her mother and would go on to become everyone's favorite fashionista. Already I worry about the negative influence the sophisticated Larissa of Interview magazine would exert on our heroine and the inevitable heartbreak she would experience by falling in love with the school playboy Sebastian Kydd. Somehow, knowing that Carrie will end up with a successful career, a happy marriage, and three best friends does not detach me from her plight. Instead, I harbor the hope that she does not lose too much of herself in the process.

New York in the '60s was plagued by soaring crime rates and racial tension, yet even then, the Big Apple was distinct from the rest of the country in its celebration of diversity and fragmentation, a postmodernist Mecca in Reagan's America. It is no surprise, then, that teenage Carrie, an aspiring writer, would immediately fall under its spell.

"I have arrived, to the place so many before me have come to live out their dreams." Carrie muses upon crossing the Brooklyn Bridge overlooking the Manhattan skyline. "It was the beginning of my Manhattan love story."

And with that, we fall in love with Carrie Bradshaw all over again.