It is easy to dismiss the CW's The Carrie Diaries as just another frothy show in the network's line-up, which also includes supernatural and super hero driven vehicles as The Vampire Diaries, Beauty and the Beast, and Arrow. The show is in line with other shows such as ABC Family's Bunheads that attempt to engage the post-Hannah Montana pre-Girls demographic. But to overlook The Carrie Diaries is to potentially miss out on a show offering a welcome departure from current portrayals of young girls as jaded, self-destructive citizens of a feminist dystopia.
The show situates itself as a precursor to the Sex and the City legacy. Set in the Connecticut suburbs in 1984, The Carrie Diaries follows a 16-year-old Carrie Bradshaw coming into her own with one stylish shoe in high school and the other toeing the paths of Manhattan's concrete jungle. For SATC aficionados, the show cannily foreshadows aspects of the elder Bradshaw's envious New York life. In a recent episode that found Carrie failing miserably to cook a perfect Thanksgiving turkey, she concedes to one of her best friends, "Mouse," "I'll probably just use my oven for storage or something anyway." Carrie's adoration for fashion, the core group of friends (Mouse, Maggie, and Walt) that make up her inner circle, and the predictable preoccupation with boys further bridge the Diaries to SATC. These elements also serve as the backdrop for the expression of historically and culturally distinct viewpoints about the experiences of female adolescence.
The girls of The Carrie Diaries are not the sometime frenemies that flank Girls' Hannah or the hyper-sexualized, vindictive soap creations of Gossip Girl. They are loyalists to each other even as they struggle with their own sense of burgeoning identity and the choices (and consequences) that arise as they grapple with the awareness of their feminine power. This power takes the form of sex to a certain degree (and more on that in a minute), but also in more simple realizations: What lies ahead after high school, marriage or a career? How do you assert your independence from parents and authority figures? What does your choice to cheat say about you? The necessary sanitized nature of the show -- both in relation to its home on network television and its fictional home in the 1980s -- actually enables an aesthetic space to focus on these types of questions without the more sophisticated storytelling machinations vying for attention.
Sex figures prominently into the lives Carrie and her friends. It is presented as a natural right of passage for these girls whose attitudes toward sex and sexuality are free from political complexities. Carrie, the sole virgin of the group, turns down the chance to have sex with one of the boy she dates. "I want it to be special," she informs him. "I want him to think that I'm special." Contextualized in this whitewashed landscape, Carrie voices an idea of sex that many girls likely share, but is crowded out by images of young girls as hyper-sexualized and of sex as either completely unrealistic or humiliating. Alyssa Rosenberg's recent article on Slate addresses the ways in which television shows are attempting to convey a more nuanced rendering of sexually active adolescents. Though she does not include The Carrie Diaries in her analysis, her points bear relevance to the show. It remains to be seen how writers will choose to handle the inevitable moment when Carrie does decide a boy is worthy of her virginity, but, as Rosenberg intimates, it has the potential to be more than just another clichéd television plot line.
The Carrie Diaries is not a risky or particularly sophisticated show. It walks a fine line between living up to the iconography of its parent show, SATC, and creating a new text for viewers completely unfamiliar with the adult Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte. However, the Diaries does engage with an alternative perspective on female adolescence, and while it may feel quaint or nostalgic is, I would argue, in a culture rife with cyber-bullying, anxiety about body image, and a cult of celebreality that rewards women's denigration, badly needed.