Carrie Bradshaw is an icon. Like the bustling metropolis she calls her home, Carrie is larger than life. But before she was a Vogue columnist, before she had her first byline in the New York Star, before she met Mr. Big, she was just a curly-haired teenager living in Castlebury, Conn. The CW's The Carrie Diaries picks up before HBO's Sex and the City begins. It's SATC BC: Before Sex.
The year is 1984 and, as Carrie (played by Soul Surfer's AnnaSophia Robb) tells us in her opening voiceover, a movie star is in the White House and Carrie is ready to begin her first day of eleventh grade. That is, once she finds her mom's purse. Carrie's mom, we learn, passed away from cancer three months prior, and the Bradshaw family — which includes Carrie, her father Tom (Matt Letscher), and younger sister Dorrit (Stefania Owen) — is still reeling from grief. Carrie's mom's purse is Carrie's last remaining memento of her mom, and the audience's first glimpse at the sentimentality that seeps through the show's every pore.
While its predecessor was full or caustic wit with a touch of heart, with more dramatic episodes becoming the norm only in later seasons, The Carrie Diaries is dripping in earnest sweetness. AnnaSophia Robb may have some of Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrieisms down pat — a tug at her hair here, at bite of the lip there — but this Carrie has a long way to go before becoming the Carrie Bradshaw we know. And the first obstacle in the way of Carrie's Sex and the City future is her virginity. Reunited with her best friends Mouse, Maggie, and Walt (who is also Maggie's gay-but-doesn't-know-it boyfriend) at school, Carrie learns she's the last in the bunch to, as Mouse so eloquently puts it, have a guy "hot dog her keyhole." While she spent the summer mourning the loss of her mother and her childhood, Carrie's friends were busy losing a different kind of innocence.
Luckily for Carrie, a crush from summers past, Sebastian "Even His Name Is Cool" Kydd (played by Disney heartthrob Austin Butler) has just transferred to Castlebury High. He was Carrie's first kiss — and what a steamy, chlorine-filled one it was! — could be be the bestower of another milestone first? While SATC lore has Carrie losing her V-Card to Seth Bateman on the ping pong table of his family rec room, this wouldn't be the first detail of Carrie's backstory for The Carrie Diaries to change. (In the HBO show, Parker's Carrie notes that her father left her family when she was young. The idea for Carrie's mother to pass instead comes from author Candace Bushnell's source novel.) Either way, it's clear Sebastian will dominate many of Carrie's fantasies this season.
Along with a new love interest, the first day of school brings another new possibility for Carrie. Thinking a change of scenery might be just what the doctor ordered to cure Carrie of her mother-mourning, Mr. Bradshaw has arranged for his daughter to spend one day a week interning at a law firm in the Promised Land, Manhattan. For school credit, of course! Disbelief must be willingly suspended to stomach the notion that any father could think his newly motherless 16-year-old needs the stress of a new job over the comfort of a familiar environment, but hey, we've got to get Carrie to the city somehow, right?
Because this story really is about Carrie's love affair with Manhattan. A place where the tale of a pair of ripped stockings can magically morph into a chance meeting with an editor of your favorite magazine (in Carrie's case, Larissa Loughlin of Interview) and a night of glamorous clubbing. Who needs a teenaged boy at the New Beginnings Dance when an older, stylish woman wants to add you to her "collection"?
After catching the last train home, Carrie is rudely awakened from her Manhattan dream by the harsh reality of her life in suburban Connecticut. But before the spell wears off, Carrie demonstrates her newfound confidence and self-assurance in an exchange with Sebastian that foreshadows the Carrie we know a decade down the line. After finding Sebastian in a convertible with Castlebury High's requisite mean girl Donna, Carrie doesn't blink an eye. "It's not what you think," Sebastian stammers. "It's exactly what I think." And then, "That's it?" "For now." For now Carrie has the upper hand, Carrie can wait for the guy to come to her, for now (and evermore) Carrie has felt the pulse and possibility of the city, and no mere boy can shake that.
But troubles at home can. While Carrie was drinking champagne from the bottle and dancing at Indochine, Dorrit (dammit Dorri!) ran away from home. Rebellious, pot-smoking Dorrit of the heavy eyeliner has stayed out all night and gotten drunk. Younger sister, train wreck at 14 Dorrit has caused Carrie and her father to pace into the wee hours of the morning, "worried sick" with dread. When Dorrit reappears, Carrie cries and screams and pulls at her curls. "You think I want to have to be your mother?"
But all hope is not lost for the Bradshaw brood. For, as is the way of teen-friendly family dramas, Carrie's outburst has allowed dear old dad to see the error of his ways. Unable to let go of his wife, he has become a negligent parent. As a melancholy, acoustic version of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" plays in the background, Tom and his daughters pack up their mother's closet, an unofficial memorial they have kept since her passing.
The episode closes with yet another wink at the future. In front of an open window, Carrie pulls back her hair into a ponytail and then leans over a journal (one of her mother's) to begin writing.
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: The CW]
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Hey, remember all those great films based on SNL sketches?
No, that’s because by and large stretching a three-minute comedy routine into a ninety-minute feature means padding the runtime with six different kinds of crap strung loosely together on celluloid. Films like Coneheads, A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, Stuart Saves His Family, It’s Pat, and The Ladies Man are all sterling examples of this tendency toward failure. One could make a strong case for Wayne’s World, but even that is not universally haled as a great film by any stretch the imagination.
The only real time that this adaptation process has been fruitful, the one time they actually managed to catch lightning in a bottle, was 1980’s The Blues Brothers—and it’s now on Netflix Instant.
Who Made It: The Blue Brothers was directed by none other than the great John Landis. If you aren’t familiar with this director, rectify this oversight immediately. Landis is a jack-of-all trades director who has proven himself to be dexterous in nearly every genres. He gave us the seminal comedies National Lampoon’s Animal House, Trading Places, and Three Amigos as well as horror classics An American Werewolf in London and The Twilight Zone Movie (he directed one of the segments). There is an appropriateness to featuring Mr. Landis this week as his An American Werewolf in London was screened as part of Fantastic Fest; which just wrapped yesterday.
Who’s In It: Saturday Night Live icons, and comedy legends, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi play the titular siblings. Between the two of them, these guys have amassed the most epic collection of hilarity imaginable. Their resumes boast more classics than we even have time to list. In 1980, the duo were in their comedic prime and the bizarrely stoic way they play off one another is the crux of what makes this film work.
What’s It About: Elwood and ‘Joliet’ Jake Blues are the greatest blues music act in the world. Unfortunately, Jake’s recent incarceration has derailed their dreams of making it big and left their backup band scattered all over the country. When Jake is finally released, Elwood is there to pick him up. The two end up visiting the Catholic school where they grew up and find out that it is in danger of being shut down. They realize that God has charged them with a mission to save the school. They drive around the country reassembling their band to hold a benefit concert.
Why You Should Watch It: The Blues Brothers is an experiment in quiet absurdity. I believe the reason that this film succeeds where so many other SNL sketch adaptations have has failed is that The Blues Brothers sketch was so barebones. It wasn’t predicated on overly goofy setups or catchphrase-desperate dialogue. The whole conceit was that these two physically divergent comedians would dress up in suits and perform blues music. The film takes this concept and runs with it, but there’s never a point where they can jump the shark because they had established no other canon up to that point. Any story about their origins or even their life outside that studio stage was entirely up in the air.
And holy harmonica, do they create a weird life story for them. They ride around in reconditioned police cars, wear their sunglasses at night (much like Corey Hart) and are chased cross-country by a group of Illinois Nazis. If that’s not enough ridiculousness for your taste, they are also stalked by Carrie Fisher, Jake’s ex-lover who is trying to kill them any chance she gets. She goes so far as to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at them and blow up their apartment. The ending of the film is a triumph of farce when a squadron of police cars following them ends up in a towering pile.
But the best thing about The Blues Brothers is the innumerable cameos and spectacular musical numbers. Everyone from James Brown to Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin shows up and leads jaw-dropping song-and-dance sequences. Throughout all these sequences, no matter how out of place they may seem, Jake and Elwood remain straight-faced and enthusiastically executing their choreographed moves. I think my favorite is the Cab Calloway performance of “Minnie the Moocher.”
Overall, The Blues Brothers is one of the most entertaining and riotously funny musicals ever made. John Landis takes an esoteric piece of SNL lore and creates comedy gold. On top of all that, the movie is endlessly quotable. I defy you not to bat about the line, “we’re on a mission from Gaahd” whenever possible.
If nothing else, you have to respect Jake and Elwood’s sense of style.