Is it possible to move on from a painful break-up when your ex managed to show up unexpectedly one night? What happens when you run into someone who will become a good lifelong friend? That’s part of the premise behind the new season of “The Carrie Diaries,” which followed how a young teenager grew into the iconic columnist viewers loved on “Sex and the City.” Sure, some of the show’s stories were a little too familiar, but the overall tone has gotten much better and managed to intertwine more cast members than in the previous season.
“The Carrie Diaries” followed aspiring writer Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) who was spending her summer interning at Interview magazine and apartment sitting for her boss Larissa Loughton (Freema Agyeman) in Manhattan. She was able to go to all the most exclusive parties and openings, but she was still having a hard time dealing with how her then-boyfriend Sebastian Kydd (Austin Butler) and her former best friend Maggie Landers (Katie Findlay) betrayed her in the worst way possible. She was having a hard time recovering from her heartbreak, but she luckily had her friend, and Maggie’s ex-boyfriend, Walt Reynolds (Brendan Dooling) who was struggling to come to terms with coming out of the closet sooner than he expected. In an effort to win Carrie back, Sebastian drove their mutual friend Donna LaDonna (Chloe Bridges) up to Manhattan to go to her cousin Samantha Jones’ (Lindsey Gort) new bar opening. Unluckily for Sebastian, the night didn’t go as planned because Carrie made other plans to get away from him. The night didn’t go much better for her either as her mother’s purse was stolen after a moment of poor judgment, but she made a friend in Samantha who was always willing for an adventure, even if the cops came because of it. Meanwhile, Carrie’s father Tom Bradshaw (Matt Letscher) was surprised to learn that his other daughter Dorrit (Stefania Owen) had a boyfriend he didn’t know about after Carrie accidentally spilled the beans. After some careful prodding, Tom managed to meet the boyfriend and was happy to see that his daughter was happy, but still finding a way to rebel against anything conventional when it suited her. Will Carrie’s new Manhattan life fall apart once summer was over? Will it continue when she returned to high school?
In terms of questions, the show managed to pose a few good ones that involved the arrival of Gort’s younger and even wilder Samantha. Her presence managed to energize even the most uncomfortable scenes, such as Robb’s Carrie having multiple meltdowns over a stolen purse. Gort managed to impose a sharp sense of humor that managed to ease some of unnecessary tension as Carrie spent way too long calling the police over a purse that she’ll never see again. She threw in a line about keeping the phone line open for drug dealers and managed to keep Robb’s Carrie smiling even when she wasn’t willing to do so. Luckily, Gort also had a believable rapport with Robb’s Carrie that made viewers convinced that these two very different characters could one day become the best of friends. Let’s hope that she will be made a full fledged cast member sooner rather than later, because Gort’s presence added an adult presence that wasn’t necessarily felt in season one where the adults felt like secondary characters instead of important ones. It would be interesting to see Gort interact with Letscher’s Tom and Agyeman’s Larissa in future episodes to see how they play off each other. Viewers should get their wish for the former in the next episode when Gort’s Samantha was looking to take a job as phone sex operator, which led to an awkwardly funny phone call with Carrie’s father. Another improvement was that the show’s premiere wisely stepped away from the endless drama surrounding Carrie and Sebastian’s relationship with the endless fights and break-ups. Hopefully, the show will take several steps back from that relationship for a while to give the cast more of an opportunity to have fun. Only time will tell if that’s the case.
As for breakout performances, Robb and Bridges led the pack as their very different characters found a lot more common ground than they expected. Robb embodied Carrie with an equal measure of innocence and maturity as she tried to learn from her mistakes before she made new ones. She gave her version of Carrie an added amount of eternal optimism as she weathered some personal storms of loss and newfound success. It also helped that Robb’s Carrie seemed to be just as adventurous as Sarah Jessica Parker’s version of the character. Robb’s most memorable scene came in the premiere when she realized that getting over a break-up wasn’t going to be as easy as she thought, unless she came to terms with everything that happened. Robb also had a comfortable rapport with Dooling’s Walt as he also navigated through his own dating dilemmas. The show also needs to find a way to better incorporate more of Carrie’s school friends with her Manhattan friends in a way that makes sense for everyone involved, because Robb seemed to have an easy going rapport with just about everyone that should be explored for at least one episode. Bridges, on the other hand, had the challenging of making the ultimate mean girl seem likable every once in a while. In the first season, Bridges’ Donna tormented Carrie and her friends. It wasn’t until the character connected with Dooling’s Walt where she managed to prove she could be redeemed. Bridges’ Donna also had the ability to provide some comic relief whenever it was deemed necessary. She was always looking for a good time with a guy, whether it was romantic or simply friendly. Fingers crossed that viewers will see more of Bridges’ character as the season progressed, or when it was simply needed.
“The Carrie Diaries” premiered on October 25th and airs Fridays at 8:00 pm on the CW.
Verdict: After overcoming an uneven first season, the show managed to focus the story on Carrie’s true first love: New York City where most of the exciting action really belonged. The arrival of Gort’s Samantha also managed to bring a new level of humor and showcased how Carrie’s longest friendships really began.
TV Score: 3 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)