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Thursday, February 6, 2014

THE CARRIE DIARIES "Runs" Out of Time

Article first published as THE CARRIE DIARIES "Runs" Out of Time on TheTVKing.

The CW's The Carrie Diaries, a prequel of sorts to Sex and the City, but taking its cue from the novels, rather than the HBO show, draws its second season to a close this week in "Run to You." As they graduate, Carrie (AnnaSophia Robb) and her friends are at a crossroads. Their decisions will take them in different directions, and none has a harder choice to make than Carrie herself.

"Run to You" is a disappointing hour because of the lack of female empowerment. Here's Carrie, eighteen years old and barely out of high school, and she's ready to move across the country with no prospects of her own for a guy, Sebastian (Austin Butler). Granted, Carrie may be trying to escape her problems, having lost her job, too late to try to go to college in the fall, and estranged from her father, Tom (Matt Letscher). But still...

Even worse is Maggie's (Katie Findlay) story. She is a strong girl who is just finding out how she can stand on her own, but rather than decide that she wants to pursue her own goals, she's happy to accept Pete's (Claybourne Elder) marriage proposal. Will she even still go to college now? Who knows? Her fate is in the hands of a guy she only recently met.

Samantha (Lindsey Gort), the epitome of a woman who can use a man for her own selfish needs, though she isn't cruel, is watered done and overly sentimental in The Carrie Diaries. Perhaps she hasn't grown into who she will be yet, but this version of Samantha contains only occasional hints of the beloved icon fans adore.

This isn't a great example to have on TV for impressionable teens to watch. The characters of Sex and the City wanted to find love, sure, but that was far from the only thing going on with them, and they weren't going to compromise themselves or settle. The Carrie Diaries is teaching a new generation that its OK to just find a guy and do what he wants. Carrie herself breaks away from this at the end of "Run to You," but it's too little, too late, the message already hammered home.

 This show is set in the 1980s, so it's not like women were only destined to be housewives at the time. The 1980s was a period where females did want careers and were proving they were as good as men, continuing to break into fields that were long male-dominated. Where is that spirit in this finale? If anyone would subscribe to it, it would be Carrie Bradshaw, who has shown her mettle in previous installments.

Even Larissa (Freema Agyeman), the symbol of the free-spirited, independent woman, ties the knot in this season finale, marrying Harlan (Scott Cohen) in an airport. Granted, she has negotiated the arrangement she wants with him, but she's also using him as a crutch to escape her unemployment issue, bumping up the marriage so she can concentrate on fun in his arms, rather than trying to rebuild her career yet. It's not inspiring.

I do give The Carrie Diaries credit for not doing a traditional graduation episode. Since there have only been two short seasons, it would be weird to have big, tearful goodbyes for several of the players, but a lot of shows would have done so anyway. In "Run to You," the ceremony is brushed over in favor of getting to more character development, even if it's not good development.

I also liked the ending between Mouse (Ellen Wong) and West (RJ Brown). They are forced back into one another's orbits and do sleep together, but then Mouse tells him it was a good way to leave things, both heading on to very different futures.

The Carrie Diaries has done some things right. The portrayal of homosexuals in the 1980s is eye-opening. The main gay character, Walt (Brendan Dooling), is a fully fleshed out individual who defies stereotypes and forces his parents to confront who he is in a very moving scene. Donna (Chloe Bridges) ends up being a really interesting person, the pretty bully who is secretly a genius. The father-daughter relationship between Tom and Carrie and Tom and Dorrit (Stefania Owen) is great, and the sister bond between Carrie and Dorrit is sweet. The period references are only occasionally forced. The acting is decent.

But it also gets a lot wrong, as I've argued in many of the above paragraphs. It's a fluff teen drama that doesn't live up to its potential or legacy, and with the chance of a third season so low, it's not unlikely to be long-remembered. I did find it entertaining enough to sit through all twenty-six installments, and I'll admit I'd like to see it go on, albeit with a few things corrected, and likely without most of the cast just because that's what makes sense for the story.

I guess the thing that bothers me most about The Carrie Diaries, though, and this is a huge obstacle going in, is that none of these people are still in Carrie's life when she's an adult, except Samantha, of course. That means with every squabble she has with them, I'm waiting to see this being the last straw for their relationship. Yet, the tone of the show does not allow anything but hugs and reconciliation. This robs the chance of it being any kind of true prequel to the original show, lessening my enjoyment considerably. It needs more pathos.

The Carrie Diaries has not been picked up, and the odds are not in its favor.

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