The Carrie Diaries Time-Travels More Than Doctor Who
Easily avoidable anachronisms mar the Sex & The City prequel’s otherwise delightful '80s setting.
The Carrie Diaries, like Sex & The City before it, is in part about a love affair with New York City, which is reflected in the fact that it is shot here and uses local actors. (It's no The Good Wife — or even S&TC — in the Tony Awards department, but I figure Victor Garber is bound to show up as someone's grandfather eventually.) S&TC was documenting the contemporary city, shooting in real places that still existed and — for better or for worse — documenting the late '90s and early 2000s if not exactly realistically, at least believably. The Carrie Diaries is a prequel, currently set in 1986, so shooting on location presents a bigger challenge...which they consistently fail to meet in amazingly avoidable ways.
This makes me CRAZY.
This stuff happens all the time, of course. Movies and TV shows mess with geography in impossible ways. The Good Wife (set in Chicago but shot in NYC) once "famously" (to no one but me) featured a scene in which both Radio City Music Hall and a branch of New York Sports Clubs were visible in the background. As a lifelong New Yorker and a stickler, I've learned to live with this, just as I've learned to live with Vancouver or L.A. standing in for my hometown entirely. I thought I caught an anachronism on The Carrie Diaries very early on, and was so annoyed by it that I looked it up and...I was wrong. (Even as a proud crackpot, I'm a little embarrassed to tell you it was the color of the street signs, which, it turns out, was changed earlier than I remembered.) So I lightened up. It’s not a documentary. I made it through almost the entire first season without my head exploding even a little.
Then, in the Season 1 finale, Walt and Bennett happened to be walking on a block I know very well.
The thing is, as hard as it is in post-Bloomberg New York to find places that still look like the grungy '80s, they were on a block that largely does. They're across the street from The Public Theater, a former library that’s looked pretty much the same from the outside since, no kidding, 1854...until last year, when the lobby got a multi-million-dollar renovation, including sleek stairs and a glass awning that screams 2013. And that’s where Bennett and Walt stopped to have a conversation (and make out).
If they had just stopped walking, everything would have been fine! Why didn’t they stop walking?! Or shot the scene from the other direction, since the side of the street they’re standing on is all old buildings too. Or made out more so I wouldn't have noticed the awning.
I caught more moments like this as Season 2 commenced, but they were minor and super-specific, the kind of thing a sane person would never notice, and I brushed them off. Until two weeks ago, when Carrie interviewed a ballerina in Lincoln Center's iconic plaza. Here's what the famous fountain looked like on a TV show from the actual '80s, also known for its use of NYC exteriors:
Here it is after, yes, another multi-million-dollar renovation four years ago, and on The Carrie Diaries's alleged 1986:
Just as with The Public, this anachronism was completely avoidable. Everything else in the plaza looks exactly the same, so why not shoot it from a different angle so as not to show the fountain, or just show the top? Weirder still, Carrie and That Girl From Bunheads conduct their interview sitting on chairs (that they got from where?) instead of sitting on the fountain like normal people would, thus highlighting the very modern architecture for no reason whatsoever.
On last week's episode, the kids had their prom at the Waldorf Astoria, another building that basically hasn’t changed ever. Except, in every establishing shot, the facade was lit by colored LEDs, a completely 2010s tell that presumably could have been fixed by simply finding an off switch.
I recognize that The Carrie Diaries is a very low-budget show, and they're spending a lot of that budget on shooting in New York at all. They don't necessarily have the money to block off streets or digitally alter billboards. I'm not going to fault them for, say, having the wrong Walk/Don't Walk signs (though those are totally the wrong Walk/Don't Walk signs), but it seems like they're actually going out of their way to find modern locations. It's also weird because sometimes (as with the Pan Am Building up top) they do bother. The '80s setting is so much of the fun of the show for me, and the writers clearly enjoy referencing the pop culture, fashion, and nightlife of the decade. So these moments take me out of the show completely. And I assume we should all expect a Season 3 episode in which Bennett proposes totally legal gay marriage to Walt atop the new World Trade Center.