Screen: The CW

The Old College Try

Why The Carrie Diaries could (and should!) survive university.

The Carrie Diaries did so many things right in its second season. It had its missteps -- wimping out on Maggie making a choice about her pregnancy with the ectopic fallback; spending too much time on Larissa and Harlan -- but even those showed a great ear for what the show does well and why we watch it. Nobody really cares about/believes in "Harlissa," but it's a functional MacGuffin for getting all the generations of characters in one place, and yes, the miscarriage/ectopic that heads off angry letters from the Moral Majority about a character's decision to terminate a pregnancy is kind of careworn, but it got the job done. The situation taught various characters a lot about themselves, and once the plot had accomplished that, it needed to end neatly -- and so it did.

TCD has always had a gift for walking the tightrope between "taking adolescent stories and problems seriously" and "thinking 'serious' has to mean 'utterly realistic,'" and it's always focused confidently on the genuineness of feelings, not documentary realism. Season 2 did especially well with that: Walt's retreat from his sexuality, when his boyfriend's ex died of AIDS and things got a little too real; the way that, as senior year begins to run out, the identities you've used for four years become more fluid, and sometimes fall away -- and is that a relief or terrifying?; Dorrit explaining why it's both better and worse not to be Dadshaw's favorite. That last one is a perfect example of TCD magic, because it's not really credible that a 16-year-old would have that insight into her family of origin while she's still in it, but at the same time, if any 16-year-old would put all that together and lay it on her pops sugar-free, it's Dorrit, and it's well-acted and not too melodramatic, and at the end of the day, the show doesn't care that that kind of even-keeled analysis can take years of, well, analysis to get to. It wants the point made, so it makes it and doesn't worry too much about whether it's organic dialogue.

It's that exact savvy about what's important to its narrative and what's not, that sense of what it can gloss for convenience's sake (no way can the Castleburians get to and from Manhattan as fast as the show seems to let them) and what it can't (HIV; a soundtrack heavy on Simple Minds), that makes me think The Carrie Diaries is that rare show that would not only survive but thrive on the transition to college. The high-school dramas that stumble in the college years do so because they rely so heavily on high school itself, on the forced proximity of the players; everyone has to be there, every weekday. That an entire group of friends would go to the same college is not believable, never mind that that group would stay intact even until Thanksgiving break -- but that's where The Carrie Diaries has an edge. First of all, though it's a drama about a high-school girl, it's had one foot in the 212 and Carrie's future life as a writer from the jump; if it chose to neg her entire Castlebury High crew for the sake of realism, you'd still have Bennet (and Walt, now that they've reunited), Larissa, and Samantha on the show. Oh, and Donna, because she's at Columbia. Not a bad foundation. But because the show is about Carrie and not about the school, or solely about high-school things, it could shed that part of itself pretty painlessly.

Second of all, see above: the TCD writers don't care. Nothing about Carrie's contrived choice in the season finale would go down like that in real life, but the show needed a conflict, so it made one, and AnnaSophia Robb and Matt Letscher acted the hell off it. (Nice direction by Andrew McCarthy, too. WHAT ABOUT PROM, BLANE?!) It's a total "we love Donna as much as you do, and if we go to a third season, this is how we keep her" Hail Mary to make Donna the secret scholar, but Donna is the shit, so the show took a big whiff.

The Carrie Diaries just knows how to have fun. It's a no-budget period piece; they have to make their own, and they do. Half the clothes come from Alloy, but who cares -- they're cute. It's sad that Sebastian's moving to California, but whatever -- high-school romances don't last, next! The "Samantha maybe gets stalked" thing felt weird and anachronistic, but hey -- did you notice that Audubon print of crabs in the shot after they had sex? Larissa getting fired from Interview came out of nowhere -- but it's a pretty stylish way to get out of having to cast an Andy Warhol, if you think about it. The Carrie Diaries loves its characters and likes dressing them insanely, so it could really put them anywhere and get away with it. I really really hope they get the chance.

And if they don't, I really really hope Donna transfers to Harvard and they reboot the whole shebang as The Mouse Diaries or Chen LaDonna, Crimson PI because: BEST.

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