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Carrie before the Blahniks

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PASADENA -- The City, of course, is there, big and loud and proud and glorious.

But for the version of Carrie Bradshaw that was introduced to TV-watchers this week, there won't be much in the way of sex -- at least, not for a while.

The Carrie Diaries, which premiered Jan. 14 and airs Mondays on the CW network (and, in Canada, on Citytv), is a prequel-ish look at what life might have been like for Sex and the City's central character when she was a fresh-faced teen getting her first taste of the Big Apple, long before Miranda and Samantha and Charlotte became her BFFs and at least a decade and a half before visions of Mr. Big began dancing in her head and bouncing on her bed.

At first blush, it sounds like a clumsy attempt to capitalize, in a long-after-the-fact fashion, on an iconic cable-TV show's enduring popularity. But The Carrie Diaries is a fresh and charming drama that will appeal to the CW's younger-skewing target audience and might also draw in lots of older viewers looking for a renewed SATC connection mixed with some kitschy '80s pop-culture nostalgia.

The Carrie Diaries opens with young Miss Bradshaw (played by AnnaSophia Robb) at age 16, living in suburban Connecticut, readying to return to high school and reeling emotionally after the death of her mother a couple of months earlier. She's the good girl in a shattered family that also includes a rebellious younger sister, Dorrit (Stefania Owen); in order to help Carrie move past her grief, her father, Tom (Matt Letscher), arranges for her to take a part-time internship at a law firm in Manhattan.

It's the beginning, as SATC fans well know, with a love affair with New York City that will last a fictional-TV-character lifetime.

"This is a coming-of-age story with the heightened experience of Manhattan," executive producer Amy B. Harris told TV critics during the CW's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. When the series opens, Harris added, Carrie is obviously too young to be dabbling in the R-rated antics that were a SATC staple, but there will be some early brushes with New York nightlife and culture.

"She will be hiding her age for quite a bit of time, with a lot of jokes about good dermatology and 'fresh faced Carrie Bradshaw.' We're definitely going to be playing with what age is appropriate to be chasing down this new kind of life. So it's going to add a lot of drama, hopefully, and fun to the show, especially when it explodes in her face."

In the series pilot, Carrie's first day at her internship included a random run-in with a woman named Larissa (Freema Agyeman) who turned out to be the style editor for Interview magazine. Intrigued by Carrie's unique sense of fashion, Larissa invited the wide-eyed youngster to join her at a hip Manhattan club; Carrie, forced to choose between a high-school dance back home and a first chance at Gotham adventure, took a leap at the latter and found endless inspiration in a single night out on the town.

What's interesting about The Carrie Diaries -- both the TV series and the coming-of-age books written by SATC creator Candace Bushnell -- is that when the author first dreamed up the Carrie character, she really gave very little thought to her teen years.

"When I was writing Sex and the City... I was really just trying to write about Carrie Bradshaw and this particular phenomenon of single women in their 30s in New York City and finding themselves with this kind of life that they never envisioned that they would have had in the '80s when they first moved to New York," Bushnell explained. "They all thought that they would be married and have kids by the time they were in their mid-30s. So I wasn't thinking about her backstory at all.

"I think the Sex and the City franchise has just evolved over time, and has grown and become more and more popular. So actually, when I was writing the (Carrie Diaries) ... I did draw a lot on my own experiences when I was a teenager in my small town, and all I knew was there was big world out there, and all I wanted to do was explore it."

As new and unique and fresh as The Carrie Diaries might be, there will be inevitable comparisons made to the iconic HBO series, and questions to Robb about following in the footsteps -- in a time-warped kind of way -- of Sarah Jessica Parker.

"When I landed the role, she sent me a very lovely note just kind of giving me her blessing and encouraging me, and telling me how excited she was and how dear the part was to her," Robb explained. "That was huge for me because, you know, I was obviously nervous. I was, like, 'Is this OK?', and so it just meant a lot to be able to have her blessing."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

TV PREVIEW

The Carrie Diaries

Starring AnnaSophia Robb, Stefania Owen, Freema Agyeman and Matt Lescher

Mondays at 7 p.m. on CW/9 p.m. on Citytv

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2013 C3

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