Carrie Bradshaw and her friends on Sex and the City were always superheroes of a sort, women bestriding New York City in fabulous costumes, running through men like they were villains of the week. So it makes sense that Carrie is getting, in the words of CW president Mark Pedowitz, “an origination story” in the form of The Carrie Diaries, an adaptation of Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell’s novel of the same name, which premieres on the network tonight. The CW hopes that old Sex and the City fans will tune in along with teenagers eager to hear what executive producer Amy B. Harris, who herself was a writer for SATC, calls “conversations I think teenagers are really having that no one is saying out loud.”
But just as comic book fans have had to get used to their characters being recreated by different authors, SATC fans will have to adjust to some new Carrie realities. Here are the four biggest differences between Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie and the newer, younger version played by AnnaSophia Robb—and how the show’s creators defended them at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, California, this weekend:
Carrie’s father didn’t leave when she was a child—instead, her mother dies when Carrie is a teenager: At TCA, Harris recalled being in the SATC writers’ room when the episode in which Carrie discusses how her father’s absence shaped her relationships towards men was being written. But she said she thought Carrie’s mother’s death offers an even clearer psychological explanation of Carrie’s attraction to Mr. Big. When a parent dies, Harris mused, the relationship between those parents is “suddenly now this perfect thing that can’t be touched. And what I loved about that is Carrie is so—as an adult, is so romantic and has such high expectations for what a relationship will bring, and I think that’s to some degree because she has a good relationship with her father.” Carrie’s mother’s death will also be formative in her fashion sense: As she copes with her mother’s death, Carrie raids mom’s closet for vintage pieces to pair with ‘80s finds.
No Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte—at least not yet: At the end of Bushnell’s novel, a young Carrie meets Samantha when she needs a place to crash in New York. But The Carrie Diaries doesn’t plan to introduce Carrie Bradshaw’s famous friends yet, focusing instead on the people who shaped Carrie before she started brunching with her gal pals. One of those people is an Interview magazine editor played by Freema Agyeman, who Carrie meets during a Manhattan internship and who lends both grownup style and some much-needed diversity to Carrie’s world.
Carrie gets to New York two years earlier, and at a much younger age: In Sex and the City, Carrie first arrived in New York on June 11, 1986 at roughly 21. In The Carrie Diaries, she’s coming to Manhattan for an internship in 1984 as a high school student who’s headed to Brown. She gets wrapped up in the fashion industry just as the AIDS crisis is peaking. Though it’s yet to be seen how the show will handle this, Harris told the TCA crowd that, “I don’t think we can play a series that takes place in the ’80s in New York and not examine that in a real way, and we really hope to,” particularly through one of Carrie’s friends, Walt. “Twenty-five years ago, to imagine as a gay person that you could have a family, children, marriage, like, it’s not just coming out to family and friends who will be shocked in the ’80s. It’s also saying no to a life that a lot of people want, which is to have a home life with a partner and to have children,” Harris continued. “So you were—you were letting go of so many things, and that’s the struggle I really want Walt to go through, and I am excited to play that out.”
Carrie’s nose is perfect: Robb is a delightful actress. But there’s no question that she’s much more conventionally pretty than Sarah Jessica Parker. The CW’s always been defined by its extraordinarily attractive casts—this is the network where a tiny facial scar can make you the Beast to a Beauty. But Carrie Bradshaw has always embodied the difference between pretty and beautiful, and even if that was never a major subject of Sex and the City, it’s too bad to see that element of the show go.