The year was 2013. Chevron prints, gaudy bubble necklaces, and infinity scarves were all the rage. My fellow eighth and ninth graders bartered silly bands at the lunch table. With the pending end of shows such as “House of Anubis” and “Wizards of Waverly Place,” Nickelodeon and Disney Channel were exiting their prime, leaving me searching for something new to consume in my structured TV time.
AnnaSophia Robb had just landed the cover of the May swimsuit issue of Seventeen, the first print magazine I can recall buying from my local Publix. The “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” and “Soul Surfer” star had just turned down an opportunity to attend Stanford University for a lead role in a new show, working alongside Austin Butler.
From brief cameos on “iCarly” and “Hannah Montana” to a relationship with Disney royalty Vanessa Hudgens, Butler was the newest heartthrob in young Hollywood. It was a casting match made in heaven for a series called “The Carrie Diaries.” Originally premiering in January 2013, it was prequel to “Sex and the CIty,” a show about a 30-something white woman who I didn’t have the slightest connection to gallivanting around New York City.
“The Carrie Diaries,” which ran for two short seasons on The CW, deserved more praise and more airtime. Set in 1984, in the era of “Ronald Reagan and shoulderpads,” the Candace Bushnell novel-turned-series followed a young Carrie Bradshaw as she navigated relationships, junior year and the sudden death of her mother.
While her friends were embarking on a summer of “firsts,” Bradshaw was engulfed in grief. Eager to escape suburbia, the Connecticut teen secured an internship at a New York City law firm, sending herself to the city where she ultimately found her voice and a sense of belonging — two things I, as a teenager myself, yearned for.
Though it’s become the forgotten reboot, “The Carrie Diaries” was a heartfelt exploration of adolescence, sisterhood and sensuality, the latter of which I hadn’t seen portrayed frankly on screen at the time. Each character had a different vantage point on sex and relationships, grappling with expectations about “how fast things should be,” bodily autonomy and consent, sexuality, and more.
While Carrie felt “behind” in comparison to her classmates, her best guy friend Walt Reynolds (Brendan Dooling) was content waiting for sex until marriage or until he found “the right one.” He spent two years dating resident drama queen Maggie Landers (Katie Findlay) and by the end of Season 1, realized his love for a certain male writer named Bennet is much stronger. In a moment of vulnerability, he does have sex with Maggie, who was cheating on him with an older man and would later endure the emotional rollercoaster of a teen pregnancy.
Maggie had an ectopic pregnancy (a missed opportunity to discuss abortion — though it was network television), and after the traumatizing ordeal, she realized that sex does not equal loving and caring for someone, and learns that she deserves better moving forward. On the other hand, the ever-so-loyal Jill “Mouse” Chen (Ellen Wong) was like me. She couldn’t publicly interact with a boy without the risk of being chastised by her immigrant parents. “I can’t consider having a boyfriend until I’ve graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Medical School,” she said.
Eventually, they come to grips with their varied “deflowering” journeys, realizing no one is “behind” and chatting about both sex education and failing their driver’s tests. Full of awkardness, fumbling, and laughter, it was an age-appropriate look at the sex positivity that would later define Bradshaw’s adult writing career.
But apart from her melodramatic pining over Sebastian Kydd (Austin Butler), it was Carrie’s pilgrimage to New York that stuck with me most.
Growing up 75 miles south of Atlanta and attending a white Christian private high school, I couldn’t help but connect to young Carrie. Being trapped in the fictional town of Castlebury, Connecticut — only a 60-minute ride away from liberation — deeply resonated with me. After her first outing in Manhattan, she found herself surrounded by people from all walks of life who are “distinctly themselves in a city that celebrated them. It was such a stark contrast to the world I came from, where conformity is demanded,” Carrie said in the pilot. It was a feeling I sought when deciding between colleges: I wanted to go to a place where I could find my kind of people.
Carrie’s ambition, determination to do it all, and hardheadedness were emblematic of a younger me. Contrary to the narcissism, delusion and selfishness her older character would become known for, young Carrie was the person who took care of everyone else — and she craved being released from that burden. Upon arriving in New York with her most prized possession — a newly refurbished vintage bag of her mother’s — she found a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in a photoshoot. As doors open in the big city, Carrie conceals certain parts of herself, namely her age, to seem more mature and polished.
Carrie quickly finds joy in the autonomy and anonymity that I have learned to love so much about New York City, all while walking the very narrow tightrope of a double life. In contriving her own narrative about herself, it almost becomes real.
By the second season, Carrie and Walt interned in Manhattan for the summer and she was tasked with a major decision: either attend New York University or take a full-time job at Interview Magazine. (Of course, further complicating this choice was her love interest’s departure to California to launch a skateboarding business.)
When those two opportunities were ripped away from her, she was left dismayed — and made the unpopular decision to stay in the city, taking on odd jobs until further notice. Though her fate is clear, we never got to see if the friend group maintained their relationships through college, how Carrie maneuvered through the workplace, or how her future dating life unfolded.
But young Carrie was willing to fight for the life she always wanted, encouraging me to continue clawing toward my own aspirations.
Through all of those lessons, she tapped into a deeper, richer version of herself and “The Carrie Diaries” showed viewers that they could dream and do the same. I fully shed the doubt others projected onto me for striving, for wanting more, and for harnessing my voice and believing that little ole me in Macon, Georgia, could achieve anything and everything, come hell or high water.
“I wasn’t searching for something or somebody here. I was searching for me,” Carrie said at the end of the pilot. “Finding my voice wasn’t going to be easy but for the first time in a long time, I thought it might be fun.”
Thank you, young Carrie Bradshaw, for making that process a little more bearable.