After The CW premiered “The Carrie Diaries,” a “Sex and the City” prequel based on the novel by Candace Bushnell, Twitter lit up with 140-character reviews. Some viewers loved AnnaSophia Robb‘s version of the character made famous by Sarah Jessica Parker. Some missed the friends we know and love from the HBO series — Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha.
But without fail, the most common sentiment we saw was a concern that “The Carrie Diaries” showrunner Amy B. Harris somehow got it wrong, because in the HBO series, Carrie’s father had abandoned her at a young age. On The CW, her father is a single parent, making every effort to connect with his daughters after the untimely death of their mother.
“Sex and the City” used Carrie’s daddy issues to explain away some of her issues with men. In the novels that both series are based on, though, Carrie’s father is alive and present. Harris was a writer and producer on “Sex and the City,” so the version of Carrie she knows best is the TV version — but she still made the final decision to use Carrie’s backstory from the books, not the TV canon.
“I knew going in, when I made the decision to follow the book backstory over our series backstory, that there would be people who would be upset,” Harris says. “My hope is that they’ll give it a try and then feel like that makes a lot of sense for the character that we get to know in the series.”
Despite this key difference, Harris is taking great care to make young Carrie feel like an authentic starting point for HBO Carrie. Carrie’s absent father, Harris explains, is just one of the things that made her who she was — and as we’ll see in “The Carrie Diaries,” there were many more significant factors to her evolution.
“We used her dad issues in one scene [in ‘Sex and the City’] to kind of explain some issues she had with the Ron Rifkin character, but I personally never felt like it was quite as simple as a dad abandonment issue,” says Harris. “Almost all of us in the writers’ room, our parents were still together, and we were all totally dysfunctional and crazy in relationships. There are a lot of reasons for why women become afraid of abandonment, or prone to dysfunction.”
When she was developing the idea for “The Carrie Diaries,” Harris was almost afraid to delve into the novel, because she, too, was fiercely attached to HBO Carrie. “I was very nervous about reading Candace’s book because obviously, she was going to tell a different version of Carrie’s background, but I thought ‘Oh god, I hope it’s something that I can click into.'”
In the end, she thought audiences would connect with a Carrie who had lost her mother — a Carrie who had to take on a parental role in her younger sister’s life and who had an idealized idea of what her parents’ romance must have been like.
“I thought the book was brilliant,” she says. “The idea of romanticizing your parents’ relationship because you never got to see it in any real way, that makes sense to me. As adults, we realize that our parents have to work at their relationship, they have marriage troubles, and bumps in the road. As a kid, you think it must have been perfect. This helped make sense of why Carrie’s such a romantic. It felt like the right way to tell the story.”
That’s not to say that “The Carrie Diaries” is going to reinvent Carrie Bradshaw. Harris, as much as the fans are, is invested in the Carrie we grew to know and love. There will be details that conflict with the book, but fit in with the HBO show.
“I’m obviously writing a Carrie Bradshaw that I wrote for the series,” she says. “It’s a little bit of a mixture of it. There are certain things that we fleshed out in the series that were not fleshed out in the book, that I think will be featured here in the show.”
Fans should approach this as if it’s a superhero origin story. DC Comics have offered several different versions of Clark Kent’s potential backstory — this is, more or less, one version of how Carrie Bradshaw came to meet Manhattan.
“When I went in to pitch to the studio and the network, I said ‘Look, I’m sure there’s a version of this show where you meet her in her 20s, and she’s already met the three girls we know and love, but I want to tell this as an origin story. If it’s about Carrie Bradshaw, sex, and the city, I want to see Carrie Bradshaw before she’s met sex and before she’s met the city. Before her first heartbreak. This is Superman before he flies,” Harris says. “I really appreciated that people would look at the desire to do this show and think it’s a cynical choice to wring some last bit of profit out of a franchise, but I really felt like I had a lot to say about it.”
The hope, then, is that even the most die-hard “Sex and the City” fan will be able to forgive the presence of Carrie’s dad — and maybe even grow to like him. “I always want to tweet everyone back and be like ‘Just give us a
shot, I think you’ll like it!'” she says. “In the end, though, I just feel glad that fans feel so
strongly about her.”
Tune in to “The Carrie Diaries” Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.