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TV review: ‘The Carrie Diaries’ introduces teen Carrie Bradshaw

Austin Butler as Sebastian and AnnaSophia Robb as Carrie in the CW's "The Carrie Diaries."
(Craig Blankenhorn / The CW)
<i>This post has been corrected. See the note below.</i>

In 1982, Sarah Jessica Parker, who 16 years later would play Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City,” played a smart, suburban teenage outsider on Anne Beatts’ paean to high school unpopularity, “Square Pegs.”

And now Carrie Bradshaw is being played as a smart, suburban teenage outsider, in 1984, by AnnaSophia Robb, in a rather charming “Sex and the City” prequel, “The Carrie Diaries,” premiering Monday on the CW.

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Apart from the hair (crinkly) and the height (short), Robb does not particularly resemble the young Parker, whom she is playing, in a sense, and whose features are delicate where Parker’s are strong. Like most every quirky ingénue on TV, she is pretty in a most regular way.

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Based on a pair of young-adult novels by Candace Bushnell, whose journalism was the basis of “Sex and the City,” the series was developed by Josh Schwartz, who with producing partner Stephanie Savage has gone down this YA-to-TV road before with “Gossip Girl,” a series whose now-vacant psychic space “Carrie” occupies, partially and more politely.

Like Grown-Up Carrie, Young Carrie belongs to a gang of four, here completed by Mouse (Ellen Wong), Maggie (Katie Findlay) and Walt (Brendan Dooling), who, when introduced, is wearing a sweater identical to “the one Rob Lowe was wearing in Interview,” two names that will drop again before the hour is done. Sebastian (Austin Butler) is the troublesome new kid who will have business with our heroine.

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Notwithstanding the Interview reference, the hairstyles, the posters and the padded shoulders, and songs on the soundtrack that sound better now than at any time since the 1980s, the pilot doesn’t make a fetish out of period details. What matters more is the decade’s sense of personal possibility, of new communities driven by a kind of competitive fabulousness — its vogue for self-reinvention.

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Carrie is made different to start with because her mother has recently died, though this is not such a rare thing in such stories. She has a contentious relationship with sullen younger sister, Dorrit (Stefania Owen), who comes with dark-rimmed eyes, bad teenage skin and a bag of weed, and a concerned father (Matt Letscher) who sets her up with a once-weekly internship in a Manhattan law firm.

On her first day, she is “collected” during a lunch break by fashion editor Larissa (Freema Agyeman, from “Doctor Who”), who likes her purse, takes her for an adult and ushers her into the night life, where Carrie gets a glimpse of the world she’ll inhabit on another TV show in the future.

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Pains are taken to establish that Carrie, who is 16 here, is still a virgin, and it would be nice to feel the producers are in no hurry to change this statistical likelihood. Still, none of the young characters seem knowing beyond their years, or their date in time. And though there will be trouble, it remains to be seen whether it will be of the “Pretty in Pink” or “Less Than Zero” variety.

The situations are stock — John Hughes wrote this playbook pretty thoroughly — and the dialogue does not exactly crackle. But it is all well-staged and believably played and at times it becomes quite lyrical and, even, moving.

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For the record, 9 a.m. Jan. 14: A previous headline on this post misspelled the title of the show “The Carrie Diaries.”

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‘The Carrie Diaries’

Where: The CW

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When: 8 p.m. Monday (repeating at 9 p.m.)

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14)

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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