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reality check

The Carrie Diaries Gets Carrie Bradshaw’s Backstory Wrong

The Carrie Diaries (premiering Monday on the CW) tells Carrie Bradshaw's coming-of-age story — a story we got very, very little of from Sex and the City. Yes, we know she dated a guy named Jeremy in high school and that she had an abortion in 1988 — but as for cold, hard, biographical facts, we didn't learn much from the show. Except for this, from the seventeenth episode of the fourth season:

The backstory: Carrie's dad "quit" her and her mother when she was 5. (We probably didn't need to hear Ron Rifkin give a speech on daddy issues, but this was a backstory we could get behind.)

Now watch this Carrie Diaries trailer:

The backstory: Carrie's mom died just before Carrie's junior year of high school. Her dad is a very present, Danny Tanner type (minus, so far, the vacuum).

Does the discrepancy matter? If you bought into Rifkin's Abandonment Issues 101 speech, it probably does. But let's assume a girl can have a strong male figure in her life and still grow up to be a sex columnist who falls for men like Big. Even then, there's something about the Diaries world that doesn't parallel the world that Sex and the City had us imagine: The new show sets Carrie's adolescence in upper-crust Connecticut, in a town whose very name, Castlebury, suggests it's fit for a princess. Her dad wears fancy suits and gets her a sophisticated law-firm internship. Her mom left behind a closetful of fancy clothes and racks of whatever the eighties equivalent of Manolos were (not Keds). SATC, on the other hand, gave you glimpses of a Carrie whose roots seemed much more working-class.

Carrie's SATC lifestyle was extravagant and unrealistic, but she never seemed entitled to it, nor particularly on top of it, financially. She was in credit card debt. She rented her apartment for much of the series, then bought it — out of breakup desperation — with help from Charlotte, whom she at one point resented for having so much money. She didn't own an espresso machine until the Russian bought her one. She didn't travel to Paris until she was in her late thirties*, despite the fact that she always wanted to go. And then when she finally did go, she felt totally out of place. She couldn't even speak French (Rich People's No. 1 Second Language). 

Perhaps more telling of Carrie's class status than her finances, though, was the fact that no matter what level of "It" girl status she achieved, she always seemed to feel like an outsider. In the clip from the original show above, she was meeting with Rifkin's character because she couldn't find her footing at Vogue. She was scared to even walk through their offices. When she found out Big and Natasha got married, her response was pretty self-loathing: "She's shiny-hair style section Vera Wang, and I'm the sex column they run next to ads for penile implants." And watching her explain the Russian's fancy-pants light installations to her more down-to-earth, kindred-spirit friends was painful. Maybe it was Sarah Jessica Parker's own modest background peeking through, but Carrie's privilege didn't seem to run deep.

It's not as if the new-past Carrie is very rich or very spoiled. She's clearly been dealt a parental bad hand, and she seems fun and warm and sweet, just as HBO would have her grow up to be. But she's not from as scrappy a background as SJP's Carrie. Had her version of growing-up-Bradshaw been part of SATC's fabric, the series would have been intolerable (nobody wants to watch a show about a writer who is self-absorbed and spending family money). And Carrie totally would have married Aidan. Boring!

*A previous version of this post said Carrie was in her mid-forties when she first went to Paris. So wrong.

Photo: New Line, The CW