The Carrie Diaries is one of those shows that is always going to have to deal with people's preconceived notions about it; Sex and the City might have been a hit in its time, but after two frankly dreadful movies the brand has been somewhat tainted. Did we really need a prequel, then? Would AnnaSophia Robb ever be able to live up to people's ideas of who Carrie Bradshaw is? Would it feel like it fitted with the SATC universe?
Of course, those questions are unfair. While it might share a lead character and author, The Carrie Diaries should really be judged on its own merits. Even then, I was fully prepared to hate it. Imagine my disappointment, then, when it turned out to be all kinds of adorable.
I'm not enough of a Sex and the City boffin to know whether there are continuity errors or things that don't fit (though Carrie's father in the HBO series had left her, which is the exact opposite here). But you can't deny that the show has something of an innocent SATC vibe about it, whether it's the cheeky nod to the famous title sequence as the episode opens, the cute moment as Carrie writes by her window at the end, or Robb's voiceover, which is almost eerily reminiscent of Sarah Jessica Parker.
Actually, a lot of the success of the show comes from Robb, who's instantly loveable. In fact, I'd venture that she's much more charming here than SJP's Carrie is in the Sex and the City pilot, though it's hard to exactly pin down why. She's struggling with the recent death of her mother, of course, but she's also taking responsibility for her sister (then apologising when she loses it); comforting her friends after their heartbreak; turning her mother's ruined purse into a piece of art; and throwing caution to the wind when she's invited to a fancy Manhattan restaurant by a kleptomaniac she's only just met.
But it's not just Robb who shines; Freema Agyeman - the aforementioned light-fingered Interview writer, who bumps into Carrie in Century 21 and instantly takes her under her wing - is enjoyably batty. She perfectly nails the promise of something; she's exciting because Carrie sees her as exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing the adventures she takes our young Miss Bradshaw on in the future.
Matt Letscher deserves credit too for pitching Carrie's dad perfectly - worn and grieving after his wife's death, but also gentle and loving. And it's a tough task, given that the storyline about Carrie's mum could so easily have been cheesy. It is perhaps the least successful part of the pilot - dipping occasionally into trite territory - but overall it's remarkably well-handled, whether it's Carrie fainting when she sees her dad at school and remembers that fateful day, or the touching moment as the family clears her closet.
It's also gratifying to see such a close female friendship between Carrie and her besties Maggie and Mouse, who giggle about sex ("like putting a hotdog in a keyhole") and share together. There's no rivalry here (that's for the magnificently named Donna LaDonna - who avoids dipping too far into cliché with the amusing suggestion that she wants to be friends with Carrie because she thinks it's cool to be connected to 'tragedy').
It's not often that we see simple, uncomplicated female friendship like this on television and sure, that will probably change in the coming weeks. But for now, it was truly enjoyable. (Katie Findlay's Maggie was an instant standout for me, lightening up the screen every time she appeared. That's a presence right there.)
Even Austin Butler's Sebastian doesn't seem like too much of a stereotype yet (that's largely left to Carrie's bitchy boss, who's flatter than cardboard right now, and her annoying angst-ridden sister Dorrit). While it's a disappointment to see him drive off with Donna, it's also pleasing that Carrie is happily unbothered by this instead of going to sob her eyes out in her pillow. And it's hard not to smile when Sebastian arrives at the swimming pool just to see her. Of course, we know there won't be a happily ever after for Carrie and Sebastian - he's no Mr Big, right? - but he's a brilliant fantasy figure. And he's so cool.
I was also touched by how the episode handled Walt's sexuality. He's flicking through Interview magazine looking at pictures by himself, while in public he's trying to be Maggie's boyfriend (though it's clear that he's putting off sex while she's getting it from someone else - a police officer, in fact). But I love Carrie's naivety about this; she's blissfully unaware, telling two men she meets in Manhattan that she's never met someone gay as they tell her that she has, she just doesn't know it. Sure, The Carrie Diaries isn't exactly subtle here, but I'll be intrigued to see how Walt's journey unfolds.
More than just the characters, though, The Carrie Diaries evokes a wonderful sense of time and place, with (admittedly modernised) '80s fashion and beautiful production design (even the lipstick-daubed title is cute). I kept thinking of classic '80s movies like The Breakfast Club when I watched - certainly not a bad thing. And the music! From The Cure to Madonna to New Order, to the fantastic moment when Greg Laswell's cover of 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' segues perfectly into the classic Cyndi Lauper version.
Doubtless not all Sex and the City fans will be satisfied with The Carrie Diaries (which is actually based on Candace Bushnell's novel, not the HBO series, which can handily explain away any inconsistencies). But taken on it's own merits, the show is surprisingly innocent and warm. There's no cynicism about The Carrie Diaries, yet - handled well, this could end up being one of the cutest series on television.
What did you think of The Carrie Diaries? Let us know below!