Monday, January 14, 2013

Continuity Battle: Sex and the City vs The Carrie Diaries

There are few media properties out there that so sum up the excesses and obliviousness of pre-crash America quite like Sex in the City.  That's not to say parts of it aren't enjoyable, I know I enjoyed the hell out of it as a teenager, when it was on TV. The movies may not have been the best... let's face it the second one was just plain awful, no good, can we forget it ever happened? But at least it was consistent with what had come before. You could imagine these increasingly aging, increasingly astonishingly wealthy characters involved in most of what went on there, even though to many they wished by hour 3 they'd chosen the root canal rather than a night at the movies.

Sex in the City is a cultural touchstone for many, a constant referential byword for Girls which seeks to take on its mantle as "the thing single ladies watch." But, while Girls seeks to cover the lives of single girls in new york in the new Millennium in its own universe. The Carrie Diaries is seeking to pick up the metaphorical Cosmo of the once powerful Juggernaut, explicitly in the Sex and the City story world and tell us about Carrie Bradshaw's early years.


Re imagine the youth of a character whose adulthood we've already seen, hit the tween market and build a franchise that primes an audience to explore further into that world when they reach an age where the HBO show's drinking, drugs and sex are more appropriate? Right? Wrong.

The name is the same but the story has changed. Broken down beautifully by NYMag's Vulture:

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).
 Video References at the original article.

Does that discrepancy matter?

There's also a class continuity issue, with the Carries.
Does it matter that the new Carrie Bradshaw no longer seems very "working class"? Greco thinks yes because old Carrie was relatable and funny, while the grown-up version of new-Carrie would probably be "intolerable." Sounds like Patti Greco just told The Carrie Diaries to check its privilege.
But again, does that discrepancy matter?

Looking back at other reboots that the CW has tried, you see a variation on this theme. When bringing say, a book to television on the first time like Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries. Their track record is quite strong. Even though those television story worlds are wildly different from the publishing story worlds.  Those discrepancies have not failed to remain bankable.

On the other hand, trying to adapt a television show narrative outreach to the model has not been as successful. As an attempt to make a Gossip Girl Spin-Off, Valley Girls, CW seemed to have tried its Sex and the City/Carrie Diaries model out.

A show about the mother of one of Gossip Girl's leads and her teen years, steeped in 80s style and the same sort of love triangles and class issues that are brought up by Gossip Girl. At the same time, not really. The characters were much more clearly lower/middle class than glamorous rich kids, allusions to scheminess but no delivery on the mean girl drama that made Gossip Girl a hit. Also, the actors were actually remarkably physically different from their adult counterparts.

Even with the addition of flashback story points in the highly popular Gossip Girl show, Valley Girls didn't have enough momentum to justify it's final green light as a series.

Things like cast chemistry and actor eye color can only go so far if the stories don't seem like they exist in the same world. Based on the flashbacks in Gossip Girl, it felt like another show altogether rather than simply a different time. Audiences for long form content (like a semi-serialized TV property) are willing to wait for story points to build but if they don't feel the same excitement they feel for a property already on the air, they probably will tune in grudgingly if at all.

The question of inconsistencies then seems like a bigger one. If the aspirations don't make the transition, can you find the audience you're seeking? can you make them stay?

If Carrie isn't fighting to get her job, or find her way to her future writing career, will audiences recognize her in the associated stories?

Sex in the City has been off the air for years, so the target market isn't glutted with the stories of the older characters the way Gossip Girl was,  but only time will tell if The Carrie Diaries has enough similarities to pay off long term... and if the new audience will transition to the stories of the older show with the frequency and consistency for the rights' holder's gamble that a reboot will pay off.

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