No one can escape the cultural impact of Sex and the City. The HBO series — which celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this month — has maintained an enduring presence in pop culture, from setting fashion trends to generating endless viral tweets, and even fueling public fascination with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall’s long-standing feud. In an even broader context, SATC (along with the romantic comedy genre at large) has also played a pivotal role in romanticizing the media industry, as well as the allure of living in New York City.
As a member of Gen Z, my introduction to the character of Carrie Bradshaw wasn’t through SATC, but a lesser-known chapter of her story: The Carrie Diaries, a prequel series centered around the titular character’s teenage years. As a result, I’ve never felt any desire to watch the original series (or its sequel, And Just Like That…). It’s not that I actively avoided the show; part of my excuse for not having seen a single episode simply has to do with having only so much time to watch TV, which has only increased its output since the ending of the original series. But my larger reasoning is that I’m already content with my perception of Carrie, and I hold the version of her and her friends that I got to know and grow up with near and dear to my heart.
Despite running for only two short seasons — each comprising 13 episodes — The Carrie Diaries stands on its own feet as a heartfelt ode to adolescence, tenderly exploring themes of love, sex, grief, and identity. Based on Candace Bushnell’s novel of the same name, the teen dramedy aired on The CW between 2013 to 2014 and followed a 16-year-old Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) during her junior year of high school. She’s joined by her three best friends: Mouse (Ellen Wong), a sweet and studious overachiever whose goal is to attend Harvard University; Maggie (Katie Findlay), a sarcastic teen with low self-esteem; and Walt (Brendan Dooling), Maggie’s long-term boyfriend who is secretly gay.
In Season 1, while her friends were off experiencing a romantic summer of firsts, Carrie couldn’t help but feel left behind, having spent her time grieving the loss of her mother and childhood. As a way of bringing the light back into her eyes, Carrie’s father Tom (Matt Letscher) secures the Connecticut teen an internship at a New York law firm. While in the city, she meets Larissa Loughlin (Freema Agyeman), an eccentric editor at Interview Magazine who later offers her an internship, which opens a variety of glamorous doors for Carrie.
For the most part, the show avoided overstuffing the narrative with unnecessary drama. The conflicts were intentional, and classic teen drama tropes were vehicles for growth. We see that play out specifically in Maggie’s pregnancy, which occurred following an ill-fated affair with an older police officer. Rather than force her character down a spiral of self-sabotage, the show puts Maggie on a path to repairing not only her relationships with others, but also with herself.
Similarly, Carrie’s on-again/off-again relationship with Sebastian (Austin Butler) sees the typical ups and downs of a turbulent high school romance, the first half of which is dominated by jealousy and miscommunication. In Season 2, after taking ample time to heal separately and address the underlying issues that contributed to the downfall of their initial relationship, Carrie and Sebastian fall into a much healthier dynamic.
The Carrie Diaries was reminiscent of a simpler era of soapy teen TV, when Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill and even Gossip Girl ruled the school. However, the series appeared at a time when The CW began placing a larger emphasis on a new demographic — one that prioritized comic book adaptations, live-action superheroes, and spinoff after spinoff. Traditional teen melodrama faded into the background, while shows like Arrow, The Flash, and Legacies took center stage. The shift in focus, coupled with the emerging domination of the streaming industry, cut Carrie’s story short.
The series concluded right at the precipice of what could’ve been a particularly compelling arc for Carrie, who decides to forsake college in order to work full-time at Interview. These plans ultimately fall through when Larissa is unexpectedly fired from her position, effectively stripping Carrie of her dream job. To make matters even more complicated, Sebastian tells her about his life-changing job offer in California, right as their relationship is becoming more stable. In the end, Carrie turns down his invitation to join him, resolving to stay in the city and rebuild her writing career from scratch. It’s a testament to Carrie’s resilience and determination, to not let these setbacks define her.
The Carrie Diaries has become a time capsule of my teenage woes, capturing all the intense emotions and beliefs that every little setback feels like the end of the world at 16. Watching Carrie stumble and pick herself back up time and time again became a source of inspiration during my own coming of age. Of course, it also helped that Carrie’s path as a budding writer inspired my own course towards becoming a journalist. While that reality is far less glamorous than how she made it out to be, Carrie’s passion for storytelling was essential to fueling my writing ambitions.
Carrie’s search for purpose in the bustling big city often coincided with my own teenage aspirations, yet her journey to self-discovery resonates with me even more now that I’m in my early twenties and attempting to navigate the uncertainties of new adulthood. It makes the thought of venturing into the world of SATC feel unnecessary, like I’d just be tampering with some of my core memories. The original series will always be there, ready to delve into when I’m finally ready. But for now, I find comfort in looking to teenage Carrie Bradshaw for guidance.
The Carrie Diaries is streaming on The CW. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Dianna Shen is a TV Writer at Primetimer based in New York. Her work has been featured in Paste Magazine and Decider, among other outlets.