Monday, January 21, 2013

Review - The Carrie Diaires

Let me preface this review by saying I am a HUGE fan of Sex and the City.  I have all the DVDs, I occasionally tune in to it on E! despite have the DVDs, and I quote and reference the show all the time.  So when I heard they were doing this show about Carrie Bradshaw's teen years, I was curious but tentative.  After all, I'm not the best when it comes to re-imaginings/re-inventions, etc. of favorites of mine (see Battlestar Galactica old and new), but I like to give everything at least a chance.

This isn't a home run winner for me but it's not bad.  I think it stands fine on its own as a teen drama (it's an hour-long, as opposed to SATC's half-hour), but when you link it to such a powerhouse series like SATC and such a notable character as Carrie, it's asking a lot.  It's hard not to try and compare TCD star AnnaSophia Robb's (Soul Surfer) 15-year-old-Carrie to Sarah Jessica Parker's SATC Carrie - to look for similarities in reactions, nuances, inflections.  I know that our teen selves are often vastly different from our adult selves, and for that I hold back any nitpicking I'm tempted to harp on.

Robb is a likeable actress and she definitely has the cuteness and great hair going for her.  The younger Carrie is not yet a writer, still a virgin (thanks TCD for having her be so at 15, though her girlfriends alas are not...) and is just becoming a budding  fashionista.  Older Carrie (OC) is all about fashion and so often makes bold, out-of-the-box if not sometimes "what the ...?" statements, but Young Carrie (YC) is more conservative (until the last shot in the pilot episode, anyway, as seen below). 

Bonus:  TCD takes place in 1984, so it's fun to see all the crazy trends that era allotted, albeit somewhat toned down here.  Kinda wish they'd go all the way with it...

TCD has Carrie living with her widowed father (Matt Letscher, Scandal, Eli Stone), with whom she has a good relationship.  Interesting to go with this, being that SATC touched on OC's father issues just once, very briefly, and it made you believe the relationship was anything but good and was likely the cause of many of OC's questionable choices in men.  YC is dealing with the recent death of her mother, and her mom's closet is like her mecca for clothes.  The two had a tradition of going shopping for back-to-school clothes, so YC has to deal with facing the new school year on her own (dad lets her take her mom's sunglasses).   There's also suddenly a sister, Dorrit (Stefania Owen, Running Wilde).  SATC NEVER mentioned a sister, so again, interesting to go with this choice, knowing that SATC is gone and will therefore never address it (unless there is a third movie).

Another huge aspect of Carrie Bradshaw is her friends.  In SATC, we had sassy, sexy Samantha Jones (Kim Catrall), sweet, hopeful Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and smart, guarded Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon).  TCD has Jill "The Mouse" Thompson (Ellen Wong, "Knives" from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), YC's Charlotte equivalent, Maggie Landers (Katie Findlay, The Killing), the Samantha of the group, and Walt Reynolds (Brendan Dooling), who could be the Miranda because of his guardedness but also the Stanford Blatch (SATC's Willie Garson), since Walt is realizing he might be gay (Stanford was OC's gay BFF).  There is also a potential love interest in new kid Sebastian Kydd (Austin Butler, witched at Birth) ... he's no Mr. Big (Chris Noth), but who is, really?

TCD steals a little from the series Jane By Design (a delightful ABC Family show starring Erica Dasher and Andie MacDowell that I was sorry to see cancelled last year) in that, like Jane, a high schooler who passes herself off as an adult to work in the fashion industry, YC is mistaken to be an adult working on Wall St. by Larissa (Freema Agyeman, Doctor Who) a writer for Interview magazine who brings YC into her inner circle of NYC hipsters, therefore setting YC off on an exciting double life.  If you like the idea of this plot, do check out JBD when/if available on DVD or online.

There is, of course, one more very prominent character relevant to both SATC and TCD:  New York City.  Carrie Bradshaw has always been all about this "Man" (Manhattan, get it?) and it's nice to see where and how her love affair with the Big Apple began.  The pilot episode nicely has YC admitting to losing her metaphorical virginity - in essence, her innocence - to the city and not just some guy.  I like this.  And knowing how sexually active OC is, knowing her sexual experiences and things she dealt with (including an abortion at 22), it's interesting to watch YC at such an innocent part of her life just on the cusp of growing up.

The pilot episode did leave us with a very familiar image:  Carrie sitting in front of a window writing (YC with a journal as opposed to OC and a laptop) and reflecting on what's she's learned recently.  All we were missing were the words "I couldn't help but wonder..."  I appreciated the bridge between old and new.  Nice tribute.

Unfortunately Mondays are very crowded for me, so I will not likely be a regular viewer of The Carrie Diaries, but it's likeable enough to recommend, especially to those less familiar with Sex and the City - you have the freedom to enjoy it without the inevitable comparisons.  Obviously I highly recommend watching/re-watching Sex and the City, still one of my all-time favorite series. 

Bottom line:  A decent show to have a whimsical viewing affair with.

The Carrie Diaries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

Friday, January 18, 2013

All Hail ... Community!

Happy New Year, TV Tourists!  It's been a while but I'm back and ready to talk about what's on, what's new and what I think is worth watching.

To kick things off, I am happy to say I have become a true and dedicated fan of (drum roll, please ...):

What a gem of a show this is.  I had heard about it for years.  Fans adamant about how great it is.  Critics who love it.  And the subsequent struggles it has had to find ratings success and ultimately continued life on NBC.  It's been away for a while and, after the shocking departure of creator Dan Harmon and an uncertain future of its fourth season - plus a possible exile to Friday nights - the show is at last returning to Thursdays starting Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. 

The long break has allotted me the chance to borrow a friend's DVDs of all three previous seasons, and though it took a couple of episodes to get into it, I am now a bonafide fan.  It's weird, quirky, out-of-the-box, filled with "what the ...?" moments, and a consistent laugh riot.

That's not to say it's for everyone.  If you love and appreciate TV, it's for you, being that the show often dedicates episodes to specific television staples - the "bottle" episode (one that features only the regular cast, not guest stars), the "flashback" episode, the "alternate timeline" episode, etc.  But Community goes further, often paying tribute to other show formats:  the did a Law & Order episode, a documentary episode, an episode reminiscent of old historical films (including action stills), and more.  Dan Harmon's imagination seems limitless and he clearly is a fan of pop culture, so it will be curious to see what the show is like without their master at the helm.

The lowdown:
Community follows the antics and adventures of a tight-knit study group at fictional Greendale Community College. Unofficial leader of the group is Jeff Winger (Joel McHale, who's snarky brilliance can also be enjoyed on E's The Soup), a fast-talking, narcissistic, self-centered ex-lawyer who is forced to return to college after the discovery that he conned his way through college and law school. 

The rest of the study group - formed when all were struggling through Spanish together - includes  Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), a 20-something dropout with something to prove; Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown, Rules of Engagement), a sassy, middle-aged divorcee; Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi, Greek), a pop-culture junkie and aspiring filmmaker; Annie Edison (Alison Brie, Mad Men), a high-strung perfectionist and recovered addict; Troy Barnes (Donald Glover, 30 Rock), a former high school football star; and Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase, Chuck, Saturday Night Live), an offensive moist towlette empire heir with no edit button.

Also featured are Ken Jeong (The Hangover) as Ben Chang, the group’s former Spanish professor-turned student-turned security guard, and Jim Rash (That '70s Show) as Greendale's Dean Pelton, an ultra-efficient yet slightly neurotic administrator whose penchant for dressing in costume is a regular visual joke on the show.

Series highlights include two elaborate, all-encompassing paintball wars, the construction of a fantastical blanket fort, an ongoing tribute to the popular Doctor Who, the magical travels within Troy and Abed's "Dreamatorium", and the cast of characters themselves.

As I said, not everyone is going to get the comedy and point-of-view of Community, but for those that love the strange and unusual, appreciate storytelling from those that clearly march to their own drummer, love pop culture and television and yearn for a wild, crazy, off-kilter and hilarious ride, then this is a show for you.

Bottom line:  Enroll today to catch this delightfully quirky comedy.

Community seasons 1-3 now available on DVD.  Season 4 returns Thursday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. on NBC.