ATLANTA, Georgia – Most women have, at some point, over drinks with friends or at home engrossed in the TV, identified themselves as a Carrie, a Samantha, a Charlotte or a Miranda.
The fact is, “Sex and the City’s” leading ladies have become archetypes of our age. This knowledge has prompted the CW to recently launch a prequel series, based on novels by original show creator Candace Bushnell, for teens that delves into the formation of the fierce foursome’s fearless leader. “The Carrie Diaries,” starring AnnaSophia Robb as ambitious 17-year-old Carrie Bradshaw, debuted to lackluster ratings last season despite its “charm.”
The year is 1986. Carrie lives a WASPy, or rather preppy, life in Connecticut but longs for the glamour of New York City. Best friends Maggie, Walt, Jill (“Mouse”) and boyfriend Sebastian accompany her on a journey toward fashion stardom and self-discovery. These faces, unfamiliar to fans of the longstanding HBO series, play pivotal roles in the development of adult Carrie and her enviable wardrobe.
Show creators preserve the iconic eighties styles (think costume jewelry, shoulder pads and sky-high hair) that defined an era. Furthermore, Executive Producer Amy B. Harris has chosen, uniquely, to delve deeper than fashion and confront the darker side of the generation as well.
For example, Walt Reynolds’ character was the triumph of last season. With Carrie’s help, he overcame immense pressure to reveal his homosexuality to friends, family and to himself. The city provided an escape from a homogenous hometown and close-minded parents, ultimately bringing love in the form of boyfriend Bennett. Episodes found the two frolicking about the Manhattan party scene with Carrie in tow.
According to Harris, the show’s sophomore season seemed an appropriate time for a breakthrough episode – “The Carrie Diaries” will tackle AIDS.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Harris explained that the show’s exploration of Walt’s sexuality seemed like an appropriate step, and a sizeable one, for one season. The second season will thrust Walt and Bennett into adulthood with a jolt on the show’s Valentine’s Day-themed episode, which will “talk about the idea of a death sentence, [which is]really what AIDS was in 1986.”
Writers explained that the episode serves a dual purpose: first, to accurately depict an epidemic that would have affected characters comprising Carrie’s city social circle; second, to educate a generation two decades removed from the uncertainty and fear that defined the first years of the AIDS epidemic. The process was personal for Harris, who vividly recalls friends in the early 90s who attended up to three funerals a month for comrades that fell to AIDS.
The episode, to air on January 10 at 8pm, aims to revive the conversation about AIDS through Walt’s own experience in a friend group directly affected by the disease. In this way, it will fill a gap unaddressed by shows with similar audiences that have tackled homosexuality, racism and other growing pains, such as Fox’s acclaimed “Glee.” This omission has perpetuated an “AIDS is a thing of the past” mentality among young people that, in reality, could not be further from the truth.
Approximately 50,000 people annually are newly infected with HIV in the United States, and young adults are disproportionately affected. Though 13 to 24 year olds make up only 16% of the nation’s population, their age group represented 29% of all new infections in 2010.
CDC research has indicted lack of awareness and perceived immunity as causes of the disturbing HIV infection rates in young people. Information and conversation must play leading roles moving forward in order to reverse the trend; pop culture is an ideal forum for AIDS educators to reach the younger demographic.
“The Carrie Diaries” may well be defined by this month’s progressive new episode while affording additional opportunities to weave critical public health issues into the trendy fabric of its storyline.
– Casey Ernstes