Long before she met her Prince Charming in a man named Mr. Big, Carrie Bradshaw's adolescent life was still something of a swoon-inducing Cinderella story. That's the first impression from the CW's new The Carrie Diaries (8/7c, repeated an hour later), a likeably schmaltzy "prequel" to Sex and the City that finds the CW hewing closely to the ABC Family model that has lately stolen much of the channel's young-adult thunder.
Wide-eyed and heartfelt yet occasionally sharp-tongued, this is the story of how Carrie finds her voice - or should we say voice-over, which rarely lets up in this introduction to her world circa 1984 (with soundtrack and fashions never letting us forget it), an age before laptops and cell phones, when a BFF can insist (and maybe mean it) that "sex isn't everything." How times will change.
Bubbly AnnaSophia Robb plays young, so-far-virginal Carrie with a guileless spunk, introduced as she's about to re-enter her Connecticut high school's unforgiving social circle - ruled by the big-haired Donna LaDonna (Chloe Bridges) - after a summer in mourning for her gone-too-soon mom, leaving behind an overwhelmed dad (familiar TV face Matt Letscher) and a rebelliously sullen younger sis named Dorritt (Stefania Owen). To cheer Carrie up, dad arranges an internship for her at a Manhattan law firm - and naturally on her first day, she catches the eye of a style editor at ultra-trendy Interview magazine. (Or rather her purse does; Carrie even then had a gift for accessorizing.)
"I collect people," says the fabulous Larissa (Doctor Who's Freema Agyeman) as she instantly absorbs Carrie into her colorful circle of friends, unaware she's not even an undergrad (cue ABC Family's Jane By Design). And in the swirl that follows, Carrie meets her first gays. Or so she thinks. Back at school, it's like she's living out of the Grease playbook, as she makes a connection with the hot new guy, a poor little rich bad-boy (Life Unexpected's Austin Butler) with whom she shared some memorable moments in a swimming pool in an earlier summer.
When The Carrie Diaries gets out of Carrie's head, which is too eager to share thoughts like "It's the losing of love that makes us who we are," it's a diverting enough teen romance about a girl and the city that will change her, though lacking the surprise and distinctive tone of the John Hughes movies it seems to want to emulate. Even so, it's a step above the typical CW soap, and worth penciling in an appointment in your own TV diary.
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TIME COP: I want what she's wearing. That might be your initial reaction upon meeting Kiera (Rachel Nichols), a dogged police "Protector" from 2077 who inadvertently is catapulted back some 65 years - to our present - in pursuit of eight time-tripping terrorist fugitives. Decked out in a snug smart suit that absorbs bullets and has more high-tech bells and whistles than Batman's utility belt, the head-turning Kiera also is implanted with audio-visual bio upgrades in her skull that allow her to converse with a tech geek - because every fantasy-adventure must have one - who guides her through this strange, so-old-it's-new world.
That's the simple if not simplistic premise of Syfy's latest Canadian import Continuum (8/7c), which is also about a "lost girl" of sorts (Lost Girl returns for a new season at 10/9c). Kiera left a husband and young son behind, and as much as she wants to see justice done in her new guise helping the local police - how they buy her cover story requires a major leap of faith - she even more desperately wants to get back home. The most puzzling aspect of the series, judging from the first two episodes, is that the future that Kiera is trying to preserve and return to seems awfully bleak. This civilization is run by giant, soulless corporations that bailed out ruined governments, in the process quashing such values as representation and free speech. The terrorist thugs she's chasing (including Roger Cross, best remembered as Jack Bauer's ill-fated CTU buddy Curtis Manning) are clearly bad guys who've crossed the line in their explosive revolutionary fervor, but they seem to have a point.
The badass Kiera is the best role I've seen Nichols play - I recall being underwhelmed by her in latter-day Alias - but Continuum, like so many contemporary Syfy series, has a drab, perfunctory visual style and often feels like just another shoot-'em-up with a slightly more fantastic hook. I'm still waiting for that next groundbreaking Syfy show to startle me out of my own continuum. Maybe Defiance in April will do the trick.
DEM BONES: They're gonna rise again, with Bones earning a ninth season, as confirmed last week by Fox. For now, the durable crime drama/romantic comedy continues its eighth season, returning from its winter break with a double feature of back-to-back episodes (8/7c). In the first hour, Bones and Booth put their best foot forward with a romp set behind the scenes of a TV dancing competition - which means a flurry of cameos by past contestants and current personalities from Fox summer treat So You Think You Can Dance. Neither Emily Deschanel nor David Boreanaz are especially convincing as undercover dancers, but their final turn on the dance stage leaves a smile on the face, and Dance judge Mary Murphy wondering, "Are we being punk'd?" Separately, frustrated painter Angela (Michaela Conlin) suffers a career crisis, as she realizes, "I'm not pursuing art, I'm pursuing murderers." On network TV, my dear, that may be as close as you get.
The second hour is back to business, when the Jeffersonian crew investigates the death of a pop archeologist found in a grisly cocoon. The victim's latest discovery, of very ancient bones, leads to a turf war between Bones and former squint Dr. Edison (Eugene Byrd) as they go about solving a second crime several millennia old.
WHAT ELSE IS ON: You'd think it was sweeps, as CBS' Hawaii Five-0 (10/9c) engages in a stunt that allows viewers to decide whodunit in the team's latest murder mystery. To do so, you'll need to go to cbs.com or Twitter during the show and select either "the boss," "the teaching assistant" or "the student," and the most popular choice will be revealed at the end of the episode. (The game will play out during both the East and West Coast feeds, so it's possible two different murderers will be crowned.) All three endings will be available online afterward. ... In addition to Continuum and Lost Girl, Syfy starts a new season of Being Human (9/8c), with Kristen Hager becoming a full-fledged series regular as Josh's werewolf gal pal Nora. ... In a scenario that sounds awfully (yawn) similar to last week's New Girl, three's a crowd on CBS' 2 Broke Girls (9/8c) when Max, Caroline and Andy (Ryan Hansen) go away for what should have been a romantic weekend retreat in a woodsy cabin. ... ABC Family's Bunheads (9/8c) has more of a Gilmore Girls vibe than usual, as Liza Weil (so awesome as Paris Gellar) guests as Truly's sister. ... Turner Classic Movies' terrific and thoughtful series AFI Master Class - The Art of Collaboration (8/7c) returns with a discussion between director Robert Zemeckis and cinematographer Don Burgess, whose works together include Forrest Gump, Cast Away and the current hit Flight. TCM will air their 2000 movie What Lies Beneath at 9/8c, but you're better off staying up to see a groundbreaking movie they cite as an inspiration for their work: 1971's Carnal Knowledge at 12:30 am/11:30c.
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