Thursday, January 17, 2013

'The Carrie Diaries', Nostalgia, and DanielleTBD...

I consider myself a child of the '90s, not the '80s. Though I was born in the '80s (1984, to be exact-- the same year in which The Carrie Diaries is set), the majority of my early memories didn't take place until the '90s. Certainly the things that shaped me as a person-- who I am, what I want, what I believe in, etc-- didn't happen until the '90s. And yet, watching The Carrie Diaries is like getting swept up in a wave of nostalgia not for the childhood I actually had but the childhood I wanted to have.

When I sat down with Austin Butler at The CW's TCA day last weekend, he described the show as being told through the lens of "what a woman would have wanted to happen to her in high school." I honestly could not have said it better myself. When I was young Carrie Bradshaw's (AnnaSophia Robb) age (fifteen), all I wanted was to move to Los Angeles and begin working towards my dream job. Unlike Carrie who is just starting to figure out what she wants to do with her life, I had already known for years, and every day I sat in wait, staring at the old analog clocks on my high school classroom walls, I felt like I was wasting the best years of my life. With each passing moment left to suffocate in a stiffling, sheltered, scientific environment, I felt my creativity, energy, and child-like sense of not caring what anyone thought of me slowly drip out of me. I would be lucky if I had even an ounce left by the time I turned eighteen and could actually make the move.

Carrie, though, doesn't have to wait. Her supportive father and seemingly light course-load allows her to travel into her dream city (ironically, my steel prison), Manhattan, after school for an internship. She isn't yet on the artistic career path on which she wants to be, but the freedom and opportunities simply from being in the right place at such a formative time is enough for her. She will seize whatever comes her way with a wide-eyed smile and optimistic heart that she has the whole world, and her whole life in front of her. Somehow, even after facing down an untimely death and venturing into a city where every cab comes with a side of jadedness (and there is no shortage on cabs!), her excitement and utter faith is enough. That was me once, too. I miss that. 

And sure, there are a lot of physical elements of The Carrie Diaries that I look back and laugh with a fond glee over when seeing them pop up in this "period piece." Mouse's Mickey Mouse phone-- or, hell, phones with cords you could absentmindedly wrap around your finger while talking at all (now relics)-- were staples in my childhood. Larissa's giant Zack Morris cell phone was something I coveted, even without quite understanding, "back in the day." Drinking soda out of cans through straws, oversized blazers, neon, the glamor and allure of discount retailer Century 21, the old-fashioned metal headphones and the cassette players to which they were attached! I can hardly wait for the episode in which slap bracelets and Jelly sandals and-- gasp! could Carrie of all people possibly make this fashion faux pas??-- a scrunchie might make an appearance.

But there's something else about The Carrie Diaries that hits close to home in a personal way, too: the landscape of Poly Prep, standing in as Carrie's school in the pilot episode. Poly Prep is a private school in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, known for its high tuition, high profile parents, and athletes. But Poly Prep was also my summer home for almost a full (long) decade. I was a camper there, then a CIT, then a counselor. I fought my parents on going every year I was enrolled as a camper. I yelled that it was a waste of money. I hated being forced to play team sports all day. I thought it was dumb that my counselors were high school kids who could barely take care of their own lives but were then entrusted with twenty-some-odd bratty, spoiled kids from the hours of 8-3 every day (when I became one, I turned my attention to arguing over their slave-wage pay). I thought the pond out front was a health hazard, and when a goose bit my father years later, I was proven right.

For series executive producer Amy B. Harris, though, the location could not have been more perfect: "It was the only high school we visited where I didn't get a pit in my stomach because I could smell bad cafeteria food!" She laughed. "Every high school we went to besides that one just felt like that really depressing, you don't want to be there, you can smell the bad cafeteria food type place. They didn't feel like a place you'd want to spend time in. But when we walked into Poly Prep, I thought 'Oh my God!' First of all, it's so beautiful! That library addition that feels like it was done in the '70s and would still be right for the '80s-- I just thought the whole thing was beautiful and what I wanted the high school experience to be. You know, you don't want to feel like school is the worst place on earth. You want to feel like good things are happening there and exciting things are happening there, and that school for me was sort of evocative of a smaller [suburban] public school feel, and to some degree it reminded me of the school I went to. It had a more collegiate feel...I didn't want it to feel like you'd walk the hallways and watch get kids beaten up against lockers there."  

I didn't love my time at Poly for purely selfish, spoiled reasons. Actually, I didn't like my teenage years at all. It stood in for a larger problem: I didn't want to be in New York in general, and I thought the summer would have been the perfect time to send me to Los Angeles to explore a potential future life there. My lack of interest in sports aside, of course. But even I have to agree with Harris here: walking into Poly didn't feel like the regular NYC institutions that passed for education houses, especially the one I ended up at for my own high school years.

And regardless of wishing I was on the other side of the country or in some kind of sleepaway scenario where I could be rid of the same kids I saw in school the rest of the year (not to mention my parents every evening) aside, I did love the friends I had at Poly. And watching Carrie meet up in the quad with her friends on the first day of school, I was instantaneously transported back to the summer dances that used to be held there, my friends and I through the years in embarrassing fashion not unlike the '80s frocks Carrie, Maggie, Mouse, and Walt seemed to think would be so timeless. The scene in that library, as Mouse admitted she lost her virginity over the summer, reminded me of all those rainy days when we'd huddle together in the biggest rooms within the building (usually locked and untouchable for fear we'd ruin things before the school year started again) to watch movies. I peered extra hard at the pool scenes to see if they, too, were shot at Poly's not-quite Olympic indoor pool where I once lost a cross and Jewish star necklace combo in a filter (those scenes were shot elsewhere, by the way). It's probably half hindsight, time, and distance, but it's also the charm of The Carrie Diaries that makes this time period, this setting, and these experiences look inviting. They may not be the best days of one's life, but they are indicative of a simpler time on many levels, and there's something to be said for missing that now.

Robb shared that to commemorate her time shooting the pilot, not knowing if it would go to series, or where it would shoot if it did, she took an old sweatshirt from one of the classrooms they shot in in Poly. 

"It was balled up in the corner, and I think it had paint stains on it, but I took it, and I washed it, and I will wear it all the time!" Robb laughed at TCA.

Oddly, I don't have any physical reminders of my own time at Poly. I never saved my camp tee-shirts through the years (admittedly, the earliest ones I grew out of long ago), nor did they take group photos past my second year as a camper there (my guess is most of the parents didn't care enough to spend money on them). To be honest, I don't have many physical reminders of my childhood at all. A combination of our small apartment living space and the desire to teach her daughter to be charitable, my mother would have me go through my things every few months to decide what I no longer wanted or needed, and we'd donate them. Occasionally, she'd push for me to keep something I claimed I didn't want-- "for nostalgia's sake" or to pass down to my own kids later. I always fought her on it, preferring to fill the space with something shiny and new instead, sometimes even throwing out what she didn't want me to donate. Yes, my junior high yearbook ended up in that category. Yes, I regret the crap out of it now.

But it kind of doesn't matter anymore. Those things are only physical, and if they were tucked into the back of a closet, I'd never think to pull them out and look at them and reminisce. Watching The Carrie Diaries, though, I can't help but reminisce. I can't help but think that I would have benefited from having a show like this during my own teenage years-- one that would show me it's not cool to be so anti-everything, and one that could show the allure of Manhattan. I can't help but think I would have liked to have grown up in Carrie Bradshaw's Manhattan-- even if it's only one that existed in her excited, wide-eyed mind. This show just inspires that kind of thought and feeling. I have never felt so old and yet so connected at the same time by one show!


1 comment:

Nicole Tabar said...

Where was the Carrie Dairies Pool scene shot??