That poses two, related problems: Will those who know the woman Carrie became believe this is the girl she used to be? And will those who don't know the older Carrie and many in CW's target young audience may not find the younger version compelling enough on her own?
Odds are viewers will find it easier to say "yes" to the second question than the first. And for CW purposes, one yes is enough, particularly since the second "yes" is the one the network really needs.
We meet Carrie (a very appealing AnnaSophia Robb) as a Connecticut high school student dreaming of life in Manhattan. But rather than try to draw us into this story through Carrie's pursuit of that too-obvious, premature goal, the show instead introduces a deeper emotional hook: Carrie has just lost her mother to cancer, and is dreading her first day back at school.
In efficient but not perfunctory fashion, the show quickly establishes Carrie's three different worlds. There's the home she shares with her unhappy younger sister (Stefania Owen) and her supportive but grieving father (Matt Letscher). There's the high school social strata, which is split in typical fashion among her friends, Mouse (Ellen Wong), Maggie (Katie Findlay) and Maggie's boyfriend Walt (Brendan Dooling); the hot new boy Carrie likes, Sebastian (Austin Butler); and the mean girl (Chloe Bridges) who becomes Carrie's rival for Sebastian's affections.
And then there's Carrie's new life in Manhattan, where she spends one day a week as a law firm intern, thanks to her dad. She's instantly, if not exactly convincingly, taken under the wing of Larissa (Freema Agyeman), a magazine style editor who just as instantly recognizes Carrie's budding fashion sense.
Their sudden friendship leads to a New York romp that provides Carrie with a bit of character insight that, if too obviously set up, is a smart step for the show to take.
For now and through no fault of Agyeman's Larissa is more of a contrivance than a character. She does, however, serve as a perfect illustration of the show's sometimes-warring dual nature. Larissa is the show's link to '80s social and fashion excess, a link only adults are likely to appreciate in a character only children are likely to buy.
And so the show goes. While the allusions to Sex can be amusing, they can also feel forced and unfocused. When Carrie makes a horrible pun about losing her virginity to a "Man: Manhattan," are we supposed to think that's evidence of the writer she'll become, or proof of how far she has to go?
As fine as Robb is as Carrie, you do wish CW did not feel the need to constantly feed its young audience a fantasy view of the world where every single teenager is the epitome of physical beauty.
We know what Carrie looked like in Sex and the City, and we know what she looked like as a teenager, because we saw (or can look up) star Sarah Jessica Parker in the '80s sitcom Square Pegs. What we saw was an unconventionally attractive woman who created her own form of glamour through a sense of fashion and a strong sense of self. It would be nice to see that person on CW's air, but then, this is a network that thinks putting a small scar on a hunk's face makes him a Beast.
Still, that's unlikely to make much difference to the show's target teenage audience, who will probably be happy with Carrie as she is and very happy with the bright young star who plays her.
If that's a split decision, it's one CW can live with any day of the week.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)