ShawConnect TV critic Brent Furdyk samples the upcoming pilots for a first look at the new midseason series

Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Austin Butler, Ellen Wong, Katie Findlay, Stefania Owen, Brendan Dooling, Chloe Bridges, Freema Agyeman, Matt Letscher

The gist: “The year: 1984. Romance novels were all the rage, we had an actor for president and most people could say they were better off than they were four years ago…except us.” And thus begins the first of many annoying voiceovers from 16-year-old Carrie Bradshaw, a Connecticut high school student still reeling from the recent death of her mother. This Sex and the City prequel follows the adventures of innocent young Carrie (Soul Surfer’s Robb) as she grows into becoming the slut we know and love.

While at high school, Carrie crushes on her own Mr. Not-So-Big, high-school hunk Sebastian Kidd (Butler), and hangs with her BFFs: Elaine (a.k.a. Mouse, played by Wong), Maggie (Findlay) and Walt (Dooling), who’s dating Maggie but secretly ogles shirtless pictures of Rob Lowe. Hmm, wonder what’s going on there? Since no high school is complete without a cadre of mean girls, Carrie finds herself at odds with Donna LaDonna (Bridges) and her minions, the Jens.

In order to help her get over losing her mom, Carrie’s dad (Letscher) secures her a one-day a week internship at a Manhattan law firm. For Carrie, who loves NYC more than life itself, this is a dream come true. Meanwhile, a key plot line surfaces involving Carrie’s little sister (Owen) accidentally ruining Carrie’s prized possession — their mom’s favourite purse — by spilling nail polish on it; Carrie turns this lemon into lemonade by splattering it with even more nail polish, Jackson Pollack-style, to create an edgy piece of fashion art. While Carrie’s out shopping in the city, the purse catches the eye of Interview Magazine style editor Larissa (Agyeman), who wants to use the purse in a “Midsummer Nights Dream meets Scarface” photo shoot. Before you know it, Carrie is joining her new friend for cocktails at a Manhattan hotspot, where she meets the hipster trendsetters of 1980s NYC. The stage is set for teenage Carrie Bradshaw to embark on a double life as high school student/budding Manhattan fashionista as she finally loses her virginity — not to a boy, but to New York City itself.

It’s like… Sex and the City meets Blossom

Sample line: “They were artists, musicians, writers, distinctly themselves in a city that celebrated them. It was such a stark contrast to the world I came from, where conformity is demanded and the Donnas of the world rule.”

IMHO: Part 90210, part Judy Blume novel, part vintage Madonna video, The Carrie Diaries is an interesting amalgam of high school teen drama and Carrie’s coming-of-age adventures in New York, and these two-shows-in-one combine seamlessly in the skillful hands of exec producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (who brought us Gossip Girl). As in its predecessor, virginal Carrie engages in sex talk with her friends (“It was like putting a hot dog in a keyhole,” complains Mouse about her painful deflowering), but it’s doubtful this will be as prominent — or as graphic — as it was in SatC. What is as prominent, however, is the voiceover narration, overused to the point of annoyance; hopefully they’ll tone it down as the series progresses.

Fun Fact: The show is based on Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell’s young-adult prequel novels, The Carrie Diaries and Summer in the City.

Verdict: Playing a young Carrie Bradshaw presents some big Manolo Blahniks to fill, and Robb rises to the challenge, delivering a winning performance that blends sex appeal, wide-eyed innocence and quirky awkwardness. Even though I’m way outside the demographic The CW is aiming for with The Carrie Diaries, I have to admit that I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected, although I found the Carrie-in-NYC segments to be far more interesting than the high school stuff.

Prediction: There is a contingent of hardcore fans for whom Sex and the City isn’t merely a TV show, but something verging on a shoe-based religious cult, and it’s a no-brainer that the SatC faithful will flock to this prequel. Add the curiosity factor from the casual SatC fans and CW viewers looking for something to fill the void left after Gossip Girl ends, and it would appear that The Carrie Diaries has all the makings of The CW’s next major hit.

THE CARRIE DIARIES premieres January 14 on Citytv and The CW