The CW drama The Carrie Diaries is best known for being a prequel to the hit series Sex and the City, but Executive Producer Amy Harris has used the show's 1980s setting to tell some unique stories, including in tonight's episode addressing the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Carrie's best friend Walt Reynolds has been a major character since the show began, and the gay teenager will find himself at a crossroads with boyfriend Bennet in the Valentine's Day themed episode, "Date Expectations."
Harris spoke with GLAAD about Walt's continuing storyline on the show, and why she felt it was time to address what was a defining issue of the LGBT community at the time.
Walt has been an important part of The Carrie Diaries since it began early last year. Given that the show is set almost 30 years in the past, what do you think is unique about his storyline compared to the contemporary gay teen storylines we might see on other shows?
Amy Harris: I had a friend whom, in the 90s, I asked "What was the hardest part about coming out? Was it telling your parents?" He said "No, actually the hardest part for me was giving up on the idea of the white picket fence, getting married, having children." Obviously today those are things all gay couples can think about attaining whereas 30 years ago it wasn't. It might not be legal in every state, but it's certainly a conversation that's out there and you can, I put it in quotes, have a more "traditional" life with a house, a family, which 30 years ago was unthinkable.
[Something] I'm always so shocked by was in one of our first episodes where Walt was coming out to Carrie. We have Carrie trying to figure out how to ask the question because she thinks he might be gay and the character says "Do you have a crush on Bennet?" In my head that question was being asked tentatively and nervously and in the table read AnnaSophia [Robb] very giddily said "Do you have a crush on Bennet?" I realized, oh my God, we've come so far that she didn't even realize that line of questioning would have been awkward for a girl at that age, versus an exciting thing to have a crush on someone. So, I think we've obviously come a long way, there's a lot further to come.
We've had some lovely emails from kids who said, "Even though it's an easier time to be gay than it was 30 years ago, I'm struggling so much to come out to people, to not be embarrassed by who I am and the show feels so true to me." So I think obviously things are much different, and in a wonderful way, but there are still kids out there who don't feel like they're going to be accepted.
Tonight's episode, "Date Expectations" addresses the AIDS crisis head on, which devastated New York's gay community in the 80s. Why did you decide to bring this issue into the show's world at this point, and will it be addressed in any future episodes?
AH: Last season we really thought we were telling the story of a kid coming out and we wanted to really do that story justice and give it the time and energy it needed. Obviously the 80s was a time when the gay community was being decimated by the AIDS epidemic. It felt to me that once Walt was finally becoming comfortable with his sexuality and was falling in love and having a real relationship, it was the right time to address the AIDS epidemic and how terrifying that would be for one of our own characters who is intimately connected to the story. I didn't want to tell the story and just have somebody we didn't know experiencing it. I wanted it to be something that really affected our group.
You talked earlier about AnnaSophia's reaction at the table read being something that you saw as indicative of her generation. One thing that we thought was that the show's young audience might not be fully familiar with the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. Was there anything that you wanted your story to convey about what that period was like to them?
AH: Yes, it's interesting to me that so much of what you learn about history is a hundred years ago or is always so far back. It's almost like what happened 30 years ago - in terms of what is taught to kids - is barely connected. It almost isn't history, but it's far enough back that it's not all that well known to the younger generation.
The tests were just coming out in 1986 to tell you if you had HIV, but very often people didn't find out until they had full blown AIDS that they had it. Thank God now it isn't a death sentence, but [back then] hearing that someone had AIDS, and that you had sex with someone who had sex with that person, and if you were both positive, it [sounded like] a death sentence. To see how Walt and Bennet deal so differently with that possibility I thought was an interesting story to tell.
I don’t think my job is to preach to people or to make it a very special episode. I just thought, "This is real. This would have happened. There would have been this very real possibility that someone Bennet had been involved with would have AIDS and what would that do in their relationship?" I think for a kid like Walt who isn't sure how to define himself yet as a gay man and still wants a family and some of those more traditional conventions, it would potentially push him back in the closet.
Speaking to that, the events of the episode and being confronted with the reality of HIV/AIDS left Walt in a very different place emotionally by the episode's end. What can viewers look forward to in regards to his story?
AH: Walt is going to really struggle the rest of the season with what he wants more. He knows what love looks like and you can't put away the fact that you loved someone, but putting that away is very important to [fitting] in the mold he thinks his family would want of him to be in. Or, will he inevitably have to acknowledge that living an authentic life [means that] isn't the life he wants at all? How that plays out for him and the choices he makes along the way, obviously with the help of friends like Carrie, will define the rest of the season for him.
On a lighter note, longtime Sex and the City fans know there's another gay man who will eventually occupy an important place in Carrie's life, and you've said in interviews that he might be making an appearance at some point in this series. With Samantha Jones now a part of the show, will we also see Stanford Blatch introduced anytime soon?
AH: Not necessarily anytime soon but if we're lucky enough to get a season 3, he will definitely be one of the next people introduced. What we loved about the idea that Bennet and Stanford were roommates but Stanford kept running off, was a very fun way to give a great backstory to Stanford while allowing us to wait to meet him.
The Carrie Diaries airs at 8pm/7pm central tonight and every Friday on The CW.