Well well well… Nine years after her last sign-off, Gossip Girl has returned to wreak havoc on Manhattan’s elite once more, and she’s ready to make it everyone’s problem. Based on the first episode, it’s clear that your favorite Upper East Sider is back and more toxic than ever, and not for the reasons you might think. This time around, Gossip Girl has taken to Instagram rather than a MySpace-style blog; the show centers around a group of Generation-Z social media influencers instead of your run-of-the-mill old-money elite, and viewers don’t have to wait for the series to run its course to know who Gossip Girl is. In fact, we find out in the very first episode, cluing us into the fact that things are going to be very different this time around.
To be frank, I was hyped for this series. Both a fan of the original series and a Gen Z kid myself, I won’t deny that I find media centered around my generation entertaining and was excited by the prospect of seeing one of my favorite shows feature characters I could relate to even a little bit more. The series is eager to be relatable as well. It’s almost aggressively set in the present moment, with the premier abundant with references to quarantine, Brett Kavanaugh and even Olivia Jade and the Varsity Blues scandal. The show is itching to cement itself as up-to-date with the present times, proven in its casting as well. Many of the cast members like Whitney Peak and Evan Mock had garnered large followings on Instagram for their modeling work even before being cast on the show, and it’s interesting to see real-life influencers be given roles that draw upon their personal experience with internet culture. Choosing Instagram models is an admittedly risky choice, as the question arises whether their selection was because of their talent or simply because no one can deny they look good on screen.
Unfortunately, the show’s many attempts at relatability are a double-edged sword, often serving to tear apart the show’s immersive nature in order to make a forced comment. This is particularly prevalent when the show talks about itself and the original series, awkwardly trying to revise its own history. The show remarks on the original “Gossip Girl” with comments like, “This Chuck and Blair thing is out of control, definitely pre-cancel culture”; its thinly veiled, meta analysis calls out different liberties the original show’s writing took, like when a high school senior’s work was published in the New Yorker. Attempting to atone for the problematic nature of the original series is admirable, but it comes off as too heady and full of itself. While the explicit callbacks to the original series might be fan service, it’s also self-stifling. The reboot can’t really take off and be its own thing if viewers are constantly reminded that certain characters are “the new Blair and Serena” or a “Nate Archibald type.”
This forcefulness plagues the entire episode, reflecting a self-awareness that feels cheeky early on, but eventually makes you roll your eyes. In addition to these callbacks, the inclusion of comments intended to project morality amid a cast of characters whose only value metric is their number of followers ends up seeming performative and weird. Something about seeing flagrant displays of wealth and bags that are described as costing a teacher’s entire month’s salary (which, don’t get me wrong, is very much par for the course for “Gossip Girl”) and then seeing that same character talk down to the audience about ethics doesn’t sit right with me.
Interestingly, this highlights the hypocrisy of the very culture it seeks to comment on, but I can’t say for certain whether this was intentional.
Ultimately, the issues with the “Gossip Girl” reboot boil down to the issues within Gen Z’s popular culture. While trying to explore the egos and vapidity of high school drama, the show falls victim to its own criticism. It’s too self-aware to feel genuine, its activism feels performative and its casting seems to value attractiveness over talent. (It should be noted that beyond the casting of Instagram models, the entire cast is missing a convincing emotional range.) The overwhelming issue is a lack of subtlety behind everything the show does. Sure, the original “Gossip Girl” had brash and confident characters who also weren’t exactly understated, leading to some of the most iconic and quotable lines of all time — but this was a fun feature of the original series, not something it was plagued with. The fundamental difference is that the original “Gossip Girl”’s lack of subtlety spoke to how unapologetic the show and its characters were, while the modern show’s lack of subtlety comes across as desperation to be understood. Yes, Gossip Girl, we get it, you are woke and with the times now.
But who knows? Perhaps these acting performances will bloom into something more compelling as the first season progresses and the actors are given more space to explore their range. It’s hard not to compare the show to other edgy high school dramas like “Euphoria,” which feature far more impressive acting performances right from the get-go. I’m interested to see if the writers will minimize the callbacks to the original series and instead allow the show to focus on the real task at hand: making its characters charming in all of their arrogance, rather than tastelessly mean or performatively nice.
Daily Arts writer Sarah Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.