When you’re introduced to a character named Serena van der Woodsen, the first thought you have is, “Yeah, this show is going to piss me off.” This feeling persists through much of the first 10 minutes of “Gossip Girl” as the camera wades through a sea of socialites sipping Patron and reminiscing about their days at Yale. Fortunately, there’s a bit more to the show than you’d think.
Serena (Blake Lively, “Accepted”) has just returned home after a mysterious year-long leave at boarding school. She’s greeted by her old friend Nate (Chace Crawford, “The Covenant”) and his girlfriend – her former best friend – Blair (Leighton Meester, “Shark”). Once the town’s premiere party girl, Serena now seems subdued and unwilling to jump back into her old life.
In the shadows are Dan (Penn Badgley, “John Tucker Must Die”) and his freshman sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen, “Underdog”), two outsiders sent to the prep school by their former rock-star father (Matthew Settle, “Into the West”) who wants only the best education for his kids.
Ready to get confused?
Serena slept with Nate while he was dating her best friend Blair, which is why she left town. She never told Blair why she left, and now that she’s back (because her brother attempted suicide), the past begins to reveal itself. Meanwhile, Dan has had a crush on Serena since elementary school – yet has never spoken to her – and his father hooked up with Serena’s mother way back in the day. All of this drama is captured by a secretive blogger known as “Gossip Girl,” who updates her website with to-the-minute news of who’s who on the Upper East Side.
You can tell this show is from the producers of “The O.C.” Unfortunately, the writers are nowhere to be found.
Although the plot is reasonably well-scripted, the dialogue dips into dubious territory too often with banter like “I thought you said this was an emergency!” “It is! A fashion emergency!” The phrase “seal the deal,” in reference to sex, is used at least four times, and in case you weren’t sure how bitchy the bad girl is, it becomes perfectly clear with lines like, “The party’s on Saturday, but you’re not invited!”
There’s also a surprising amount of attempted rape for a show on the CW. Like, seriously. All three instances (the show’s only an hour long) are perpetrated by Nate’s asshole friend Chuck (Ed Westwick, “Children of Men”) who’s under the impression that “no” means “yes” and a kick in the nuts means “try again in 10 minutes”.
“Gossip Girl” does have potential, and a few moments are reminiscent of the glory days of “The O.C.” One scene in particular weaves a past hookup, a present breakup and a sexual assault together almost seamlessly. Now they just need to work on what happens when the characters open their mouths.
And in case you were wondering, the backdrop of a mysterious blogger is nothing more than a gimmick. If the show wants to survive, someone should seriously rethink the “hip” angle they’re attempting to undertake. How to solve the big mystery of the nameless blogger? Look for the only one at the party on a laptop.
The lit behind the show
Before “Gossip Girl” the TV show, there were “Gossip Girl” the novels. Cecily von Ziegesar’s screamingly successful series – 11 books in total with the 12th, a prequel, due early October – chronicle the lives of sometime friends/enemies Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen and their adventures with their respective coteries in New York’s Upper East Side.
They drink, carouse, arrange charity galas and sometimes even make time for class. They are, at least for the majority of the series, still high school students at the elite Constance Billard School for Girls. Other characters that come and go through novels like “Don’t You Forget About Me” (GG No. 11) and “All I Want Is Everything” include foppish poet Daniel Humphrey (The New Yorker’s publication of his poem, “Sluts,” is a highlight) and Blair’s on-and-off-again boyfriend Nate Archibald (who manages to bed a college lacrosse recruiter). An online gossipmonger who goes by the name “Gossip Girl” somehow documents all of the scandal that results from the privileges of the privileged. (“Ah,” you finally realize.)
In later books, Blair has started school at Yale, Serena is busy becoming increasingly famous for being blonde and beautiful and Nate is now “sailing the world.” Von Ziegesar, a prep school survivor herself, is making room for fresh blood by bringing the formerly minor character the Carlyle triplets into the focus.
– Kimberly Chou