America loves a comeback. Whether Joe Biden or Richard Nixon elected president decades after being left to the political junkyard, Johnny Cash is teaming up with Rick Rubin for his American recordings series or unlikely Dead wood synthesis film which was finally made.
But not all returns are successful. No one is talking about Mark Spitz trying to qualify for the 1992 Olympics or Walter Monday’s Senate race in 2002. Everyone is doing their best to pretend that Development stopped was a three-season classic that aired on Fox and certainly never aired two seasons of Netflix originals.
The bottom line
You know you like it, but you probably won’t like this reboot.
Not quite a bloated athlete beyond his prime, but certainly not a brand-redefining triumph, the HBO Max reboot of Gossip Girl is a half-bland revamp of the soapy rhythms of the original series, and a half-puzzled but semi-ambitious revamp that the series isn’t ready to fully engage in. More than anything, this new Gossip Girl feels right behind the curve, a gentle attempt to keep pace with shows like HBO Max Generation or Netflix Elite – watch that would never have existed in the first place without Gossip Girl.
Boasting much of the same creative team from the original series, including showrunner Joshua Safran and original series co-creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, Gossip Girl takes us back to Constance Billard, where privileged students are trained to follow their parents as industry titans and page 6 mainstays.
The school’s queen bee is Julien (Jordan Alexander), Instagram superstar and daughter of a music industry mogul (Luke Kirby, one of the many adults who continue Gossip Girl tradition of making you feel old). Julien is dating a wealthy man with an Obie (Eli Brown) conscience and his team includes kind and scheming sidekicks Monet (Savannah Smith) and Luna (Zion Moreno) – one is black, the other is tall, and neither is the neither, across four episodes sent to critics, has a definable voice – as well as Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), who is stuck in a boring, loving, monogamous relationship with Aki (Evan Mock). The reptilian, sleazy, pansexual Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty), whose aggressive name on his nose could only be more obvious if the writers had chosen to call him “Buck Chass”.
The arrival of Zoya (Whitney Peak), a new Buffalo girl, causes immediate trouble. Julien and Zoya both have single fathers and they both look wistfully at the exact same picture of a woman looking into the distance. It’s because Zoya and Julien are half-sisters. Will they come together and form a study group or will they start a war that threatens to tear their island community apart? Let’s just say that if it was the first, Gossip Girl would be a boring sight. Or at least a more boring spectacle.
The return of Gossip Girl herself, still voiced by Kristen Bell, potentially raises more issues. In the original series, the identity of Gossip Girl was treated as a mystery, a mystery that was to leave you guessing until the somewhat absurd reveal of the series finale. It was silly, but it kept some people occupied, as they weren’t also looking for a rapist kid who traded his girlfriend for a hotel to find romantic love.
If “Who is Gossip Girl?” Was the driving question of the original series, “What is Gossip Girl?” is the central question of the new show. HBO Max would prefer the critics not spoil the details, which is fine with me, but I will say that Gossip Girl’s resurrection as an entity takes place quite early in the first episode, with a plethora of references to the original characters. That’s basically the premise of the show, actually, and it’s a premise that’s going to irritate as many people as it is titillating.
Personally, I found the Gossip Girl twist (which isn’t) the most interesting part of the new series, as it raises big sociological questions about the role of social media as a tool of social control. . Yes Gossip Girl were a smarter show, the premise would be a catwalk for discussing Michel Foucault and panopticism and a bunch of lofty stuff that I’m very aware of that no one other than me would want.
But Gossip Girl is not and never has been a smart show. Sometimes it’s a smart show, and the intelligence here is dedicated to the usual relentless references to the New York intelligentsia and pop culture ephemera. Therefore Gossip Girl remains a show that can build an entire episode around characters going to Jeremy O. Harris’ new play, and can fight over a Harris cameo, but not go into contemporary life as an ever-watched prison.
Safran’s decision to define the new Gossip Girl in a post-COVID world in which children return to school in person after a year of virtual learning offers the same match of unrealized potential. Questions about how this year has been spent, the impact of isolation on even the most privileged teens, and what it means to return to in-person social interaction in a world where virtual interaction is everywhere are great questions you can ask alone on your couch.
It’s possible that hinting at intelligence and not delivering irritates me even more than just being complacent, because the rest of the show is dramatically very, very complacent. The first episodes offer several superficial love triangles; countless ridiculous and trivial misunderstandings in which drama could have been avoided by having normal conversations; and the same Gossip Girl trick as the Needle Instigator as the original. There are nods to some of the wildest storylines from the first series – Blair’s engagement to a prince, Dan Humphrey’s post in The New Yorker – it is therefore difficult not to recognize how far-fetched the complications are; several episodes ended in such a resolute and conclusive way that I thought to myself, “So… is that it? “
Switching to streaming allows Gossip Girl stretch the episodes to challenging hours, try to swear, crank up the sexuality to an even lower level than you might see on FX or USA, and add some scattered nudity – but only scattered as most of the characters have still under 18 Of course, it’s hard to take any of the characters like “under 18” seriously as most of them, especially guys, look closer to 30.
The general male cast is below the CW standard. Brown is Penn Badgley-lite. Doherty is Ed Westwick-lite. And Mock is basically the handsome Archie of Riverdale. None of them have a chemistry with their love interests and while part of the point of this new series stretched from the very white and very heteronormative settings of the original, nothing is dynamically different.
Women are a little more interesting. At least Alexander is quite believable as the kind of young woman who could become famous online. Lind is really funny in a show that often seems unsuccessful to appeal to humor (with Tavi Gevinson as another performer who made me laugh a few times).
When the cast expands beyond its “teenage” protagonists, it shows depth, not that Kirby, Laura Benanti, Donna Murphy, and John Benjamin Hickey are being used adequately.
Elizabeth Lail plays a supporting role and puzzling reminder that she was once harassed by Penn Badgely in You, another show that probably couldn’t have existed without the original Gossip Girl yet set a standard for tawdry and delicious trash that the new version doesn’t have the courage to approach. I found myself thinking about this a lot during these four episodes, in which HBO Max Gossip Girl gives clues that there might be reasons for this return. But only clues.