“Oh, lordy” is what immediately came to mind after I watched the first episode of Gossip Girl, the new teen soap-drama that premiered last week. In this context, “oh, lordy” sort of means “if you have a high tolerance for self-serving, self-indulgent, puddle-deep, cliched characters or and an even higher tolerance for not-too-clever, predictable, not-much-nuance writing, then this show is awesome! There are some very informative reviews here, here and here.
This isn’t a recap, because nothing that was said in the episode is worth restating anywhere. The show stars a very charismatic Blake Lively as Serena van der Woodsen (I like Blake a whole lot better than her brother Eric, who played creepy secret videotaper Mark on The L Word) Leighton Meester as Blair Waldorf , Penn Badgley as Dan Humphrey, Chace Crawford as Nate Archibald, Taylor Momsen as Jenny Humphrey and Ed Westwick as Chuck Bass. In a capsule, Serena and Blair are best friends. Well they were. Serena left school and returned to school under mysterious circumstances. Blair’s boyfriend, Nate, also has a thing for Serena, which of course drives much of the drama between Blair and Serena. Dan and his little sister Jenny are the “not so rich kids” at the rich kids’ school. Dan has crushed on Serena from afar, and freshman Jenny is in awe of the hip in-crowd at her new school. The show moves along through the use of a voice over by “The Gossip Girl,” a blogger who has her finger on the pulse of this teen grouping from this prep school.
Here’s a disclaimer: I do realize that this was the pilot, and pilot episodes tend to be over-the-top when it comes to introducing and establishing the motivations of each character. So, much of what I saw regarding the lack of character depth and forced dialogue might be due to the Pilot Effect. I have other disclaimers and biases that I must voice.
I assume that I am not a member of the target audience. This show clearly was not written with me in mind. Now, having said that, I do question exactly with whom in mind it was written! High school kids sitting at bars of luxury hotels drinking martinis, or strolling through Central Park smoking marijuana, or hosting parent-approved, parent-encouraged make-out cocktail parties with an open bar of free-flowing beer, wine and champagne for all minors?! Seems as though the show may have been written with rehab centers in mind. There were two near date rape situations, as well, so maybe it was written with young sex offenders in mind? Oh, and there was a ton of cool cell phone use, so maybe it was written with Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T in mind — or was it more Nokia and Motorola in mind? I’m really glad the kids are rich, because the way they text messaged every two seconds, they all must have an unlimited text plan — and those things are expensive!
Oh, and I’ve never read the Gossip Girl book(s), so maybe I can’t have a true appreciation for the fact that the first book predated the MySpace and Facebook communities that so many folks are involved in. The first book actually predated how “gossip” is instantly transmitted these days. So that was probably a cool read five years ago. But watching this “instant gossip” transmission on my screen seemed both blasé and really annoying. Isn’t it great that within minutes of something really awful happening like almost being sexually assaulted freshman year by a bad Bret Easton Ellis character wanna-be named Chuck, the entire school will know? Kids now are so lucky. Ain’t technology cool!
I must confess that girl rivalries over cheating boyfriends cause extreme narcolepsy. Well, in me at least. Granted, a girl getting drunk and sleeping with her best friend’s boyfriend would end many friendships, but when the girl who was cheated on remains the girlfriend of the boy who did the cheating, it just makes my eyes feel quite heavy and makes my neck ache as it snaps forward in that instant slumber. For those who will continue to watch the show, please wake me when something original happens.
Besides, we all know that Blair and Serena actually have that love thing for each other (Sarah and Lori think so too) and Nate is just a tool! Why is this show tiptoeing around the lezzies-in-uniform reality? Nobody does uniforms the way we do. My goodness, these girls wear miniskirts, white button-down blouses and TIES! Tell me there is no love in the air between these prep school sisters.
The show is not just about kids; it’s also about their parents. Again, personal bias, but I prefer that children be raised in orphanages rather than in hypercritical, narcissistic uncaring hotels — uh, I mean homes or fabulous apartments — with distant, uncaring but fabulously rich parents. Blair’s mother controls the outfits her daughter wears and says Blair will never be more attractive nor as thin and desirable as she is right now at 17. Ah, nothing like cuddling up to mommy’s bosom for such loving reassurance. Serena’s mother bought her daughter a dress for a party, but after learning that Serena wasn’t going attend the party, decided to keep the dress for herself. This same mother has a young teen son who is recuperating from a suicide attempt and who must be kept from view of the other mothers — I guess because maybe they will all begin to play the game “I can top that!” by comparing and contrasting suicide stories of their own youth?
This is a minor bias but I really detest “shipper names” and using first letters of a person’s name as nicknames, so in this case the overuse of B (Blair) and S (Serena) really was BS to me and that’s never good. I also hate text speak. So as I watched all the synchronized texting on screen, I felt an urge to text my own message “r u 4 reel? y m i wtchn ths ish? I is L8 4 bed.”
OK, I swear this is my final complaint about the pilot. I don’t enjoy shows that parade around blatantly token minorities. In this case, there was an Asian schoolmate that we might as well call earring and an African-American chum we should just call bracelet — because these two characters were nothing more than accessories to B. I mean Blair. I do hope they have more to do in later episodes, like, you know, get their own lives. I’m not hopeful.
In conclusion, I have seen the show referred to as the East Coast prep school version of The O.C. Well, I never did sit through an entire episode of The O.C. and they had the beach and surf scenes, so yes, I found myself asking myself why was I watching this version without the beach and surfing. But even with all of my disclaimers and biases and nitpicks, I can also see what’s attractive about the show. Teen age angst on screen dates back to Rebel Without a Cause, so the concept isn’t going anywhere. And as long as teens struggle with finding their places in the social order of school and in society in general, shows like this will exist. Make no mistake, I didn’t find anything particular insightful nor redeeming about the show, but if you like mindless trashy entertainment or a decent “bad” TV show like the ones Aaron Spelling churned out in his heyday, Gossip Girl as a trashy teen soap may hold your interest for a while.