Hey Upper East Siders…are you ready for a volcano of fabricated diversity and female empowerment? Don’t worry, you’ll still get your precious real estate and couture porn, thanks to my new friends over at HBOMax. What’s that? You thought I was just going to stay in the past? Please. There’s no such thing as cultural relics when there’s reboot money to be made.
You know you loved me, but do you still want me?
On a dark and stormy Thursday evening, New York City high school alumni gathered around their streaming services to witness the return of Gossip Girl, all the while muttering under their breath they should have been hired as consultants for the show. As a former fan (fine, obsessor) myself, I would be lying if I said the return’s premiere hadn’t been getting me through the week. I knew nothing could ever top the genius of Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s 2000s love child, but I was determined to keep an open mind.
The reboot of Gossip Girl brings us new faces in familiar places. We’re still at Constance and St. Judes. We’re still meeting on the Met Steps and debriefing in private cars. But Queen B has been succeeded by Queen JC, a mixed race teen influencer who’s actually…liked by her peers? Headbands are out, shaved heads are in. Oh and Gossip Girl? It’s the fucking teachers. Who would have thought there’d be a time when the Dan nonsense made more sense?
This Gossip Girl doesn’t miss a woke beat. These highschoolers are still fucking in public places but this time they’re talking about female orgasms and the fluidity of sexuality. Their parents are still bulldozing New York with real estate developments but they’re out there protesting with the proletariat.
Showrunner Joshua Safran said, “No slut shaming. No catfights…GG2 is sex positive and our characters use their brains, not their brawn, to take you out!” While the politically correct intentions are sweet, they’re narratively misplaced. The cultural dynasty that was Gossip Girl subsisted on backstabbing and bitchiness. These students juuling in the bathroom and referencing the patriarchy, while realistic, feel more like program interruptions pestering audiences that This. is. 2021. The real Gossip Girl didn’t make references, it was the reference.
I’m not asking for the return of casual rape culture or all white casts, but this is isn’t the world we once loved. Gossip Girl’s ridiculousness was its greatness. Fake deaths, stints as Monaco Royalty, and New York City residents walking slowly, the absurdity knew no bounds. Live, the show’s soap opera twists and cast chemistry was intoxicating. Rewatching it fills a void of comforting nostalgia. Gossip Girl gave us a peek into a world we knew couldn’t exist, but its ability to capture a time was enough decoy to make us wish it did.
This Gossip Girl simultaneously has its foot in too many worlds and none at all. Sure, we’re distracted by the skyrocketed budget. The glamour is grander and the couture is actually cool. But the storylines don’t add up (I repeat…the teachers are gossip girl?!) and the acting is tolerable at best. Watching 27-year-olds pretend to be teenagers ruled by a cyberbully was fun when the internet wasn’t the leading cause of a mental health pandemic.
Now, the role of social media is acutely more relevant, but it’s lost the escapist enticement.
It’s clear that the brains behind the camera can tap into a sect of youth culture. And content following New York elite is the gift that keeps on giving (cue Succession Season 3 trailer). So why the need for the Gossip Girl brand? It’s a classic case of decent talent cowardly cushioned by the reboot security blanket. Networks and streaming platforms are the entertainment doctors prescribing nostalgia opioids. They feed us old titles because they have an insured fanbase and the demographic changes portray a perceived sense of growth. Original programming is too much of a gamble in a capitalist environment of excess content.
The real sadness is that it works, too. All of this said, I’ll probably finish the whole series. I mean Evan Mock is a principal character. I’m only human. But at this level of production, is entertainment for growth instead of null gratification really such a delicacy?
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