I am no stranger to teen dramas, especially bad ones. I absolutely love sitting down with a bunch of idiotic characters that are easy to laugh at and equally as easy to hate. It’s the type of TV that makes me feel better about my life. The new Gossip Girl is one such show.
I am a Gossip Girl “virgin”, as it were, and HBO Max’s new spin/sequel to the title is my only experience with it. I have only ever had a vague awareness of the original that never stemmed beyond knowing the title and that it was “big”. So, I’m here to offer a take on this new show from that perspective, one of fresh eyes. And… in short, it kinda blows. But in its defense, I’ve seen precious few teen dramas that don’t blow in some way, and it seldom prevents me from waiting on the edge of my seat for more episodes.
I have seen the first two episodes, which are the only ones available as of when I’m writing this, but this article will mostly focus on my first impressions garnered from Episode 1!
Like a lot of shows of this nature, Gossip Girl 2021 reeks of being written by people who are far past being teenagers, especially modern ones. I try very hard not to use the term “cringe” to describe things, but man, I can’t think of a better word for the writing in this show. The dialogue is baffling, riddled with internet buzzwords, and some one-off lines that are equally as bizarre, such as “don’t straight-shame me” (seriously, what? Even with context it’s odd). To be frank, listening to the dialogue in this show feels like listening to someone speak in a language you don’t understand. It all garbles together in a mishmash of grown adults trying to emulate Zoomer-speak and pitiful attempts at cultural awareness and/or “wokeness”, and everything else just sounds like Sims speak.
As far as the plot goes, Episode 1, “Just Another Girl on MTA”, introduces half-sisters Julien and Zoya. At first, we are led to believe they don’t like or aren’t interested in each other, partially on account of their fathers’ hatred of one another. But it is soon revealed that the pair had already been talking and forming a relationship for a while, and it was their plan to sneakily get Zoya to New York City via enrolling her in Julien’s school. What I find strange is the level of the fathers’ influence on the girls being able to be friends. It is explained that the girls’ mother left Julien’s father for Zoya’s, which would explain the two men’s hatred of one another, but for me, it doesn’t totally explain why they would be so apparently aggressive about keeping the girls from one another. It just seems so pointless to me, but I do suppose such things could happen in real life—I don’t put much past human beings. This piece of the story is delved into more in Episode 2 but is still not totally explained.
The other half of the plot is especially out there, though. The school’s teachers, after having endured enough cruelty from their students, decide to launch a re-creation of the Gossip Girl icon from years past. It is mainly this point that caused me confusion as to the age they were supposed to be portraying. It is jarring to witness grown adults go out of their way to invade the personal lives of children in order to incite petty drama. With this and the way they generally behave, it took me a good while to decipher that they were, in fact, adults. It’s typical for characters in these sorts of shows to be very zany, but I find this is typically reserved for the child characters, who actually feel more grounded in reality than these adults.
I think a large part of what makes shows like this really, truly work is an ability to have at least a couple of believable, human characters. When your leads are the type of exaggerated caricatures that aren’t likely to speak to a wider audience, you could have a problem. The leads of Gossip Girl are rich, upper-class teenagers whose lives almost entirely revolve around their social media presences and power. I understand the appeal of such characters, but most of the portrayals in Gossip Girl don’t really work for me on the level of relatability. It feels like the majority of the leads are on another plane of existence that I’ve never borne witness to and have never experienced. Teachers who behave like teenagers and teens who so intensely consume themselves with social media “rules”, make that their lifestyle and bend over backwards to maintain it are almost inconceivable to me. All that being said, I’m not going to condemn the show for not meeting my realism requirements. What doesn’t work for me in a drama like this might work just fine for somebody else.
Based on all of that, you might be thinking I couldn’t find any likable characters or real reason to continue with the show, but I actually do like Zoya and Obie (Julien’s boyfriend) and think they’ve got a strong foundation to them. Zoya is a bit like me, being thrust into this world of out-of-touch internet speak and peculiar worldviews with no idea of how to adapt. And Obie, a person who has been in that world for a long time, is ready to break free and back Zoya in her quest to achieve success in spite of the deranged, larger-than-life peers and superiors surrounding them both.
The second episode has a different writer (April Blair) and feels a bit more solid than Episode 1, although it is still riddled with totally out-of-my-world characters and ideals. But as I think on it more, I feel like that is a strength as much as it is a weakness. Yes, it is bad for relatability, but great for drama and entertainment, if that’s your kind of thing. It’s jarring and weird and kind of silly, and I certainly have my complaints as I do with all high school dramas, but as long as I’m having fun, I’m along for the ride.