Gossip Girl Week Two Report Card: Are We Having Fun Yet?


Vulture 15 July, 2021 - 08:45am 2 views

When do new episodes of Gossip Girl reboot come out?

It will premiere July 8, 2021. GlamourThe ‘Gossip Girl’ Reboot: Everything We Know So Far

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Gossip Girl reboot clinches the title of HBO Max's most-watched original series

Daily Mail 15 July, 2021 - 03:41pm

By Christine Rendon and Ashley Hume For Dailymail.Com

People are talking about the new Gossip Girl reboot.

The series has clinched the honor of becoming HBO Max's most-watched original new series following its debut on July 8, according to The Wrap.   

The show also 'saw a greater proportion of new subscribers choosing it as the first thing to watch after signing up,' according to HBO Max. 

Giving them something to talk about! Gossip Girl was crowned HBO Max's most-watched original new series following its debut on July 8

'Within an hour of the episode’s premiere at 12:01 a.m. PT on Thursday, the show was trending No. 11 nationwide on Twitter, continuing as a Top 5 trend through mid-day,' HBO Max said, according to The Wrap. 

Additionally, the streamer experienced a 200% increase in viewership of the original Gossip Girl series.   

A reboot of the wildly successful CW series of the same name, the Gossip Girl reboot premiered on Thursday with a shocking reveal. 

For its entire six season run, the original CW show's central mystery revolved around who was behind a blog that dished out the scandalous secrets of the privileged teenagers attending an exclusive private school in Manhattan. 

Tuning in! The show also 'saw a greater proportion of new subscribers choosing it as the first thing to watch after signing up,' according to HBO Max

Major twist: The Gossip Girl reboot premiered on July 8 with a shocking reveal as viewers of the HBO Max reboot learned the identity of Gossip Girl in the first episode

However, viewers of the HBO Max reboot learned the identity of Gossip Girl in the first episode.

The show's eponymous blogger was revealed to be a group of the high school's teachers, led by Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson).

Early in the premiere, Kate accidentally bumps into the school's Queen B Julien (Jordan Alexander) and is ridiculed by Julien and her clique. Kate then storms into the teacher's lounge to vent about the entitled behavior of the spoiled students at Constance Billiard to her fellow teachers.

Upon hearing about Gossip Girl's notorious blog from another teacher, Kate and several teachers begin scouring through the site that had exposed the juicy goings-on at the ritzy school and intimidated its past attendees.

Shocking: The show's eponymous blogger was revealed to be a group of the high school's teachers, led by Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson)

Kate and some of the other teachers are inspired to revive Gossip Girl in order to hold sway over their rude and recalcitrant students and their indulgent parents.

After their initial attempts to recreate Gossip Girl as a Twitter account fail to take off, Kate and the teachers launch an Instagram page. 

Kate and her colleagues begin spying on the students and posting photos of their sordid exploits. After the Gossip Girl account zeros in on the drama between Julien and her half-sister, Zola ( Whitney Peak), who is new to the school, the page's popularity explodes. 

Damage control: Kate and some of the other teachers are inspired to revive Gossip Girl in order to hold sway over their rude and recalcitrant students

Scandalous: Kate and her colleagues begin spying on the students and posting photos of their exploits

The creator of the original series, Joshua Safran, who is serving as the showrunner for the reboot, discussed the decision-making behind the surprising twist during an interview with Variety

He explained, 'I have friends who work in the private schools of the Upper East Side and Upper West Side. And I went to one, obviously. I often thought since the first Gossip Girl ended that there was maybe a show in teachers at these rarefied schools, but I never landed on anything. 

'And then I was talking to my friends a couple of years ago, just about the small changes that they had noticed in the students’ parents in the years they were teaching there.

Taking back power: After their initial attempts to re-create Gossip Girl as a Twitter account fail to take off, Kate and the teachers launch an Instagram page that explodes in popularity; here Tavis is pictured on set

Safran went on to say, 'I can’t remember whether I first knew that there would be teachers and a teacher would be Gossip Girl, or whether I knew first that I would know who Gossip Girl was and it would be a teacher. 

'The two were so neck-and-neck for me. I was also very interested in looking at roads we hadn’t explored the first time around, and teachers — that was a whole area. Especially private school teachers who are younger than public school teachers, who make less money than public school teachers, who come out of college and are not so removed from the age of the students that they’re teaching. All of that combined just felt like really fertile territory.'  

He also addressed the potential ramifications that becoming Gossip Girl might have on the teachers. 'It’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for story,' Safran said. 'It’s a cautionary tale. We will be tracking not just what Gossip Girl does to the kids, but what being Gossip Girl does to them. 

'And it is incredibly messy and morally compromised, obviously.'

Fallout: Safran also explained that becoming Gossip Girl would take a toll on the teachers

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Thomas Doherty talks Max on Gossip Girl

The GATE 15 July, 2021 - 03:41pm

Gossip Girl was absurd and over the top – the reboot is just weird

The Independent 15 July, 2021 - 03:41pm

If anyone was going to love the Gossip Girl reboot, it was going to be me. I was a teenager when the original show aired, roughly the same age as Blair, Serena et al. The high school I attended was publicly funded but wanted to rival the Constance Billards of the world as far as academics were concerned. When the original Gossip Girl kids were applying to university, so was I – and when Blair got rejected from her dream college, so did I. If that’s not synergy, I don’t know what is.

The similarities between my life and the Gossip Girl cast ended there – obviously – but that was the point. No one watches this kind of glossy melodrama to see themselves on the screen. While the Gossip Girl kids did designer drugs, avoided public transport like the plague, and rolled around satin sheets in Agent Provocateur lingerie, I rode the Paris Metro (the one thing Blair Waldorf might have envied about my life: I grew up in Paris) to buy H&M knockoffs of Blair’s headbands or Serena’s boots. I didn’t do drugs. When I went out, I was home by 11.

Gossip Girl was a window into a different world – one that I’m pretty sure never existed outside the confines of the books and series (I’ve never been an obscenely wealthy teenager in New York City, but no one actually lives like that, right?). The show had its flaws, but it was a fun place to inhabit for a few hours a week.

All this to say, when HBO Max announced its Gossip Girl reboot, I was primed to love it. I’m a Millennial! I’m about to turn 30! If there ever was a time for me to cast a nostalgic eye at my own teenage years, that time is now. Knowing that Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (co-creators of the original show) were going to be involved in the reboot, along with Joshua Safran (one of its executive producers) was a great sign. And casting Tavi Gevinson, the original influencer, who herself became New York royalty right around the time the original show started making headlines? That seemed delightfully meta. I was ready to love what I thought would be a wry, self-aware, ironic take on the series of my youth.

But alas, the reboot’s pilot didn’t live up to those expectations. It does some things right – certainly it was a good move to feature a more diverse cast and make the show less heteronormative. Aside from that, though, it never quite figures out what it’s trying to be – an acerbic tribute to the original show? A critique of it? A bit of both?

Too often, it’s neither. Set at Constance Billard and St Jude’s, the same two schools attended by the OG cast, this iteration of Gossip Girl takes place nearly a decade after the original show wrapped up. The characters are new, but they’re also versions of the previous ones. Julien, our lead character, has Blair’s queen bee tendencies but Serena’s cool girl DNA. Her half-sister Zoya is the Dan of the situation, although she can also be read as a Vanessa. Max is a less problematic version of Chuck.

Perhaps most shockingly, in this version, the identity of Gossip Girl is clear from the get-go: it’s (spoiler alert) the private school teachers, who, tired of being mistreated by their students, decide to mess with them by reviving the platform that wreaked havoc on their predecessors’ lives. That choice has so far proven controversial among viewers and critics; I, for one, don’t hate it. There’s something Ryan Murphy-esque about a group of underpaid teachers choosing to enact revenge on their young tormentors in the strangest way possible. Of course, if it were to happen in real life, it would be a scandal, but this isn’t real life. It’s Gossip Girl, and it’s not fun unless it’s a bit unhinged.

The reboot makes many direct references to the original. The teachers discuss Gossip Girl’s former blog like it’s a short story at a creative writing workshop. Nate Archibald gets a shoutout – Gevinson’s character Kate (an English teacher, and the ringleader of the aforementioned revenge plot) seems to remember him as one of the “great people” raised by St Jude’s, so I guess his career as a newspaper owner and potential New York City mayor is going well. Inspired by Blair and Serena’s former friendship-cum-rivalry, the teachers decide to use their own Gossip Girl account to pit Julien and Zoya against each other – with some immediate success.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this in principle, but the execution feels lacklustre. The original characters each came with their own tortured backstories from the pilot onwards. This new cast doesn’t get the same treatment. Not making them carbon copies of their 2000s versions is a wise choice, but they end up stuck in limbo, not quite taking off on their own. The reboot relies heavily on fans’ loyalty to the original – aren’t all those meta mentions of it exciting? – but doesn’t bring its own strengths to the table.

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The original Gossip Girl routinely strained credulity. It was over-the-top, unapologetically so, but it also had moments of true heart. It was a teenage show that remained true to its teenage self, and as such, it was volatile, prone to fights and absurd conflicts and escalating plot lines. It was absurd, and it stopped working after a few seasons, but when it worked, it really worked.

Penn Badgley, Blake Lively, and Leighton Meester at a Gossip Girl press event on 20 July 2007 in Beverly Hills, California

Crucially, the original show understood that we didn’t watch Gossip Girl to like its characters. It gave us ample room to despise them and then start liking them again. Blair, Serena, Jenny (oh my God, remember JENNY?), Chuck, Nate, and even the ever-principled Dan all cycled through a series of redemption arcs before acting horribly again: redeem, relapse, rinse, repeat. The reboot doesn’t give us the same space. Its characters are more reasonable, their motivations more noble. They’re better people, probably, but they don’t light the plot on fire the way their predecessors did.

This show tries to make more thoughtful points than the original did when it comes to the mega wealthy. For now, it doesn’t entirely know what it’s trying to say, but there is hope for future episodes. The writing takes off at times, with nice zingers like, “Twitter is a glorified chat room for meme sharing, conspiracy theorists, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.” There are points to be made, and the corrosive writing to support them is there. It all just needs to come together.

Look at Succession. For two seasons (soon to be three!) the satire, also an HBO property, has offered a blistering illustration of the excesses and idiosyncrasies of the megarich. And it did that without ever trying to convince us that Kendall, Shiv, or Roman were good people. Of course, the characters in Gossip Girl are teenagers, so it makes sense for them not to be judged quite so harshly. But this is a TV show! It’s meant to be an outlet for something. It’s meant to be a path to the outrageous, the unexpected, the selfish. Maybe what the new Gossip Girl kids really need is to take a page out of their teachers’ book.

Penn Badgley, Blake Lively, and Leighton Meester at a Gossip Girl press event on 20 July 2007 in Beverly Hills, California

When Will 'Gossip Girl' Episode 3 Premiere?

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Wondering when you can expect new episodes from this teen drama? We have you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about how to watch Gossip Girl Episode 3.

It’s time to circle Thursdays in your calendar. That’s when new episodes of Gossip Girl premiere. You know you love this.

Can’t wait to see Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya (Whitney Peak) go at it again?The next installment in HBO Max’s teen drama premieres Thursday, July 22. What’s this new episode’s title, you ask? “Lies Wide Shut.” Sounds sexy and scandalous.

The third episode of Gossip Girl will premiere on Thursday, July 22 at 3:01/2:01c a.m. That morning if you don’t see the episode appear right away, don’t worry. Simply hit refresh and it should appear. Sometimes it just takes a second for those episodes to pop up.

Season 1 of the new Gossip Girl will have 12 episodes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those dozen episodes will be divided into halves. Here’s what we know about the schedule so far:

If you want to watch Episodes 2 and beyond, you’re going to need HBO Max. Fortunately that’s pretty easy to get. If you have HBO NOW or if you signed up to HBO through your cable subscription, you have HBO Max. Just use your typical HBO username and password on HBO Max’s site or app. Now you’re all set to stream new episodes on Thursdays.

Have you ditched cable? No problem. Subscriptions to HBO Max cost $9.99 a month for a plan with ads or $14.99 a month for the ad-free option. And if you’re open to a yearly plan, you’re eligible for a discount. Yearly memberships cost $99.99 for the plan with ads and $149.99 for the plan without them. Unfortunately, HBO Max doesn’t offer a free trial. So if you’re really dedicated to watching as many Gossip Girl episodes while paying the least amount of money, you should wait until this season has ended before subscribing.

One Thing the ‘Gossip Girl’ Reboot Gets Right? Furniture

Architectural Digest 15 July, 2021 - 03:41pm

Also like the original, the school exterior was shot at the Museum of the City of New York. In the premiere episode of the revival, the teachers lament the fact that the entitled students constantly walk all over them, and come up with the idea to resurrect the long-defunct “Gossip Girl” to take them all down a peg. Originally she was a blog. Now she posts on Instagram, but her writing still has the same snarky style and is voiced by Kristen Bell.

Gossip Girl’s main targets are Julien (played by Jordan Alexander)—whose father is a multi-Grammy-winning musician with Mark Ronson vibes—and her half-sister Zoya (Whitney Peak), who has a different, much less wealthy father and an arts scholarship financing her education. The extent of Julien’s wealth is evident from her Tribeca penthouse, one of the only sets filmed on location rather than in a soundstage. “We wanted to make sure the views were accurate,” production designer Ola Maslik tells AD. “There is just much more depth.” Indeed, her space is full of floor-to-ceiling windows and contemporary furniture to match, and there are real art pieces any young, rich collector might select, like the Lucien Smith and a piece by Didier William.

For the remainder of the sets, set decorators Rena DeAngelo (episodes one and two) and Rich Devine (episode three onward) filled New York City soundstages with an abundance of high-end furnishings. For Julien’s boyfriend Obie (Eli Brown), who has impossibly wealthy German parents and an interest in social justice, they created a cool and trendy warm-toned Dumbo loft. Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty), the party boy of the group, lives with his father in an eclectic, antique-filled townhouse Devine calls “my favorite set I think I have ever done.” Then there’s Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), who may remind viewers of Blair Waldorf (Meester in the original): She lives with her mother in an elegant house with Scalamandré curtains and wallpaper and plenty of bold colors.

The drama in the show happens so quickly, and there are so many characters, that it’s easy to blink and miss the home sets in the first few episodes. But one place where the show comes together and lingers for a moment is Dumbo Hall, the fictional members-only club loosely based on Soho House, where the teenage characters are all—somehow—able to meet and order martinis without question. (Julien prefers a twist to an olive, she tells the naive Zoya, who has never had a drink.) Maslik looked to the design of restaurants Veronika and Le Coucou (both done by AD100 designers Roman and Williams) for further inspiration. “We went for eclectic, homey, warm tones,” she says, adding that if, post-pandemic, they ever film at real NYC locations, they wanted to make sure their Dumbo Hall “is very much in style with the rest of New York.”

If this all seems extremely, even unusually opulent for a television show, it is. “We had a good purse [to work with],” says Devine. “It is real estate porn, lifestyle porn.”

The new 'Gossip Girl' series was doomed to fail because its premise makes no sense in 2021

Insider 15 July, 2021 - 03:41pm

The new show has been refitted and resized for Gen Z, embellished with new trends and a fresh vocabulary of words that didn't exist when the original premiered well over a decade ago, let alone back when the premise for "Gossip Girl" was initially conceived by Upper East Side born-and-bred Cecily Von Ziegesar in 2002. 

As a result, the show's core formula has been dismantled. And the new equation that took its place is left feeling nostalgic and out of place. 

For starters, the reboot's major plotlines center around long-lost sisters with matching tattoos, socially-aware Brooklynites, and vindictive high-school teachers trying to take down their students while also turning them into "the Barack Obamas of the world."

It's not hard to imagine the real OG Gossip Girl laughing in the face of the system-serving pawn she's become. 

Even if you wanted to like the new "Gossip Girl," there are a few things that stand in the way.

The premise of "Gossip Girl" was developed during social media's infancy, an era when "followers" meant stalkers, "stories" meant narratives, and only a handful of people knew what a meme was.  

Against this backdrop, the concept of your every move being tracked and shared online by an anonymous blogger seemed as much like science fiction as it did drama.

In some ways, the original "Gossip Girl" feels like a time capsule.

Although the show came of age in tandem with the rise of social media over the course of its run from 2007 to 2012, the show's characters never embraced it. Aside from a few cheeky references to Facebook and the one-off time in season four when Dan Humphrey created an "I Hate Humphrey" account to troll himself on Twitter, social media was scarcely mentioned.  

Rather, the characters' primary modes of communication were dropping in unannounced to each other's apartments, over-abbreviated BlackBerry messages, and of course, Gossip Girl blasts, which served as an early form of cancel culture — the equivalent of having a hashtag with your name in the trending topics on Twitter.

But in the new incarnation of the show, social media isn't just a plot device, it's a character in its own right.

"You have to be strategic about the way you present things to the world," self-described "influencer" Julien Calloway, played by Jordan Alexander, asserts at one point in the sequel series' premiere episode. It's a reminder of how much times have changed. The new show's characters now have control over their narratives; they can communicate directly with more people than Gossip Girl could ever reach, all with the click of a button on a cellphone they carry with them all the time. 

Because of this, they don't need to filter the details of their lives through Gossip Girl's eagerly-awaiting fingertips, which raises the question — what is she still doing there?

It's clear from the first 60 seconds of the new series that this time around, things will be different — not because anyone necessarily wanted it to be, but because it has to be.

There's no denying that the original had plenty of problematic moments and an overall lack of representation. While HBO Max's sequel fixes those issues, it does so at the expense of the very fabric of The CW's "Gossip Girl."

In present-day, wealth, and the people who possess it, have become vilified far more than glamorized, which was the case of the original series. And in this context, "Gossip Girl," as we once knew it, will never have a home. 

"These kids wrestle with their privilege in a way that I think the original didn't," coshowrunner Joshua Safran, who also produced the original, told Variety. "In light of [Black Lives Matter], in light of a lot of things, even going back to Occupy Wall Street, things have shifted."

But this self-aware iteration of privilege is also self-defeating. Adding righteousness to the equation only alters the show's inherited blueprint, replacing the attributes that made the original so sensational — and addictive — in the first place with a transparent, and at times desperate, attempt to speak the language of a new generation.

"No slut shaming. No catfights," Safran tweeted in response to a fan question back in May. "Those are not things I believe need to be in this show for it to be fun. Or any show? GG2 is sex positive and our characters use their brains, not their brawn, to take you out!" 

Safran's mentions became filled with outraged fans in response. 

Their grievances centered around a key theme: At the end of the day, no one was watching "Gossip Girl" 1.0 to listen to brainy, earring-clad Brooklynites talk about marginalized communities or urban gentrification. In fact, characters like Vanessa Abrams, who embodied such liberal affinities were, in later seasons, effectively banished from the show, having agitated the show's fan base (and even the original novels' author) to a point that warranted their removal.

The original show depicted a universe that was neither inviting or relatable, but rather, attractive for being just the opposite. The series masterfully captivated its audience with its uniquely manufactured notions of glamour, exclusivity, and, of course, an unrelenting deluge of convoluted scheming and romantic drama that served as the engine behind the show's six-season cable television run.

The vast majority of fans of the original show will never accept the reboot as anything more than an artificial reconstruction overshadowed by nods and allusions to its predecessor. And anyone who wasn't a fan of the original show likely won't be tuning in to begin with. 

So did we need a new "Gossip Girl" show? Probably not. But that doesn't mean we won't be watching, hoping for the sequel to find its footing apart from relying on a formula that clearly doesn't work anymore.

(But also, can they just bring Georgina Sparks back already?)

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).

The ‘Gossip Girl’ reboot is desperate, but that’s why it could be great

NME 15 July, 2021 - 03:41pm

Like a 29-year-old abandoning their skinny jeans or hiding their Harry Potter books, HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot reeks of desperation to stay young and cool. That was always going to be the danger when updating a show inherently linked to the flash-in-the-pan cultural power of blogs in the late 2000s – but that doesn’t necessarily make the reboot bad.

Between the Twitter disses, talk of ‘Xannies’ and turmeric lattes, Gossip Girl’s first episode is a mess of hackneyed ‘relevant’ references – albeit a highly entertaining one. Hidden in the pilot is a self-awareness that hints at greatness, suggesting the reboot’s true goal isn’t hitting it off with Gen Z audiences, but reeling in nostalgic millennials only to send them up.

In the pilot, we return post-COVID-19 to a new year of school at Constance Billard, the elite Manhattan school that Serena van der Woodsen graduated from more than a decade ago. This era’s queen bee is Julien (Jordan Alexander), an influencer whose estranged 14-year-old half-sister Zoya (Whitney Peak) is now attending the same school. By episode’s end, Zoya is the Blair to Julien’s Serena – a sibling love-hate relationship that’s already lacking much motive or logic.

We also meet the Dan and Chuck of the reboot: Julien’s moralist boyfriend Obie (Eli Brown), who supports the strikers against his own father’s company, and Max (Thomas Doherty), a pill-popping pansexual with two dads and eyes for both Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind) and her boyfriend Aki (Evan Mock). Gossip Girl is as filled with sexual tension as ever, but is also substantially more racially and sexually diverse. It’s a welcome change.

The reboot’s biggest point of difference, though, aren’t the Gen Z teens, but the millennial teachers who take up plenty of oxygen in the pilot. They’re led by the cast’s biggest name, actress and writer Tavi Gevinson, who first rose to fame as a pre-teen with her own kind of Gossip Girl, a fashion blog that morphed into teen site Rookie.

Gevinson plays English teacher Kate Keller, powerless against the glamorous teens that tower above her in height and possess enough clout to get her fired for one bad grade. After a fellow teacher remembers a blog that once kept students cowering in fear, they launch Gossip Girl 2.0 just 10 minutes into the reboot – albeit as an anonymous Instagram account (and yes, Kristen Bell does return for the narration).

Revealing who runs Gossip Girl – a secret held for six seasons in the original series – is the pilot’s smartest choice. The question of the show then becomes not ‘who’ but ‘why?’. Even the teachers are as baffled as we are at how quickly Kate and her accomplice take to cyber-bullying and stalking teens across Manhattan.

Since it was first announced in 2019, HBO Max’s reboot of Gossip Girl has prompted the same question: why? While all teen dramas eventually show their age via problematic plotlines, dated soundtracks or, in the case of The O.C., puka shell necklaces, it’s especially unclear what’s worth salvaging here. An adaptation of Cecily von Ziegesar’s best-selling teen novel series, the original Gossip Girl was a cultural phenomenon when it landed in 2007 – a dive, pre-Great Financial Crisis, into a world of the outrageous fortunes of an elite private school in Manhattan. Its success was built on scandal: ads quoted reviews calling it “every parent’s nightmare” and “mind-blowingly inappropriate”.

But even at its heights, Gossip Girl’s world of drugs, clubs and sex pales next to fellow HBO hit Euphoria, and the failure of recent ‘edgy’ teen drama Generation to find an audience suggests that Rue and Jules are a hard act to beat. Plus, Gossip Girl’s other drawcard of glamourising obscene wealth is now passé. But when showrunner Josh Safran (who executive produced the original show, too) promised the reboot’s characters would “wrestle with their privilege”, fans of the original feared a ‘woke’ Gossip Girl would drain the show of its underlying appeal: escapism.

The painfully ‘woke’ parts of the pilot aren’t Obie’s picket-line support or the shots of Zoya’s Black Lives Matter posters. Those feel naturally showy, as teenagers are. It’s the teachers who cause the most cringe, such as when Kate laments how the school is “supposed to send [students] out of here as Barack Obamas instead of Brett Kavanaughs”.

It’s one of the clunkiest lines of the pilot, perhaps only beaten by one of Julien’s minions scoffing at the sexism of the name ‘Gossip Girl’. “It’s the 21st century. At least call it Gossip Woman,” she says. It’s embarrassing dialogue, pointless virtue signalling for approval – exactly what people feared this Gossip Girl would be.

Despite the cringe, the show also suggests it knows what it’s doing. Julien barely gives the ‘Gossip Woman’ quip any acknowledgement. And Kate’s grand scheme – that Gossip Girl will make the students nicer to their teachers – makes no sense, even by the original’s soap opera standards. If Gossip Girl continues to play with the question at the core of Kate’s scheme and the reboot – why millennials are so obsessed with Gen Z drama – it might offer something new.

If not, that’s too bad. It will still be hard to deny the rush from once again hearing Gossip Girl say “you know you love me”. And you probably will – despite everything saying otherwise.

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'Gossip Girl' Reboot Creator Breaks Down Julien and Zoya's Simmering Sisterly Feud

TheWrap 15 July, 2021 - 12:00pm

A truce has been called — for now

Zoya Jane Lott (Whitney Peak) and Julien Elizabeth Calloway (Jordan Alexander) hit an even rougher patch on this week’s episode of “Gossip Girl” than they did on last week’s series premiere — which somehow ended up bringing the half-sisters closer together.

This sibling relationship is clearly only going to get more complicated, with Zoya choosing to stay at Constance, Julien stepping aside and allowing Zoya to date her ex, Obie (Eli Brown), and the secret about why Zoya left her old school known only to Julien and Gossip Girl (aka the teachers). So, TheWrap asked HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” creator to break down what the root of this rivalry is all about, and how the girls’ deceased mother bridges a very large gap between them.

“I wanted to look at sisters and I was very interested in looking at sisters who came from different pockets of privilege, one without, one with,” Joshua Safran told TheWrap. “I was also very interested in the idea of a young woman who is half Black and half white, but who has lived with her white father and not with any people around her that represent the other side of her family. And there’s this half sister that comes in who has lived a totally different experience and suddenly her eyes are open to that experience.”

Safran said that actresses Peak and Alexander were both heavily involved in the creation of Zoya and Julien’s relationship, which will continue to see ups and downs as the season goes on.

“That was something the writers and I talked about a lot. We talked to Jordan about it, we talked to Whitney about it,” Safran said. “That was really interesting to look at privilege in a different way. White privilege, the privilege of passing, the privilege of when you are confronted with someone inside your own family who doesn’t have the same privilege that you have, and how they view you growing up, how you view them growing up. We came at it from character and what the world looks like right now.”

While the sisters called a truce at the end of this week’s episode, there’s no telling where it goes from here — or how long Julien will keep Zoya’s secret to herself.

Gossip Girl goes to the classics for assistance

The A.V. Club 15 July, 2021 - 10:00am

First of all, I’d be remiss not to mention the continued thrill of hearing Gossip Girl chronicle the weekly events of New York’s elite. Simply on a structural level, the event-of-the-week is a smart framing device, as well as part of what makes Gossip GirlGossip Girl. When it comes to a lack of pop culture literacy, there’s always this that a show having a weekly event as the framing device is a sign of bad writing instead of an understanding of writing. In thinking of how a show like Gossip Girl exists to be aspirational—even when satirizing this world—it especially makes sense to have the various social engagements act as the focal points of the episodes. These are the places in which these characters have to interact, even when they’re on the outs. In the original Gossip Girl, the second episode revolved around a brunch that required narrative maneuvering to explain why Dan Humphrey would even be anywhere near. Here in “She’s Having A Maybe,” we get both a parent-teacher conference as an appetizer and a swanky fundraiser as the main course.

Which brings us to the introduction of Audrey’s mom, Kiki (Laura Benanti). Immediately, an eagle-eyed teen drama watcher asks themself if Kiki will either bail on the episode’s fundraiser set-piece altogether or come to the fundraiser and cause a (most likely drunk) scene. It could’ve gone either way, but whichever choice April Blair’s script made would immediately tell you what kind of neglectful parent (and possibly why) we’re going with here. As we learn, Audrey has to be the parent to her mother—who’s going through “a DIVORCE,” in Aki’s words—which is perfect teen drama fodder. That Kiki goes with the latter option (showing up and causing a drunk scene) gives us something to work with, as does the eventual reveal that her business has gone bankrupt. If you’re playing Teen Drama Bingo: Parent Edition, this episode is gold. It’s also especially gold for Emily Alyn Lind, who both continues to get the most substantial material (outside of Julien and Zoya) and gets some forward momentum (as Audrey and Max “surprisingly” hooked up) in her story.

Then you have the plot between Max and Rafa Caparros (Jason Gotay), the hot classics teacher who is not part of his colleague’s Gossip Girl scheme. (However, we can discuss which inappropriate storyline has the moral high ground.) A student-teacher affair is such old hat in this genre that the first season of Riverdale even revealed just how over it audiences were. As you may remember, in all the discussion—and praise—early Riverdale got as “Hot Archie Who Fucks,” the greatest strike against it was the Archie/Miss Grundy affair storyline. For no real reason other than the fact that it was just so boring at this point. In fact, when the original Gossip Girl did a student-teacher affair storyline, it was also very boring. So the idea of the Gossip Girl that can say “fuck” possibly thinking that a student-teacher affair storyline in 2021 is anything other than boring just feels off.

Which is why the best thing Gossip Girl does here with this plot is table the possibility of Max/Rafa until after Max graduates. HBO Max’s Gossip Girl obviously went to the school of Ryan Murphy (which led to the school of Teen Wolf, then Riverdale), where it has no problem reminding the audience these (especially male) actors aren’t actually teens. That’s how we get something like Thomas Doherty in nothing but a towel in a bathhouse. As I’ve written before, doing stuff like that is a matter of shows wanting to have their cake and eat it too, as it wants its audience to relate to its characters as kids but also reminds us in typically uncomfortable fashions that the actors are very much not. Doherty and Gotay are both very attractive actors, but I’m not rooting for a kid who’s stalking his teacher, and I’m definitely not rooting for a teacher who keeps leering at his student. And this isn’t one of those “criticisms” that’s tearing the show down for having “unlikeable” characters. It’s simply thinking we’re past this kind of story and that this version of Gossip Girl would be the type of show to know that. The only value I see in this storyline—other than attractive actors being attractive together—is the Gossip Girl implications. Because while Rafa verbally turns Max down multiple times, every one of their scenes is still porn for Gossip Girl. And what would be more interesting for the new Gossip Girl than to be faced with the fact that one of their own is pure fodder? Maybe then Keller and her crew would actually care about the lives they’re ruining.

I am curious to see if Gossip Girl will even have the patience to “edge”and save Max/Rafa. Despite everything he says in the episode, Rafa’s willpower doesn’t feel all that existent. Then again, Rafa doesn’t feel like he exists for anything other than this potential affair. Which brings up a major issue that “She’s Having A Maybe” reveals, even though it’s a solid post-pilot outing for the show: There are too many characters on this show. Specifically, series regulars. HBO Max’s Gossip Girl isn’t quite a well-oiled machine yet, but with its second episode—as much as it works as a companion piece to the pilot—it’s especially clear where the squeaky wheels are.

But even as just minions, Monet and Luna at least fit the bill of what this show is and give performances. That’s not there at all with Evan Mock’s Aki. I recently saw someone compare Mock’s delivery to Chace Crawford’s early series work as Nate Archibald, but I would argue that Crawford’s performance never betrayed the story the show is trying to tell. Mock’s performance Aki, on the other hand, doesn’t come across as the member of the group who’s always objective or the peacekeeper, even though the dialogue makes sure to keep saying he is. Instead, in “She’s Having A Maybe,” his lack of inflection ends up making it seem like he’s having a fling with his girlfriend’s mom. In fact, if not for the story they’re actually telling with Aki/Max/Audrey, a secret boyfriend-mother affair would be the only explanation as to why Aki acts the way he does whenever Audrey talks to him about Kiki. It’s supposed to come across as him being strangely mature when talking to his teenage girlfriend about her mom’s having a hard time, but it instead comes off as him being more interested in her mother (in addition to Max) than her. In the story that’s actually happening, Mock doesn’t fare much better playing off scenery-chewing Doherty. Just like saying that Aki’s objective doesn’t actually make up for a lack of personality, adding “His words, not mine.” doesn’t save a stilted delivery of a line like “This Wolfe thinks he can huff and puff and blow this man.” (And he does say “Wolfe”/”wolf” like “woof.”)

However, I will say this episode works much better than the pilot when it comes to the Obie character. Despite how much more aware of how he and his friends come across Obie seems to be, it’s very telling that this is his pep talk to Zoya post-pilot Gossip Girl blast: “People try and take us down. They never can though. You’re one of us now.” The “good guy” of the group, Obie still subscribes to the same haves and have-nots mentality as his peers; he just goes to protests in between. “She’s Having A Maybe” reveals that the show knows exactly what it’s doing with a character like Obie, especially considering Safran’s comments about these characters’ privilege. As much good Obie does for the less fortunate, he is either too much of an optimist or simply too privileged to see the full picture. In my notes, I clocked that the fundraiser probably cost more money than they’ll even raise—even before Zoya basically says the same thing. According to Obie, “Oh, but the fact that everybody here is trying to do a good thing, I mean that’s gotta count for something.” The chance that most of the people in attendance even know what the fundraiser is for is slim. Remember, Julien pulled off the scholarship scheme because her dad doesn’t look through the scholarship applications. Because these people don’t actually care. Obie’s earnest obliviousness works much better than the self-righteousness that the pilot leaned into. It also helps that Eli Brown is especially charming here, since Obie is the type of character who doesn’t see anything wrong with dating his ex-girlfriend’s little sister and apparently takes 1%-er’s donations as proof they’re good people.

While “She’s Having A Maybe” continues to go down the path of revealing that Kate Keller is a monster who must be stopped, it does, unfortunately, dial back on the initial reason behind it. Yes, it’s funny to hear Wendy (Megan Ferguson) say “It’s time for a little quid pro… corruption.” but it’s in an episode that goes even further on Gossip Girl targeting Zoya without reaffirming the mission statement of this version of Gossip Girl. The point is supposed to be to take Julien and her crew down a peg or two, to make the rest of the student body fall in line. But “She’s Having A Maybe” doesn’t remind the audience that the teachers are retaliating against an unruly student body. Instead, when it’s not working to get dirt on Zoya (using her trust in Keller as a way in), it focuses more on the fact that the teachers believe the parents are the ones who suck. There’s room for that in this show, and “She’s Having A Maybe” does succeed in its first official taste of a substantial role for some of the parents, in the form of Nick (Johnathan Fernandez), Davis (Luke Kirby), and Kiki. But as a follow-up to “Just Another Girl On The MTA,” the teachers’ motivations for Gossip GIrl are especially muddled—which can’t be the case when in an early episode where Keller’s villainy is especially on display.

That Keller draws the line and deletes the photos of the art supply argument doesn’t do anything to give her points, considering the episode ends with her saying, “Let’s hope I never have to use it.” In that case, the “it” is the secret about why Zoya was kicked out of her old school. I brought up the idea of who has the moral high ground in this episode, Keller or Rafa, because both are teachers behaving abhorrently. Rafa technically hasn’t done anything, but would that defense work if someone 1had taken a picture of him staring at his naked student in a bathhouse? Keller, on the other hand, is stalking and cyberbullying teens—or just the one at this point—but she would argue she’s doing this all for a good reason. But that “good reason” isn’t really apparent in this episode. Because to maintain the Gossip Girl status quo without being completely turned off by the premise, the show needs to remind the audience that these kids are monsters to their teachers. And not in the sexy, Max/Rafa way. While what Keller and her colleagues are doing is madness, at least in the pilot, you can see where they have a leg to stand on. Here, we’re just watching Keller have a back and forth with the coolest kid in school; and while there’s a commentary to be made there about millennials looking to Zoomers for coolness validation, maybe now’s not the time, this early in the set-up.

However, if the show is pivoting away from the Julien/Zoya feud—at least until it builds up more of a rapport—then that’s for the best, especially after this episode. Julien has Zoya’s secret at her disposal—as does Gossip Girl—but as was made clear even in the pilot, it’s going to take a lot for her to reveal what it is. Because this rivalry is nothing more than two sisters having a very public sister fight, which is easily reconcilable. While I’ve noted how much these kids are still very much kids, no matter how adult they act, the Julien/Zoya story, in general, is the series’ most “kid’s table” element. As I questioned why Zoya would be so upset with Julien for not causing an additional scene at her fashion show in the pilot, here, I questioned what Julien’s smoking gun exactly is when it comes to catching Zoya and Obie at an art supply store. Purchasing school supplies. For underprivileged kids. These two episodes haven’t shown Nick to be much more than an emotionless parent-bot—other than in his scenes with Kate Keller, confirmed psychopath—but I’ll admit that I did see something resembling humanity as he voiced his disappointment with her for breaking her grounding. Though, again: They were buying school supplies for underprivileged kids. I feel like that possibly should’ve been addressed in the scene.

It’s been quite clear in these first two episodes just how little Julien (especially) and Zoya’s hearts are in their Gossip Girl-fueled “feud.” Julien’s plan to prove that Zoya’s not that innocent—keeping in mind that Julien’s the older sister, where Zoya is a 14-year-old freshman—is such small potatoes for Gossip Girl that the show really needs a new focus. So as Gossip Girl returns from the brink of cancelation and the series moves out of the early-episode set-up phase, one can hope that its target will have more focus than and oomph it does here.

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