Gossip Girl (2021)
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Set eight years after the original Gossip Girl ended, this sequel series is set at the same private high school in Manhattan, where a pair of estranged half-sisters try to forge a friendship amidst the pressures of their social-media-driven milieu.
Tavi Gevinson, who rose to fame as a fashion blogger at the tender age of 12, is cleverly cast as a teacher with big ambitions beyond the classroom. And Kristen Bell, the voice of the original Gossip Girl, is back.
Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak) are half-sisters who, because of bad blood between their dads, have never met. When Zoya moves from Buffalo to Manhattan, starts at Julien’s school, and steals Julien’s boyfriend Obie, there would seem to be the makings of a vicious rivalry between them. But things aren’t quite as simple as that in this clever, gloriously glossy reboot.
In the original Gossip Girl, finding out the secret identity of the titular blogger, who seemed to have dirt on everyone, ostensibly drove the show’s plot. But that mystery was solved in the OG show’s finale, so where can we go from there? The twist this time is that we know right from the start who’s behind Gossip Girl. And it’s not a student; it’s a clique of teachers at the (fictional) Constance Billard-St. Jude school.
English teacher Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson), frustrated by a wave of faculty firings as the school year begins, vows to reclaim some measure of power over the incredibly wealthy and privileged kids she and her peers are supposed to be teaching. When a fellow teacher who’s also an alum remembers Gossip Girl (“It kept them in line,” she recalls), Kate is inspired. She corrals a trusted set of colleagues, swears them to secrecy, updates Gossip Girl from a blog to an Instagram, and starts posting. She justifies her strategy by saying it’s out of concern for the spoiled rich kids: “We are their last hope,” she says. “We’re supposed to send them out of here Barack Obamas instead of Brett Kavanaughs!”
The powerless-teacher subplot feels like a nod to the current climate in private schools across the country, where wealthy and powerful parents and spoiled kids are said to run roughshod over teachers and staff. But the show doesn’t get bogged down in any serious takes, on that issue or any other. As with the original, the wealth and privilege of the teenage characters is part of the fun, as swoony crane shots of enviable Manhattan real estate, bleeding-edge fashion, glitzy parties, and general rich-people-problems abound. Zoya, with her scholarship and her gorgeous illegal sublet (it belongs to her grandma), is supposed to be a have-not, but that feels like about as pressing an issue as the feud between the girls’ two dads, which is settled so quickly you could miss it when you get up to refresh your drink.
The original, which ran for six seasons on the CW, focused primarily on the rivalry between Serena Van Der Woodson (Blake Lively) and Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester). In a deliciously meta twist, Kate, who’s an aspiring writer, reads up on that rivalry on the old in-show Gossip Girl blog and takes it as narrative inspiration, creating a fake a rivalry between Julien and Zoya. Julien, who’s such an Instagram sensation that she has a PR team, alternately embraces and rejects a similar approach; but her basic sweetness toward her sibling is just one way the new show plays with the expectations set by the old one. A few more: Obie, the reboot’s answer to Dan Humphrey, is ultra-rich rather than a scruffy outsider; and Max, who first looks to be a Chuck Bass troubled-rich-kid clone, turns out to have two dads and a level-headed streak.
Even the grown-ups get some good subplots, as when Kate’s spiral into Gossip Girl mania yields moments of comedy gold: “Do you know how hard her voice is?” she gripes. “I thought it would be simple, but it’s not, it’s incredibly specific, okay? It’s like if Ian Forster got roofied by Dorothy Parker and Jacqueline Suzanne!”
With a witty script packed with up-to-the-second cultural references and tear-jerking teen angst, a gorgeous cast, and a sumptuously-lit Manhattan for a backdrop, the show is a diverting addition to the teen-drama pantheon.
An OG Gossip Girl fan who can tell you where all the Easter eggs are hidden–so you won’t have to stream all 121 episodes of the original show.
This is HBO, so there is nudity and explicit sex, as well as plots about addiction, bisexuality and nonbinary gender identity, and a teacher-student liaison that’s arguably treated too lightly.