Adapting a beloved piece of culture with a large following, less than a decade after its last episode premiered is inevitably going to raise a few eyebrows. The producers, directors and cast of the show are most likely not going to be given the benefit of the doubt and will constantly be measured up to their predecessors. After diving headfirst into the pop-culture pool HBO’s reboot of The CW’s hit teen television drama Gossip Girl, helmed by Joshua Safran (an executive producer on the first series), failed to make a splash. In fact, it barely made any ripples. For Vanity Fair’s Delia Cai, the newer Gossip Girl “just doesn’t feel fun anymore”.
Lori Binding, assistant professor of communication at Sacred Heart University and author of Gossip Girl: A Critical Understanding, details how The CW show stood on the knife edge between anti-hegemonic class criticism and hegemonic glamorization of privilege, whiteness and toxic masculinity. She considers the show to be representative of the time in which it was created and culturally emblematic for an entire generation (Generation Y: born between 1977 and 1994) before it was reprised by Generation Z and achieved its cult status.
So what exactly went wrong? Has it been updated appropriately to suit the new generation? What does it get wrong and what does it get right about us?
The first thing that sets the Gossip Girl reboot apart from the original is its apparent refusal to let any of its characters behave like archetypes. The first season’s pilot introduces ‘It girl’ and influencer Julien Calloway, daughter of Davis Calloway, a famous record producer; Otto “Obie” Bergman IV; Zoya Lott; Audrey Hope; resident playboy Max Wolfe; Akeno “Aki” Menzies (Audrey’s loveable though dull boyfriend); Luna La and Monet de Haan. Lazily reclined on the MET steps that they have long claimed as their dominion, they are meant to be 2021’s versions of Serena Van Der Woodsen, Dan Humprey, Chuck Bass, Nate Archibald and Blair Waldorf, approximately in that order.
However, as the rest of the season unfolds it is clear that things are not what they seem. Although Julien is a magnetic young woman who seems to have stumbled upon her star status and Monet de Haan is as ambitious as she is scheming, the similarities between them and iconic duo B and S end here. Notably, both Julien and Monet are trendsetting women of colour at Constance Billard School for Girls, something that should not be overlooked.
In that sense, Gossip Girl’s reboot rights the wrongs in terms of diversity without leaning towards tokenism. Faithful, to many gen-z tv-shows, HBO’s Gossip Girl also abides by the laws of ‘casual queerness’, recognisable in the fact that characters are queer but without centring narratives on oppression and coming out exclusively. Monet de Haan is an opportunistic, back-stabbing African-American woman who happens to be a lesbian and whose unearned privilege given to her by her parents allows her to live openly as such in the Upper East Side. Similarly, the newly formed throuple made up of Audrey, Aki and Max is one of the healthiest depictions of a relationship I have seen in young adult shows and challenge the preconceived notions many still have on polyamory. Their romance is a real palate cleanser compared to the recurring toxicity of most Gossip Girl relationships we’ve seen in the first series like Chuck and Blair’s, Diana Payne and Nate or even Dan and Georgina (gags).
Despite all of these improvements, the show has failed to seem to not hit its mark for Gen-Z. Its viewership is nowhere near Sam Levinson’s “Euphoria” or even Mindy Kaling’s new show “The Sex Lives of College Girls”.
This may be because the show takes itself too seriously. The camp plot lines and successful social assassinations are sparse. Instead, most of the heft of the hour-long episodes is found in the character’s personal journey in relation to race, gender, sexuality and class. At times, it feels as though the show would have worked better as an anthology focusing on one character per episode. The complexity of the episode structure, and the rising number of side plots and characters make it hard to follow the actual goal of the episode. It becomes difficult to envision what the apotheosis of the season might be. Safe to say, sometimes less is more…
As mentioned earlier, when the first series aired, social media as we know it didn’t exist which meant that the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite still held some form of mystique. The same can hardly be said for today. We know a lot, if not too much, about the likes of Lily-Rose Depp, Ava Phillipe and Olivia Jade and the infamous college admissions scandals. Since we can access this information instantaneously, we don’t need a fictionalized rendition of these events.
To sum up, despite all of its flaws and mishaps the new GG has some redeeming qualities and its shortcomings might simply be to do with an issue with timing. Although I understand the network’s desire to take advantage of the show’s cult status and Gen-Z’s ability to create nostalgia out of events that happened less than a year ago (think of the abundance of eras on TikTok), I’d argue that much like these trends, the celebration of such eras is fleeting and creating a whole show to honour them is too big a commitment.
Although it scores points in matters of diversity, richer plot lines and more incisive social commentary all-around, it is missing the original series’ “je ne sais quoi” that no amount of chemistry between the new generation can make up for.
On Thursday the 19th of January, the penny finally dropped and it was announced HBO’s Gossip Girl reboot would not be returning for a third season. It seems that the show was eventually unable to channel enough of the original series’ essence in time to be renewed. Hate to see it go, love to watch it leave, I for one am looking forward to seeing this end-of-season drama unfold.
Xoxo Gossip Girl
Written by Tessa Ndjonkou