In Gossip Girl, fame brings the usual wealth and privilege. Better, it brings drama and scandal — and headlines. Wouldn’t it be great if websites like TMZ or Perez Hilton didn’t just chronicle the lives of coke-addled celebrities, but the teenagers reigning over elite high schools? Gossip Girl is the seemingly omniscient blogger who reports on the sex, lies, and YouTube videos of the smart set at an Upper East Side private school, rendered in voiceover narration by Kristen Bell, with pitch-perfect smugness.
Based on a series of popular young adult novels by Cecily Von Ziegesar, the series suggests that these adolescents can’t help but be concerned with their reputations and renown. With all their sprawling apartments, endless designer wardrobes, and last names like “Waldorf,” they have enough wealth and privilege to last them several lifetimes over. (Except for the two poor saps who — gasp! — live in Brooklyn.) These are the kids who can walk into the ritzy Palace Hotel (where they stay when their families are “renovating”), waltz up to the lobby bar (whose average patron is at least three times as old as they are), order a martini with top-shelf liquor, and receive it without so much as a raised eyebrow. In the premiere episode, the youngster goes on to devour an off-menu truffle-oil grilled cheese sandwich.
It’s clear that the kids in Gossip Girl live in a fantasy world. Moreover, as Von Ziegesar puts it, the series is “aspirational.” While it’s easy to imagine high schoolers across the country drooling over the power and freedom enjoyed by Blair (Leighton Meester) and Serena (Blake Lively) — not to mention those outfits — I’m not sure how many would actually exchange their basement keggers for a nightlife geared for much older women. With martinis and hotel bars, this social whirl looks more Sex and the City than The OC, Gossip Girl creator Josh Schwartz’s previous series.
Then again, Gossip Girl may be “aspirational” for that older demo. The parents here would gladly trade in their accomplished grown-up lives to be bitchy teenagers again. “You’ll never be as thin or as beautiful or as happy as you are now,” says Eleanor Waldorf (Florencia Lozano), fashion designer and mother of queen bee Blair. “I just want you to make the most of it.” She adds, “Now go put some product in your hair.”
The premiere episode is full of such indictments. For a brief moment it looks like a father-son, mother-daughter foursome might go out on a double date. They don’t, which means we’ll never know if they would have ended the evening with a group make-out session in the same car, after which they might have sneaked back into their apartments after curfew.
No matter their ages, the parents and children in Gossip Girl are all too familiar. If you strip away the designer shoes and drinks, the show is left with all the hallmarks of a typical teen melodrama: back-stabbing, boyfriend-stealing, rumor-spreading, pot-smoking, social-climbing, and suicide-attempting, even date-raping — and that’s all in the first episode. The surfeit of scandal is less innovative than the framing device of the Gossip Girl blog, which is fresh and resonates with today’s socially networked society. (In one memorable scene, when former-it-girl Serena walks into a party uninvited, a tidal wave of text messages ripples through the crowd.) But the rest of the premiere episode peddles the same drama that’s been circulating since 90210 and Degrassi.
The main conflict in the first episode centers on a brief tryst shared by blonde bad-girl Serena and brunette beauty Blair’s longtime (like, since kindergarten) boyfriend Nate (Chace Crawford). This was before Serena shipped off to boarding school and is now returned, to find Nate still clutching that torch for her. Whether it’s set on Fifth Avenue or in downtown Baltimore, clad in Armani or T.J. Maxx, a love triangle is still a love triangle.