Serena (Blake Lively) pictured in 'Gossip Girl'. (Image courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)
Waterloo Collegiate Institute

Review: ‘Gossip Girl’ withstands test of time thirteen years later

“Gossip Girl” initially premiered on the CW in 2007, a response to high school melodramas in the vein of “One Tree Hill” and “The OC.”

Despite being heavily criticized by parents for its sordid nature, it remains one of the most popular hits in teen TV. The show has since been permanently integrated into the fabric of pop culture, immortalized by Blair Waldorf’s excellent wardrobe and has rightfully earned its spot as next on your binge-list. 

Blair (Leighton Meester) and Chuck (Ed Westwick) in ‘Gossip Girl’. (Image courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

Though I’ve indulged in my fair share of newer teen soaps (namely, ABC’s “Pretty Little Liars”) I was reluctant to try “Gossip Girl” because it seemed too shallow for my taste. I knew briefly of its premise  — wealthy, privileged Upper East Siders take on high school as the anonymous “Gossip Girl” reveals their secrets at every turn. Though I did watch the series’ pilot several years back, I was hardly interested in giving it a second chance. 

However, after a few months of quarantine, I was desperate. Though I’ve always loved teen dramas, I needed it more than ever to pass the endless days of neverending monotony. I needed a show; I needed something soapy, something ludicrous, something light. 

So finally, I decided to give the show another chance. And though part of me hates to admit it, I have fallen and I have fallen hard for “Gossip Girl.”

Though I still do believe the start isn’t that great, it truly doesn’t reflect the rest of the season. After a brief rough stint, the show rights itself in time for the real thrills — and develops into something else entirely. 

After Episode 4-ish, the first season hurtles forward like one of the show’s slick Amtrak trains. It’s twisty and completely engrossing, drifting to and from various plotlines (but never aimlessly) with startling ease.

Its lithe pacing and sinuous storytelling calls to mind the compact nature of ABC’s “Scandal,” a personal favorite of mine. In the same way, “Gossip Girl” hones in on brevity, rarely lingering on a scene for a moment more than it has to. 

Season 1 starts with the return of Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) to the Upper East Side after having spent a year at boarding school away from her friends and family. When Serena returns, we’re left with several questions: Why did Serena return? What really made her leave? And most importantly, what will her arrival incite for the rest of Manhattan’s upper elite?

Though Serena is the main character, the other characters aren’t ever disregarded. Her best friend Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) is often considered the best character by fans, an opinion I’d have to agree with.

Meester is fantastic as Blair: unabashedly vindictive, hyper-focused and constantly scheming — all while sporting one of her signature designer headbands, of course.

Nate (Chace Crawford) channels a Lucas Scott-esque teenage angst as he ponders whether he deserves his family’s excessive wealth. Perhaps you might recognize Brooklynite Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) as “You”’s Joe Goldberg as he and his sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen) struggle to find a place at their elitist prep school.

More recent teen follow-ups (‘Riverdale’) lack the same magnetism which the cast of “Gossip Girl” excelled at forming so effortlessly. 

Despite being incredibly flawed and prone to poor decision making, the show’s characters are surprisingly earnest. There’s substance here between the double-dealings and entitlement; “Gossip Girl” discusses eating disorders, sexuality and depression in an unobtrusive, non-pedagogic way (*cough cough* “Thirteen Reasons Why”).

It doesn’t delve into any of the issues with nearly as much depth as it could, however, it’s one of the few teen shows I’ve seen which handles these topics with genuine sincerity without being overly preachy. 

Though the parents can be unduly lenient, the depiction of colleges (in particular, Ivy Leagues) are dubious, plotlines rely on excessive sabotage and miscommunication and there isn’t nearly enough diversity, it hardly matters. “Gossip Girl” is a package put together so fashionably that you hardly care about the particularities.

The show’s campy charm is not only potent enough to get away with its flaws, but compelling enough to make you want to binge episode after episode until you’ve finished the whole thing.  

So when you’re searching for something addictive, fun and unforgivably soapy while you stay at home, you need look no further than “Gossip Girl.” Ignore your reservations and watch it with zero expectations and you might just find yourself hooked on a new favorite.

The “Gossip Girl” reboot is expected to air sometime in 2021 on HBO Max.