The Gossip Girl 2021: Classy or Corny?
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Hey Lower West Siders, Gossip Girl here… again. Yes, the beloved CW teen drama is back. Centered around ridiculously privileged Upper East side teens, “Gossip Girl” (2007-2012) gained a loyal following over its original six-season-long run. The show follows frenemies “It Girl” Serena (Blake Lively) and “Queen Bee” Blair’s power struggle, while an anonymous, all-knowing blogger, Gossip Girl, reports all their troubles and, in some cases, creates them. A standalone sequel to the original, “Gossip Girl” (2021) aims to capture how New York City has changed while retaining the sheer absurdity of the original. The show focuses on a new batch of Constance Billard elites and highlights the influence of social media, namely Instagram. Outcry has poured out from the fans of the early “Gossip Girl” since the sequel was announced, questioning if another show could live up to the iconic original.
Influencer Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander) and her friend group of seven are the most popular kids in school—but they’ve got their own problems. The arrival of new girl Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak) causes quite the stir, once it’s quickly revealed that Zoya is Julien’s half sister. Sick of wealthy students disrespecting them, the teachers—headed by Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson)—decide to take up the mantle of Gossip Girl, only on Instagram this time.
In an attempt to live up to the iconic original, the acting often falls flat, ranging from downright awful to moderately bearable. While the teen characters aren’t delivering Oscar-worthy performances, it’s nothing compared to how stiff the teachers sound most of the time. Monet De Haan (Savannah Smith), Luna La (Zión Moreno) and Audrey Hope (Emily Alyn Lind) are a choice few whose acting embodies the spirit of the original show. In all fairness, it’s difficult to sound convincing with some of the ridiculous lines written into the show. Attempting to replicate the snappy one-liners and riveting back-and-forths of the original, the sequel often comes off as clunky and awkward. Some plot points have raised major eyebrows as well, particularly Gossip Girl’s immediate reveal. Having teachers act as this threatening force has also been criticized, due to how unrealistic it is and the very obvious student-teacher boundaries that it crosses.
Initially, the pacing of the show is quite odd. The first few episodes create and resolve brand new conflicts in themselves, mainly Julien and Zoya fighting and making up over and over again. By the fourth episode, the show becomes more enjoyable as several subplots come into play. With the introduction of some of the characters’ parents and real-world issues, the show heads in a more engaging direction. This is enhanced by its off-screen elements as well. In real life, each of the main teen characters has their very own Instagram, with Akeno “Aki” Menzies (Evan Mock) and Audrey even having their own Letterboxd and Goodreads profiles. Fans feel as if they are spectators within the show itself, watching the drama go down in real time.
The show walks the narrow line between the relatable and outrageously opulent, as if they couldn't decide on what they wanted it to be. The success of “grittier” teen shows like HBO’s “Euphoria” (2019) seems to have convinced producers that audiences want more R-rated content. But the excessive inclusion of “shocking” elements like partying, substances, and sex is almost boring in the way that it’s done—just for the sake of it, not to drive the plot forward. It becomes even more concerning given the main characters are all minors, with Zoya turning 15 by the third episode. Similarly, the political bits in the show toe the line, raising the question of how substantive these comments can be when made by such a wealthy bunch; a character could make statements about smashing the patriarchy and inclusivity, then turn around to deliver a classist remark. It could be a brilliant commentary on the performativity of the privileged but appears wholly out of touch.
The way that the adult characters are portrayed is especially unique. Though the original “Gossip Girl” featured villainous adults and parents, the sequel differs by showcasing their effect on the general public as well as their kids. For instance, Otto “Obie” Bergmann IV (Eli Brown) can’t stand up to his mother while she’s building a project that would displace hundreds of homeless people. Aki is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, and his conservative media tycoon father outs Aki on TV to dismiss homophobia claims sparked by a lawsuit to his company. Zoya’s character serves as a refreshing comparison of the problems of the characters and those that plague the real world. Being the upstanding activist that she is and coming from a less privileged background, her interactions with others point out their moral contradictions.
A positive aspect of the show is how diverse it is compared to the original, both racially and in terms of sexuality. Though it’s probably not realistic, the new diversity is quite significant, given that the original “Gossip Girl” could count its non-white characters on one hand.
The show is certainly visually appealing on many ends, with gorgeous shots of the New York City skyline, reminiscent of “Gossip Girl” (2007-2012), and aesthetically pleasing set design, down to the designer pieces and tasteful decor. That being said, fans expected the styling of the sequel to measure up to the original, which was noteworthy in its influence on fashion. Despite the higher budget and even recruiting the same costume designer Eric Daman, the looks on the show are far from groundbreaking, which is especially disappointing given Julien is supposed to be a fashion influencer. The reception amongst the fashion community has been mixed, though Audrey certainly seems to have made a splash on social media with her pared-down vintage looks.
The original “Gossip Girl” is entertaining but far from a cinematic work of art. The reboot falls in a similar category: despite failing to measure up to its predecessor in many ways, it’s often more engaging in others, especially because of its contemporary setting. It is clearly intended to be relevant to 2021, and with its commentary on topical issues, plus the cast’s diversity, it is definitely more in-touch than the OG. It not only builds on the legacy of the original, but also reworks itself to suit the present. For something that was so dreadfully anticipated by fans of the original, it surpasses expectations. And, at this point, many are curious to see what comes next.
Until then, XOXO.