‘Gossip Girl’: What We Want From the Reboot
Thirteen long years ago, I cut my teeth as a blogger by recapping Gossip Girl, the CW’s soapy series about mean teens on the decidedly un-mean streets of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I’d read some of the books, by Cecily von Ziegesar, prior to the series’s release, and while I did enjoy Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz’s TV version enough to devote hours of my life to recapping it, I was forever disappointed that it didn’t have as much bite as the novels.
Where were the drugs and the sex, so dishily strewn across the pages? The show had to be more tame, because it was on network television and ostensibly aimed at teenagers. But there might have been some creative ways to make the series more lurid—oftentimes, Gossip Girl’s marketing was more risqué than its actual episodes.
Eventually, Gossip Girl faded for me into a little relic, an emblem of my mid-20s lost to memory. It was strange, then, to watch on social media as the show experienced a revival in 2020, as housebound young people discovered the series on streaming and happily live-tweeted their binges. The way they talked about the show—amused, jaded, ironic—made me miss the old days of slavishly covering the exploits of Serena van der Woodsen, her best frenemy Blair Waldorf, and the various boys caught in their orbit.
Those familiar faces may not be returning when Gossip Girl reboots. But the next-gen version, from Schwartz and longtime Gossip Girl writer Joshua Safran and soon to premiere on HBO Max, presents an opportunity to truly get it right. The show, no longer bound by the mores of broadcast television, can be wilder, more transgressive, more sharply tuned into the evils of wealth hoarded in palaces looming over Central Park.
The contemporary awareness of social justice issues may give the new series a different set of responsibilities, but I hope that doesn’t make the show too pious. Gossip Girl should be nasty and politically aware, cognizant of the amorality it’s satirizing while also offering a guiltily escapist dive into it. A more diverse cast, as the new series boasts, ought to provide more windows into this culture of entitlement and vanity, more perspectives from which to revel in and revolt against its excesses.
That’s a tall and tricky order. How do you have fun with the world of these cruel kids and their social obsessions—from which the likes of Ivanka Trump was born—without, in some senses, forgiving it? Maybe Safran and his writers can figure it out. They have the blueprint, they just need to build a better mansion.
Gossip Girl 2.0 could be one of the rare pieces of entertainment to get digital metaphysics right, and not just show kids staring inertly at their phones. The original series drafted off of the rise of blogging and then outlived it, as that medium lost ground to Twitter. What emerging social media undulations might this new series track? Surely something lies beyond TikTok, which Gossip Girl could anticipate, or maybe even invent.
So that’s all the show needs to be: socially conscious but not too preoccupied with virtue, in step with the technology of right now while also looking ahead. And it needs to be gay and sexy and tart and mysterious. It needs to be cool—which the original series never quite was. Young people today are even savvier than we were in those heady days of the late aughts, and their Gossip Girl will need to be that much more agile and clever to satisfy them. May these kids finally show us olds how it’s done.
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