I’d caught a few episodes of Gossip Girl in 2007 and 2008 while flipping through the channels during my free evenings in graduate school. Even as a guy, it was interesting to watch the excessive adolescent exploits of wealthy teenagers in a city that never sleeps. But, alas, I was not enticed enough to seek it out.
After my wife and I got Netflix, we began devouring shows, commercial-free, and quickly began running out of favorite series. Then we stumbled upon Gossip Girl, of which there were over 100 hour-long episodes! Huzzah! A mass of guilty please entertainment, watching self-important characters wallow in their excessive wealthy and opulent stylishness!
By now my wife and I have watched around ninety Gossip Girl episodes. A brief review:
Good dialogue. Despite the show being populated by a bunch of spoiled NYC socialite teens, with the exception of middle-class “outcast” Dan Humphrey, the teenage characters are surprisingly eloquent and witty. Though the plotting and hijinks are often petty and juvenile, I have been impressed with the witty reparte.
Character archetypes play well off of each other. You have golden party girl Serena van der Woodsen, the tall blonde with a socialite mother, who is best friends with ever-scheming, insecure, desperate-for-perfection brunette Blair Waldorf. You have new-money bad boy and quasi-sociopath Chuck Bass. You have old money, lacrosse-playing golden boy Nate Archibald. Then there is literary wannabe Dan Humphrey, the angsty son of a one-hit-wonder rock star who has become the Dad out of a Land’s End catalog. Dan’s younger sister, the youngest main character, is the middle class ugly duckling desperate to become one of the rich party girls.
The mix works surprisingly well and the archetypes don’t overly blend, fade, or change over time, keeping the show successfully tension-filled as the characters contrast with each other.
Plots get thicker and more intense, but not overly so. The show has a difficult task: Transitioning from high school to college. Instead of “jumping the shark,” the show sucessfully moves from high school social drama to real-world drama without becoming ludicrous. While the transition from triviality to intensity is too fast, it does not break the suspension of disbelief.
The guilty pleasure fashionista stuff. As a high school teacher who bemoans the lack of formality among today’s teens, it is a bit of guilty pleasure to watch the prep school crowd. Though it is incredibly silly to have a show where people ages 16-22 lounge around in tuxedoes and expensive gowns, it is better than the slacker alternative.
Good acting and guest stars. There are good cameos and excellent guest stars, which not all big-budget shows can claim. As a big fan of the sitcom Spin City (1996-2002), I tremendously enjoyed Michael Boatman’s multiple-episode arc as a nefarious Chicago real estate mogul looking to move in on NYC.
Are there not more people to date in New York City? Though the show obviously cannot keep introducing new characters ad nauseum, it becomes a bit unrealistic that the main cast switches significant others amongst each other constantly. As the seasons progress you see virtually every male character date every female character.
The obsession with social reputation gets a bit old. While the plots get thicker and more intense, the main focus refuses to shift from obsession with social reputation, at least among the female characters. Seriously, as things go from disses to murder there is nothing bigger going on than being in the right photo shoot? I would think that the writers could have matured this aspect of the series.
Why the creepy obsession with young girls? You have teenage girls continually being ogled by wealthy, powerful, older men. To the point that it is unbelievable. A U.S. Representative obsessed with an 18-year-old girl who just graduated from high school a few months prior? Esteemed Ivy League professors who are featured as “most eligible bachelors” being obsessed with freshman coeds? European royals wanting to date 19- or 20-year-old American girls? The son of a Belgian ambassador, looking like he’s 30 years old, wanting to date a 16- or 17-year-old teenage prep schooler? At best it’s unrealistic. At worst it’s creepy.
Unrealistic portrayal of the job market/real world. As a high school teacher who struggled through the Great Recession, it’s a tad annoying to watch a show where socialite teens and young adults with no real world skills or resumes to speak of always land choice gigs…and rarely receive a worthy comeuppance. A high school literary wannabe who gets a high-profile internship by age 20? Teenagers who can’t even drive working in fashion? While some might see this as a guilty pleasure to watch and fantasize about, others will probably find it annoying.
Extreme alcohol consumption. Whatever your views of intoxicating beverages, Gossip Girl takes it to the extreme. Teenagers up in a New York nightclub openly swilling fancy cocktails? A bit unrealistic, since no establishment is going to risk losing their liquor license over letting teens, even rich teens, get tipsy. Though it’s just part of the show, the underage characters drank so much and so regularly that my liver hurt just watching.
Good show. Though unrealistic and at times even silly, it is a high-quality bit of television.